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-[Film Reviews]-, Hollywood, NORTH AMERICAN CINEMA

‘Logan’ (2017): Review

Directed by: James Mangold || Produced by: Hutch Parker, Simon Kinberg, Lauren Shuler Donner

Screenplay by: Scott Frank, James Mangold, Michael Green || Starring: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Richard E. Grant, Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant, Dafne Keen, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Eriq La Salle, Elise Neal

Music by: Marco Beltrami || Cinematography: John Mathieson || Edited by: Michael McCusker, Dirk Westervelt || Country: United States || Language: English, Spanish

Running Time: 137 minutes

Logan is more or less a cinematic adaptation of Johnny Cash’s “Hurt” (a fantastic cover of a Nine Inch Nails original) and “The Man Comes Around“. The former was featured in the terrific premiere trailer and the latter is attached to the film’s credits, covering a range of narrative material from depressing self-loathing and cynicism to Old Testament Biblical vengeance. If prospective audiences, both X-Men comic diehards and casual filmgoers, were worried about 20th Century Fox’s latest franchise expansion living up to its marketing material, worry no more. It is everything we wanted and deserved.

Logan (Hugh Jackman, left) takes on a gang of thugs in the film’s strong opening sequence.

Deadpool (2016) can be thanked for many things, not the least of which is liberating the R-rating for big-budget, mainstream studio pictures. While Deadpool and Logan could not be further apart in terms of central characters or tone, one can draw a direct cultural and financial line from the former to the latter; it remains to be seen how far these trends reach and how long they last, but if anything can prolong the cultural dominance of comic book-to-film adaptations, it is tonal diversity and a lack of studio censorship.

For those of you not as enthusiastic about the graphic novel diaspora nor interested in following every extended franchise installment, not to worry; Logan is more a neo-western and character-piece than any sort of true “comic book movie” (I haven’t even tagged it as such, and though it takes thematic inspiration from the acclaimed Old Man Logan [2008], it shares virtually nothing in common with it). Logan makes vague references to earlier films in the X-Men franchise, but for all intents and purposes functions as a standalone feature (remember those?).

As far as characters and screenwriting are concerned, Logan is excellent. Hugh Jackman is at his best in his supposed final portrayal of the titular character. Not only does the adult-rating allow for increased violence, but also a wider emotional range and colorful vocabulary for Jackman and company. Jackman’s Logan is on his last ropes by the beginning of this film, wearily fending off would-be hijackers near the US-Mexican border in a blunt, funny, and all-around terrific opening scene. His chemistry with an aging, senile Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and the young, energetic Laura/X-23 (Dafne Keen) are the core of the movie and the main appeal of the story. I was a little disappointed in Stewart’s limited screentime, as well as Keen’s limited dialogue, but their on-screen chemistry is worth the price of admission alone, and their road-trip journey is emotionally fulfilling.

Speaking of which, Logan is as much a road movie as it is a neo-western. The narrative takes time to establish its setting, tone, and the grimy living conditions of Logan, Xavier, and Caliban (Stephen Merchant), but then sets off on a colorful tour of the American southwest. Though its villains are charismatic (save for X-24, who is merely functional), the film is less about the chase than the physical and emotional journey of our heroes. This story is more No Country for Old Men (2007) or Sicario (2015) than Fury Road (2015), and not even in the same area code as X-Men: Apocalypse (2016).

As for Logan’s action sequences, they are appropriately violent and bloody. Actually, that may be an understatement — they are brutal and incredibly gory. Extreme violence is used as character analyses, plot progression, and tonal intensity throughout Logan. If the cinematic violence of The Raid (2011, 2014) and John Wick (2014, 2017) alternate between balletic and catlike, Logan’s action is brawling and animalistic — like a wolverine, for instance. Dafne Keen has a few graceful moves as the young, spry X-23, but for the most part, the film has little interest in complex choreography.

Laura/X-23 (Dafne Keen, left) finishes off a Reaver mercenary while Logan (center) sedates Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart, right), who is in the middle of a telepathic seizure.

