Saturday 18 March 2017

Logan (2017) - Movie Review

When I reviewed X-Men: Apocalypse, I made mention of the series’ standing in the annals of comic book film history. Today, I get into what I believe is the reason why the original film and its follow-ups are as important as they are. And oddly enough, it’s all down to a single character: Wolverine. While there are definitely arguments that can be made regarding the decision to take the X-Men team as a whole and create a story largely devoted to only one of them, Hugh Jackman’s performance blended so well with the character that, for the last 17 years, it’s been near-impossible to imagine anyone else in the role. As the avatar of the new guard of comic book filmmaking, one built on true character pathos and subtextual themes of prejudice and isolation, he did what was asked of him almost perfectly.
With this in mind, the news of what will be Jackman’s swan song as the Canadian berserker definitely reached the geek community with a very heavy heart, something bolstered by how Patrick Stewart was also bowing out with this film as well. So, not only is this the requiem for two of the most popular comic character in the comic book film sub-genre but also for the very team that gave them their prominence in the first place. Very few films have this much weighing on their success and, from the critical reactions so far, that weight was delivered back and then some. But what did I think of it?

The plot: In the near-future, a virus has spread across the world and brought the mutant race to near-extinction with Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and Professor X (Patrick Stewart) among the only mutants left. As the now-dying Wolverine carries on surviving as best he can, he finds himself embroiled in a race after Laura (Dafne Keen), a child who may be the key to mutantkind’s survival.

If this truly is the stepping-out point for Jackman and Stewart, they certainly brought their all into this final offering. Jackman as this more world-weary and broken version of the character he has been most associated with for nearly two decades now is very effective, selling the Eastwoodisms he’s given tremendously well. Stewart, playing a character even more dilapidated than Wolverine, mirrors that same sense of exhaustion and proximity to death while bringing home an element of mutantkind that hasn’t really been touched on before: How does the weakening of the body due to age affect one’s mutant abilities?
Stephen Merchant as the mutant Caliban does wonders at delivering the drama of the initial situation, Boyd Holbrook as the agent of big bad corporation Transigen is intimidating with a touch of fanboy, Richard E. Grant imbues his reduced presence with the kind of horrifying complacency you would expect from a genocidal scientist and Dafne Keen is… wow. Strong, capable, stoic and incredibly heartwarming alongside Jackman, I seriously hope that the heavy publicity this film has gotten affords Keen a career to follow this.

The effects work here is quite impressive, seeing how realistically the filmmakers managed to make not only the aging make-up on the characters (they managed to age Patrick Stewart more than real life could ever manage) but also the gore and bodily harm effects too. This plays a lot in how the action beats are realized, resulting in a very grisly and pretty flashy affair. Jackman still knows how to sell action scenes, even as a purposely weakened character, and the tag-team efforts between him and Keen are very enjoyable. However, with how brutal the fight scenes can get and how that is part of the entertainment factor, it does clash somewhat with the film’s more thematic elements.

Even considering modern trends to take things darker, grittier and (supposedly) more mature, this might be one of the bleakest in the history of the sub-genre. And no, it’s not because of the heavily swear-laden dialogue which often dips into cursing for its own sake. Instead, it’s because this film is all about endings. Wolverine, as we have seen of him through eight previous films, has spent most of his life (that he can remember, at least) on the run and having to literally fight tooth and claw to survive. On numerous occasions, both willingly and reluctantly, he has fought to defend mutantkind and realize his own place in the world.
But even after all that, it still wasn’t enough. Mutantkind has nearly been wiped out, everyone he ever cared for has died and what little the world even knows about him has been distilled and fabricated to the point where they aren’t even his actions anymore (in a metafictional touch involving the comics that is remarkably well-handled and fitting for this story). In keeping with revisionist Western tradition, the high body count he has amassed in his lifetime, along with the lives he has seen perish otherwise, has taken its toll on him. He genuinely feels that his time is coming to an end and he has the scars and failing body to make his point. That emphasis on the body count makes the very brain-stabby fight scenes difficult to enjoy as much as one should, given how it’s not clear how much that plays into the subtext.

Now, I could easily come up with plenty of gripes to take with this film. The fight scenes making the karmic approach to Wolverine’s character a little difficult to fully appreciate, the verging-on-immature dialogue spasms, the adamantium bullet nonsense from X-Men: Origins making an unwelcome return, the world-building which may be a little too subtle considering the X-Men films have always been a bit iffy on certain specifics (look up how Professor X came back after The Last Stand and try to make some sense of it); there’s plenty to find here far as I’m concerned. 
But this film isn’t worth me bringing up minor fanboy niggles with the story because, frankly, this is too good for any of that to matter too much. With every comic book film and comic book film franchise nowadays operating on a need to continue their stories, it’s quite refreshing to see one of them admit that its time is up. Hell, character resurrection is basically a running gag with most comic book characters, and even the X-Men films used it with The Last Stand. But here, there’s a definite sense of finality where, even though the collective story will continue, this one has ended. It’s an embrace of the inevitable that not only fits in perfectly with the story attached to it, but also makes for a good dramatic sentiment on its own.

All in all, this is a very worthy conclusion to the X-Men story. Building on the series’ story and themes and adding a sizeable appreciation for incredibly visceral fight scenes, Logan also gains credit simply because it is a conclusion, right down to the absence of a post-credits scene as is the norm of today’s graphically-influenced fare. While my need to nitpick does hold me back from loving this film even more, something shared with its predecessor The Wolverine, that doesn’t negate how much I appreciate this film’s structure and execution.

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