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Friday, March 03, 2017

Logan

Logan is not only my favorite of the three Wolverine films that have been made, it's also probably my favorite of the X-Men series up to now.  As somewhat of a conclusion to the original film franchise that began back in 2000 (I assume the X-Men films will continue with the newer and younger cast), this is a perfect send off for both Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart, who have been playing these iconic characters for a good 17 years. 

In most superhero movies, when an actor grows too old to play a character, they are recast.  Logan bucks that trend, by making the entire film be about the mortality of two iconic characters - Logan/Wolverine (Jackman) and Professor Xavier (Stewart).  The film sets itself in the year 2029, where both characters' heroics are long behind them.  Logan, in particular, looks like the years have not been good to him.  He's in near-constant physical pain, and his Mutant healing powers aren't what they used to be.  He's frequently drunk, his strength is gone, and he carries a bullet made from the only material that can kill him in case he ever wants to end it all.  Xavier is now 90, doddering, and suffering from a mental disease which makes him prone to violent psychic power seizures.  The tone of the film is very morose, but in a fascinating way.  We have never seen heroes in this fashion, and co-writer and director James Mangold (returning from 2013's The Wolverine) is exploring an idea we seldom see up on the big screen - What happens when the adventures for heroes are over?

There is some backstory, but in the interest of keeping this a stand-alone film that can be enjoyed by anyone, the screenplay wisely does not go too deep into the franchise's past.  We learn that during the time this film takes place, Mutants are all but extinct, having been hunted down.  No new Mutants have been born in the past 24 years.  Aside from our two main characters, as well as a Mutant tracker named Caliban (Stephen Merchant), there may be no others.  Logan makes a living as a limo driver, doing his best to hide who he is.  Xavier, who once ran a prestigious school for Mutants, is now forced to live hidden away in confinement, less he hurt anyone with his occasional psychic mental power meltdowns.  Logan and Caliban essentially act as Xavier's caregivers, and do their best to hide themselves away from the rest of society.  But then, a young girl named Laura (Dafne Keen) appears.  Not only is she a Mutant, but she has been genetically created using Logan's DNA.  Laura is being hunted by the scientists who created her, and this sets off the main plot of the film, as Logan tries to help this girl not only stay ahead of her pursuers, but also possibly take her to a place where she might be safe.

Lots of superhero films try to explore the "dark side" of the characters.  Heck, not even Superman has been immune to this treatment.  But, Logan takes it to a whole other level.  These characters we have come to know and love are now broken down shells of their former selves, and they stay that way.  They are old, tired, and their past actions weigh heavy on them.  This is not so much a story about redemption, or finding yourself again, as it is about what happens when the weight of the world has been on your shoulders for so long, and now you have nowhere to turn.  There are moments of humor throughout the film, but this is not a hopeful story.  Jackman plays Logan as a man filled with self-doubt and painful memories, and it's a complex performance.  It's easily his best turn as the character, and if this is to be his last appearance, it's a fantastic note to end on.  This is a graceful exit for Stewart as well, who gives Xavier a kind of gravitas and emotion in the character's enfeebled state that he hasn't been able to show before.  It's not only wonderful to see these actors working together, but to see them getting a proper sendoff. 

In another smart move, the film has been given an R-rating (all the previous movies have been PG-13), which allows the filmmakers to fully explore the deep emotions that the scenario requires.  This is not an adventure movie for kids to begin with, so it fits that this story for adults gets to embrace its true nature.  There is also the much increased violence in the film, which also works well within the context of the story it's trying to tell.  It's certainly much stronger than what we have seen in the past, but it is also handled in such a way that it seems fitting, and is not gratuitous, nor does it take us out of the film.  I know that there will be kids out there who will want to see this, and I even saw some with their parents at my screening.  But, I urge any parent to think twice.  This is a very serious, somber movie.  Yes, there is action within, but it is not your typical enthusiastic or spectacle-filled action that we usually get in comic book movies.  This is a film made for adults about mortality and depression, and I sincerely hope parents don't take children to see this based on the franchise's past.

I'm not sure how much Logan will connect with wide audiences looking for an action thrill, but for those who have grown to love these characters through either the original comic books or the past films, this will probably quickly become one of their favorite interpretations of these characters.  Comic book movies have come a long way to getting respect in the film industry, but this takes it to a whole new place, moving even beyond Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy in terms of human drama and power.  James Mangold has delivered on giving us a truly new experience with the superhero genre, and it will be interesting to see how it is embraced.

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