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LOGAN Starts Off Strong But Stumbles

Logan is one of the best superhero films ever made, but stumbles before it ultimately finds its place above the rest.

The story is said to take place in 2029, which seems a bit too close on the calendar to be plausible, especially considering the first X-Men film (released in 2000) is itself set in “the not too distant future.”

Further, it is difficult to pinpoint with precise accuracy on which of the X-Men timelines this film falls as the their continuities have been blown to hell the past decade thanks to all the time-travel and reconstructions in the franchise.

But since Logan reaches for culminations not new beginnings, suffice it to say that the film does take place when a majority of mutants have been “wiped out” and seemingly no new mutants are being born or evolving.

The few who remain aren’t welcomed and continue to live in danger.

Enter: a woman, frightened, tracks down Logan and pleads with him to bring her daughter, Laura, to the border of Canada in North Dakota. There may be a safe place for mutants there, but Logan is tired of being the help. More troubling, there’s something wrong with Logan “on the inside,” and he may no longer have what it takes to bring this mysteriously silent young woman to safety….

The most compelling parts of this film are the first forty minutes and the last twenty. In the beginning, Director/Writer James Mangold presents us with a weakened Logan, coughing up blood while on-call as a limo driver, both taming his rage and numbing him conscience with booze. He’s become the disgruntled caregiver to an enfeebled, dying Professor X who’s taking refuge from a hostile America in some sort of abandoned facility south of the border.

(Here I make special note of a carefully-crafted cinematic concoction in which dystopian, sci-fi plot infuses with the backdrop of a Western film: ailing, immigrant mutants skirmish against hell-bent cyborgs in the midst of a hushed, uninhabited desert of northern Mexico; one mostly unaffected by the Industrial Revolution of the 18th Century, but peppered with rusty trains [from 19th Century], some run-down industrial equipment [of the 20th] and shiny, but bullet-ridden SUV’s [from the 21st] causing dust storms as they give chase. It is undeniably potent and poetic.)

Then at the end of the film, in stark transformation, we have our Wolverine: snarling and rampaging through a dense, green forest as bursting with new life as he is with purpose; animalistic, bleeding out and summoning a hateful energy meant to destroy the evil corporate footmen who have interrupted his quest towards a life (what’s left of it) of euphoric solitude on the open sea.

Somewhere in between, though, Logan does lose its way. And while we are given the chance to explore the relationships between Logan, the Professor and Laura (“X23”), we  are forced do so through cliché and uneven storytelling.

For instance, Professor X (afflicted with what seems like Alzheimer’s) has no control over his powers and is supposedly a threat to humanity itself. Yet while being driven through Oklahoma he quiets his mind enough to lead a herd of frantic horses off a highway.

A horse whisperer? Meh… okay, fine.

But then, out of gratitude, the horses’ owners (a struggling ranch family) invites the mutant threesome to dinner, a detour in rural America that lasts entirely too long, oozes sentimental inuathenticity and is jarringly interrupted by the unsubtle, allegorical battle between Logan and … well, himself.

Even so, Mangold, who is no stranger to superhero flicks — he directed The Wolverine (2013) — the Western film — he revisited 3:10 to Yuma (2007) —  or the biopic (more specifically, the cinematic reflection of another American icon haunted by his past) — Walk the Line (2005) — seems almost fated to have been at the helm of this movie.

And Jackman charms us all the way through it; not only when his muscles are racking up body-counts or as he’s soaring through the air, claws out and growling. That’s just part and parcel. No, he brings the humor with the rage. And although it is familiar territory for something tragic to befall his character, this time around, Jackman pulls out the man in Logan who succumbs to pain so great he almost doesn’t know to how to express it. Simply put, he’s defeated; but not entirely.

At least not yet.

Patrick Stewart has also never been better as Professor Xavier; but he was never given as much to explore in the character as he is here. A shame, as I suspect he could have been doing more with the character all along.

[By the way, since this is the last performance from these actors in these roles: Mr. Jackman, Mr. Stewart, a very fond farewell to you both.]

Boyd Holbrook is fitting enough as an antagonist, but his “Pierce” is written with less intensity and vindictiveness than one might expect in an R-rated film. Dafne Keen shows great promise as well. Her character has very few lines, but the performance was physically and emotionally demanding. She will have a long acting career should she chose to pursue one.

Furthermore, Logan benefits from an R rating not only because of the violence/language the film is allowed, but in the exploration of more mature themes: death, certainly, but also the responsibilities of safeguarding the next generation, the role of immigration for the oppressed and the terror wrought by all-powerful corporations.

It also navigates the humanity of the mutant and the mortality of the superhuman, standing in sharp contrast to the Marvel Cinematic Universe where it feels like the titular heroes are hardly in harm’s way, let alone in death’s sights.

While one can’t help but recognize that Logan transcends the superhero genre on its own merit, at the same time, we should realize how the film doesn’t exist in a vacuum. The success of this film has been building from outside of itself for a long time.

It owes an awful lot to Matthew Vaughn for re-enlivening an unpopular X-Men franchise with First Class (2011) as well as for directing Kick Ass (2010).

Vaughn defied convention when he turned that graphic comic book into a wide-release, profit-making crowd-pleaser NOT rated PG-13 or below; he thereby liberated the word “motherf**ker,” gratuitous gore and underage-assassins from the niche, independent-film market (as defined in comicbook terms by Super of the same year ) and released them into the mainstream.

Then The Wolverine happened, and everyone really wanted it to be rated R. But it wasn’t.

But last year’s Deadpool (which should have been nominated for Best Picture) came along and created permanent demand for satirical, more adult comic book movies. Yet R-rated superhero films may still be a risk; stories such as Logan, however, that explore the depth of interesting characters, usually are not.

The carnage and curse words here are lit candles on a cake.

Furthermore, it is Jackman who has brought this character to life for the past seventeen years; nostalgia certainly demands we experience his last hurrah. But the working relationship between Mangold and Jackman exalts this ninth incarnation of the character all the more.

This is their second X-Men film as a director/actor pair and their third film overall as such; we should be so lucky that during some new actor’s reign as Wolverine these two are making movie magic elsewhere.

All of that and more, brewed together, turned Logan into the future classic it no doubt will be.

Until then, let’s hope Deadpool 2 keeps the momentum going.

 

 

 

 

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