Thursday, March 9, 2017

Review: "Logan" sets a new standard for the superhero genre.

Logan Review

Every once in a great while, there are movies that come along that extended their genres, or even defined their genres. They are the movies that we keep coming back, constantly referencing when dealing with said genre. "The Godfather" and "Goodfellas" define the gangster movie. "Star Wars" defined fantasy (Yes, "Star Wars" is fantasy, it is not science fiction. I would say "2001" is the film that best defines science fiction. Or maybe "Planet of the Apes.") These types of movies, they are not flooding the movie theaters every weekend. These movies are special. They come once in an extraordinary while. Some people say that "The Dark Knight" was the movie that defined the superhero genre, and I have a hard time arguing against that. It certainly defined the genre for me personally, and millions of people across the world as well.

"Logan" could stand shoulder-to-shoulder with "The Dark Knight" and share the title as a film which defined the superhero genre. "Logan" isn't just a great Wolverine movie. Its not just an amazing Wolverine movie. Heck, its not just a great "X-Men Universe" movie. "Logan" is pretty much goddamn transcendent. I may sound hyperbolic, but I don't give a shit. I didn't just feel the sugar rush of a fun superhero movie when the credits began to roll tonight, I didn't feel adventurous or overwhelmed by awesome. I felt like I  connected to the emotional journey of one of comic books best creations, brought to life by an actor who has worn this character's boots for seventeen years now. It was a brutal journey. It was a beautiful journey. It was a brilliant journey.

When we meet Logan (Hugh Jackman) in his third solo outing, its the year 2029. Most mutants are dead, in fact Logan, Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and an expert tracker Caliban (Stephen Merchant) are literally the only mutants left. Professor X is not in charge of the X-Mansion anymore. There are no more X-Men. Logan has been forced into a caretaker position for the old professor, who is suffering from dementia. A disease so bad that when it mixes with his psychic powers, it's a recipe for disaster. Logan has grown wary, drinks a lot and he himself is suffering from adamantium poisoning. Just when life seems to be taking a somber turn, Logan is approached by a nurse named Gabriela (Elizabeth Rodriguez) who is traveling with a little girl named Laura (Dafne Keen). Laura is being hunted by some really bad mercenaries, led by Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) and Gabriela needs assistance getting Laura to a safe haven. Why Laura is being pursued by mercenaries is a mystery in the movie, but Logan and Charles see lots of Logan in her, and he reluctantly agrees. 

There are some similarities between "Logan" and the Mark Millar Old Man Logan comic. But besides it being set in the future, there's a road trip involved and it centered around Logan, it's really not an adaptation of Old Man Logan. There is really no way Fox could successfully do that without Marvel sharing characters anyway, so I am glad  they didn't try to shoe-horn anything in. In fact, what makes "Logan" so great is that its not a conventional superhero movie. There are not costumes, no big epic scenes. There is some superpowered action, but its used so sparingly, so carefully that it feels grounded, authentic, it helps the story rather  than hurt. I mean, in the first couple "X-Men" movies, it seemed like characters used their powers because the filmmakers wanted to show how good their special effects work was. Here, everything happens in service to the story, which is what I prefer. 

There are many reasons why "Logan" separates itself from other superhero movies and part of that is because its much more violent. I don't want that to hint that the film's R-rating somehow makes the movie better, because it doesn't. That's so juvenile to say. Yes, we get a really good glimpse of how bloody things would get if an indestructible man with claws intruding from his knuckles would destroy in the real world. But the violence and the language doesn't make the movie better. There is a sudden obsession that superhero movies NEED to be R-rated in order to be relevant, and I laugh every time. "Logan" doesn't work because its R rated. It works because characters are put first, for the first time in any type of "X-Men" movies. The story is personal, the motivations of the characters are personal. That's why "Deadpool" worked on so many people. The villains in "Deadpool" and "Logan" aren't threatening world peace, they aren't trying to rule the world, these are small-scale movies, and dialing back on the mayhem produces character moments that are tender and personable.

Hugh Jackman as Logan, simply perfection by this point. I mean, what can I say about a guy who has been playing this character for seventeen years. What can I say about an actor who has shown up as this character in more movies than Roger Moore and Sean Connery did for James Bond? I could say he is finally working with the best written script for the character. Logan isn't a bag of ticks and mannerisms here. Logan isn't the butt end of every joke here. He is a breathing, living human being, cynical and torn from his past. We feel his emotions, we feel his pain, and we understand his need to make the decisions he makes throughout the film. Its a battered performance, and we as the audience buy into every second of it. How Jackman gels with Dafne Keen is a highlight of the film. Keen may feel like most "kids with a secret" in these types of movies. But her character fleshes out in small bursts and it works well in small pockets. Her chemistry with Jackman is dead on, and they make a powerful team throughout.

Special mention needs to be made for Patrick Stewart too. He's been in the shoes of Charles Xavier for nearly as long as Jackman has been for Wolverine. He has been able to juggle changes to character with a genuine amount of ease, but we've never seen our dear professor quite like this before. It almost feels like a totally different character Stewart is playing here, and he does it with the grace and tranquility we have come to expect from him. I would also like to highlight the villains of the film. Boyd Holbrook is good as a continuous thorn in Logan's side, he's given some juicy dialogue and he sells his character at every turn. There is a great extra villain played by Richard E. Grant. He doesn't have too many scenes, but he makes his presents known here.

We have hit a peak high for the superhero genre, I really enjoy the time we are living in right now. Its awesome being able to go into a theater auditorium and be able to count on a Marvel movie you are about to watch. I love those films, I own all of them, and I have even put some of them on my end-of-the-year lists. I love and continue to adore last years "Deadpool." I love "Man of Steel" and the animated DC movies and I continue to enjoy the "Batman" films by Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan. But "Logan" is on a completely different wavelength than those movies. "Logan" works because it puts character first, but still has a worthwhile story to tell. "Logan" honors the characters that were created in the 1960's. Yes, you may tie yourself in knots trying to figure out where "Logan" fits into the greater "X-Men" continuity, but if that's all you're going to focus on, then perhaps "Logan" isn't for you. This is an emotional character-driven experience. This is an enriching, engrossing fable of a character we have grown to love for over a decade. And if Jackman is truly done with the character, then this movie offers a grand stopping point, an encore of real power. This is the kind of end that every franchise hopes for, but only so few ever produce. We are richer for it.


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