"...as real as the genre can get without sacrificing our inner child..."

No Country for Old X-Men

(030617) If Hugh Jackman really means it and this is THE last time he will ever portray Wolverine, he has picked a perfect way to go out on top. His last hurrah as the Wolverine is the best yet. “Logan” synthesizes comic book characters into the real world in a way that’s only been reached in what Roger Ebert called the “engrossing tragedy” of the “The Dark Knight.” Despite being the ninth addition to the beloved Jackman Wolverine cinematic canon, feels like a quantum leap in the character. Writer/director James Mangold understands the elemental make-up of the Wolverine and Professor Xavier and uses mutations as dramatic enhancements for this profound tale of redemption. Logan is not a superhero movie. It’s a neo-western with a tragic, reluctant anti-hero feeling guilty for using his unique ability to cause mayhem and destruction to help others avoid the violence and pain all too familiar in his own life.

Mangold and his co-writers (The Wolverine and Minority Report screenwriter Scott Frank and American Gods writer/show-runner Michael Green) have managed something that’s been frustratingly rare over the past decade-plus of grim-n-gritty superhero takes: they earn the tone by developing a rich, even nuanced emotional landscape around their characters. And they show a rare commitment to the theme by taking their story to an uncompromising, even horrifying finale. Plenty of recent superhero films dabble in grimness seemingly out of a feeling that it makes wish-fulfillment hero-fantasy more serious and adult. Logan tells an actual adult story about despair, decay, and death.

“Logan” isn’t a slave to any particular comic book story, despite sharing some aesthetic attributes to the comic book ‘Wolverine: Old Man Logan’ (written by Mark Millar) and thematic similarities to ‘Wolverine’ (by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller). “Logan” is a simple tale, one where once heroic figures have now faded into obscurity. In 2029 mutants have all but disappeared. It appears that genetic mutation has been eradicated and those that remain are in hiding. On the U.S/Mexico borderlands Logan (Jackman) and Caliban (Stephen Merchant) are caring for nonagenarian Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), whose grip on his supremely powerful mind is slipping away. A mysterious woman appears to enlist Logan as an escort for Laura (Dafne Keen), a young special girl on the run from robotically enhanced Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) his soldiers the ’Reavers’. Compelled to see the girl to safety, Logan, Charles and Laura get on the road to escape the dogged pursuit of this shady organization.

Of course Jackman’s performance as Logan is stellar; he’s often been the highlight of the Fox mutant franchise. In every frame of the film he’s delivering a commitment to the performance and to character that he’s been waiting for the material to offer. This is a deeply damaged soldier duty bound to loyalty and mantles that he knows no-one else would be suited for. With Charles’ condition, although Caliban is assisting, there’s no-one who can stand next to this unstable atomic reactor of a mind. Jackman is raw, tough, wounded and there’s nothing he holds back in this final iconic performance.

The chemistry between the central trio of characters Logan, Charles (Stewart) and Laura (Keen) propels the film. Stewart and Jackman have been waiting to be able to unleash the fury in their roles, without censorship training wheels. When you hear Charles chastise Logan and drop a convoy of F-Bombs in frustration at Logan’s means of care you feel like the relieving laughs are cathartic for the entire series worth of performances. Stewart’s Charles in “Logan” is a shell of the titan he was and it’s distressing. Stewart relishes an opportunity to lose control of his weaponize mind. Mangold doesn’t allow Charles into our heads in “Logan” and forces Stewart into a performance that casts doubt on whether he’s able to harness any of his remaining power. A quiet interlude where the trio are watching the classic film Shane in a hotel gives Stewart, perhaps one of his best moments on screen. His recounting of seeing Shane for the first time as a child is subtly melancholy.

Dafne Keen is the absolute stand-out of the film. Spending at least half of the movie without saying a word; she’s got a fury, a terrifying force in a diminutive package that makes her believably emotionally delicate and explosive.

A couple of meta-moments in the film allow Mangold to make some subtle commentary on the state of the comic book. Both in print and in the mediums movie translations. When we see Logan and Charles conversing with each other about their possible future, while in a large, empty cistern, the symbolism was not lost. Another less subtle scene involves Logan referring to comic books as “ice cream for bed-wetters”.

There are some fantastic special effects but they’re crafted to intensify moments of conflict. It’s a film that finally adds emergency room gore and consequence to clashes between our heroes and those who would stand in their way. Wolverine’s lightning fast healing ability has now slowed to a crawl and his body is a mass of grizzled scar tissue. Watching him drag a stuck retractable claw to its full length and tearing up his hand in the process shows the extent of the degradation. The main use of digital effects is visualizing Charles using its power as it’s slipping away. In a stop along their journey, Logan is finding a replacement to their bullet hole riddled limousine. As he arrives back at the Casino hotel, he sees Pierce’s ‘Reavers’ have descended and just as he’s calculating what kind of violence that he’s going to have to dish out to cut his way to Laura and Xavier the very air begins to shift and shake. If you’ve seen Bryan Singer’s original X-Men, you’ve witnessed the peak of the Professor’s power. In a flash when Bobby a.k.a Iceman and Pyro get into an altercation that reveals their powers in a crowded museum food court the entire population is suddenly frozen. Now in his 90s, his grip and control on his mind is slipping. When Charles uses his power time slows, the air quakes and most are stuck in a disorientating pulsing seizure. Logan, less impacted due to his power, wades through the vibration, killing frozen foes all the way until he can administer medication. Mangold and Stewart craft a relatable blight that is usually reserved for what we see in characters suffering from dementia.

Mangold and Jackman paired up for two Wolverine tales. They represent the morality, empathy and archetypal echoes of those begrudging rogue cowboys compelled to do good; whatever town they come upon. Comic book movies have desensitized us to consequence. Death is too often a passing fad, easily corrected. “Logan” defies those limitations. Stripped of their pen and ink testosterone, we can see them as human. It’s not as sexy as ripped muscles and lycra tights, but it’s as real as the genre can get without sacrificing our inner child on the cold altar of hard facts and undeniable mortality.

Directed by:  James Mangold
Written by: Screenplay by: Scott Frank, James Mangold & Michael Green. From a story by James Mangold
Starring:   Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen
Released:  030317
Length: 137 minutes
Rating:   Rated R for strong brutal violence and language throughout, and for brief nudity

LOGAN ©  2017 20th Century Fox

Review © 2017 Alternate Reality, Inc.