Thursday, May 11, 2017

Film Review: Logan

There isn't another super hero movie like Logan.

This movie is sober, contemplative, visceral, and heartbreaking in a way I haven't seen in this genre before.

The movie takes place in the not too distant future.  Most mutants have died there seem to be no new ones.  Logan (Hugh Jackman at his best), also known as Wolvierine, is a limo driver who is hustling to scrape enough money to take care of a senile Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) in run down abandoned factory in Mexico.  Logan is old and weary.  His healing factor is nearly spend and even his claws won't pop out all the way.  Logan is a man burdened by age and responsibility.  But through circumstances against his will, Logan crosses paths with a silent young girl named Laura (Dafne Keene).  Once in his life, Logan must take her and Xavier on a cross-country trip with a mysterious enemy in hot pursuit.

The most important thing to understand about this movie going into it is that it is actually less of a superhero film and more of a classic Western.  Logan is the hard-travelling hero who has lived too long and seen too much killing.  Director James Mangold films the movie with all of grand, deserted landscapes that you would see in a Western: wide-open vistas empty with potential.   There is significant motif regarding the movie Shane and the parallels are clear without feeling too preachy.

Mangold also gives us a story that is filled with tension and dread.  From the moment the main quest begins, a deep and pervasive sense of unease fills the movie.  Unlike most superhero movies, there tends to be excitement with little surprise.  But you get the strong sense from Logan that disaster and tragedy are lurking around every corner and our heroes may not come out on top.

The performances are also superb.  Jackman, Stewart, and Keene deserve Oscar nominations, and that is not hyperbole because I love the genre.  Their performances are stunning.  Jackman makes us feel every ache and pain in his body.  It is literally exhausting to watch him work as we see his body and spirit breaking.  Jackman is still able to bring the big, insane rage inherent in the character.  But he also is able to able to show the silent, stoic sadness of a man whose world is slipping apart.  Stewart's Xavier is gut-wrenching in its decrepitness.  Is Xavier wise or senile?  Or both?  And what does that mean for anyone around him.  Stewart plays him as a man who is angry because he feels guilty and does not know why.  And so he lashes out at those around him.  And Keene is amazing as Laura.  Most child actors get a bit of a pass from me because they are young and should not be held to the same standards as fully trained adults.  But Keene is mesmerizing in her role.  Every look, every action, every pose conveys so much emotion and character that she seems to be someone three times her age.

The violence in this movie is more graphic and emotional than any other X-Men film.  As someone who grew up with the comics, this is was how I always imagined Logan cutting loose.  And while it at first as the same vicarious thrill as watching Deadpool or John Wick, after a while the graphicness of the violence gets to you, which I think is part of Mangold's point.  We've reveled in Wolverine's ability to cut his enemies to shreds over the last 17 years.  Now we get to feel what that does to a person's soul.  And yet the action sequences are still enough keep you on the edge of your seat.

One of things I loved most about the film was its depiction of simple, ordinary love.  There is a moment in the movie where our three main characters spend the night with a farmer family.  Mangold fills the scenes around the dinner table with such humor and warmth that part of you wants to leave all of the violence and just settle in.  This family is depicted as faith-filled, hard-working, and trying to get by in life with larger forces arrayed against them.

But the real treasure of the film is in the relationship between Logan and Xavier as well as Logan and Laura.  The thing that struck me the most about the Logan/Xavier relationship is how much Logan endured to take care of Xavier.  At first it felt like was doing it out a sense of duty or obligation forced on him.  But as the movie progresses you cannot come to any other conclusion than this: Logan loves Xavier.  It was so touching to see this strange father/son dynamic play out between two grown men who care so deeply for one another.  And despite all of his complaining,  you can see in Logan's actions how much Xavier means to him.  I cannot speak too much about the Logan/Laura relationship since that develops along the main plot of the movie.  But that is also incredibly touching to watch.

Logan is not a perfect movie.  The film's main antagonists are paper-thin, mustache-twirlers with no real depth.  But this is forgiveable because the real enemy aren't the villains.  Logan's real enemies are time and death.

There is also something that is done with a cross at the end of the movie that isn't necessarily blasphemous but made me just slightly uncomfortable.  It fits with the rest of the story but as a devout Christian anytime someone does something with the cross other than venerating it, it fills me with unease.

Logan is powerful and emotional film that has stayed with me in my mind and my heart long after watching it.  When so many movies disappear from our consciousness like smoke, the solid and strong Logan is something to treasure.

4.5 out of 5 stars.

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