As interesting as its narrative scope, characters, and use of violence is its physical backdrop. Logan remains one of the few high-profile Hollywood films to highlight rural America and the American southwest outside of a period-piece or racially charged drama. The location photography done in Louisiana, Mississippi, and New Mexico looks gorgeous, conveying a sense of near-future dystopia but also a relatable, tangible rural modernism. Perhaps my favorite act of the film involves Jackman, Stewart, and Keen seeking shelter in a remote farmhouse, where the titular character takes time to sample ordinary life centered on family, home, and warmth before violence inevitably brings the respite crashing down. Depicting these characters’ journey against backdrops of cornfields, dirty highways, and dilapidated small towns emphasizes the sheer loneliness and disempowerment of our principle trio. Few, if any, films in recent memory have used such ordinary yet often unseen landscapes to encapsulate their themes so succinctly. In Logan, the physical backdrop is a characterization unto itself.

These desolate yet tangible settings and the story’s combination of Western and road movie motifs necessitate its deliberate pace. While the action scenes are furious, bloody, and unforgettable, they are minor upticks in the film’s overall narrative flow. Logan is built upon a bedrock of slow character scenes, intimate conversations, and a somber, cynical mood. The aforementioned opening scene sets the tone perfectly with its blunt, almost sarcastic approach to casual violence, reveling just as much in Logan’s disaffected attitude toward the whole confrontation as the physical fight itself.

In Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart’s final outing as these beloved characters, mood and physical ambiance are both marketing value and the movie’s emotional heft. Its violence is memorable, but feels more like a natural consequence of the brutal world in which these characters live; blood is shed not necessarily for redemption, but for survival and preservation of legacy, and we spend much more filmic time contemplating the latter than the former. Logan is either a transition in graphic novel tentpole features or the end of an era, but either way it champions the power of cinema to create emotion through images. The film is a tone poem fit for the musical ambiance of Johnny Cash, an acoustic, scrappy journey through hard country, exploring what happens when you trap an old man or a wounded animal into a corner.

Logan rescues a still handcuffed Laura from a Reaver attack.

—————————————————————

SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: By a trio of powerful lead performances, beautiful location photography, and unconquerable mood, Logan continues 20th Century Fox’s X-Men winning streak by making a film that’s more purebred road movie than graphic novel adaptation. The violence is harrowing and consequential, but almost feels like a thematic afterthought given the strength of the story itself. This film joins the ranks of Sicario and No Country for Old Men as the great neo-westerns of the new millennium.

However… Dafne Keen’s X-23 remains mute for too long for no good reason. Patrick Stewart is a joy to watch, but is removed from the equation too soon given his emotional impact and strong characterization.

—> Logan comes HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. But please, as much as I support violent movies, don’t bring your eight year-olds to this.

? Nature made him a freak, man made him a weapon, and God made it last too long. Rest in peace, Logan.

About The Celtic Predator

I love movies, music, video games, and big, scary creatures.

Discussion

4 thoughts on “‘Logan’ (2017): Review

  1. Really nice review. I found ‘Logan’ to be my favorite of the X-men movies, largely due to the fact that it was not a typical superhero/comic book movie. The character development was very well done and the violence and bloodshed was appropriate for the subject matter.

    Posted by Robert O. Lincoln | March 10, 2017, 12:37 pm
    • I agree on all accounts. I’ve noticed a pattern whereby most of the best or better than average comic book films ‘don’t feel like comic book (or superhero) films,’ so maybe there’s something to be said for branching out, an argument for busting formula.

      Posted by The Celtic Predator | March 15, 2017, 5:10 pm
  2. I never really understood Wolverine’s role in X-Men, the outsider brought in, I got that, but there was always something about him that suggested he should be in another film. Sounds like this outing is the character’s natural home.

    Posted by The Opening Sentence | March 12, 2017, 6:24 am
    • I was OK with the franchise focusing on him as their protagonist, given his personality and fame, but I always balked at his solo movies and the series’ censored violence. As soon as Wolverine started to care too much (i.e. X3: The Last Stand), his character became less interesting.

      This is the type of movie in which the character should have always been. It really is a breath of fresh air the same way The Dark Knight was in 2008, but perhaps even more so.

      Posted by The Celtic Predator | March 12, 2017, 1:05 pm

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