Sunday, March 19, 2017

REVIEW: "Logan" (2017)

It's easy to forget (and most people may not be aware) that before the Marvel Cinematic Universe, before Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy, and before Sam Raimi's personal take on Spider-Man, director Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects, 1995) really changed the face of superhero/comic book films at the turn of the century with X-Men (2000) and set the stage for the aforementioned films we have today.

Singer also made a breakout star in Hugh Jackman, a relative unknown Australian actor at the time. Much like Sylvester Stallone and Rocky Balboa, Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Terminator, and Robert Downey, Jr., and Tony Stark/Iron Man, Jackman has become synonymous with the claw-fisted mutant that is Wolverine for the past seventeen years, thanks to nine feature-film appearances--ten if you count his image appearing in one (read below). And his range and progression as an actor in this role (not to mention biceps he's gained) has really shown, whether as a relatively new pupil at Professor X's famed school (2000's X-Men), as an over-the-top avenger in a scathing "origin" story (2009's X-Men Origins: Wolverine), as a lost man who journeys to Japan (2013's The Wolverine), or as an ageless character sent back in time to stop an assassination and change the future (2014's X-Men: Days of Future Past).

X-Men Cinematic Universe Filmography:
X-Men (2000)
X2: X-Men United (2003)
X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)
X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
X-Men: First Class (2011)
The Wolverine (2013)
X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
Deadpool (2016)
X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)
Logan (2017)

Hugh Jackman
Jackman's reported final outing in this franchise appears in the violent R-rated Logan, set in a bleak and hopeless future where mutants and "heroes" have become largely extinct (save for a bruised and broken Wolverine, an ailing Charles Xavier, and a sun-phobic albino known as Caliban). From the opening frame, it's obvious that Logan (drunken and washed up) is at the end of his rope, as his healing powers don't work as they used to. Meanwhile, Xavier suffers from dementia and seizures that greatly impact those around him, which Logan constantly tries to keep in check.

Then, one day, an old acquaintance of Logan's begs him to take a little girl to the border of Canada to ensure her safety, as there is a safe haven there known as "Eden". And when the girl (named Laura) sprouts claws from her fists, just like Wolverine, it's revealed she's a mutant, and there are others across the border just like her, leading Logan and Charles on an unlikely road trip.

The film runs more like an action-western than a full-blown comic book movie, much the same way The Dark Knight (2008) worked as a crime drama. And it's a deadly serious one at that; one that perhaps gives Jackman his most compelling, gripping, and profane opportunity with the character. The same for Patrick Stewart, who takes Xavier in a completely different and strangely poignant direction. The way both actors (as well as newcomer Dafne Keen, who plays Laura) handle the sentimentality and emotional core of the film is superb and unexpected.

Patrick Stewart and Hugh Jackman
Director James Mangold (who worked with Jackman on The Wolverine, as well as 2001's Kate & Leopold) ends Wolverine's swan song not only with a riveting and intimate character-driven story, but also by pulling out all the stops that an R-rating would allow. The opening scene, for instance, wastes no time slicing its adversaries and unfortunate baddies who cross Wolverine's path. One review described the film's violence this way: "It's doubtful you'd see so much sliced meat in a beef packing plant" (read here).

With that in mind (as gripping and compelling and unconventional as the film is), it's a question of how far it was really necessary to take the level of violence that it went. It would be easy to compare this film to the likes of Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese, or Mel Gibson, in terms of graphic on-screen brutality, or even to R-rated action films from the Eighties and Nineties like Robocop, Total Recall, and Terminator 2: Judgment Day, all of which were critically- and commercially-successful.

Even so, I pity parents who let their Wolverine-/X-Men-fan children see this. Sure, it's fair to say that, like last year's equally-hard-R Deadpool, Logan was never marketed as a child- or family-friendly movie. (Both films didn't even spawn kids' toys in the process.)

Laura, the mutant girl who was (it's implied) created in a testing facility with Logan's DNA and exhibits the same healing powers he does, is subjected to and overcomes numerous moments of peril throughout the film (like a kid version of Linda Hamilton, or, according to some critics, Natalie Portman from Leon: The Professional), including a disturbing instance where she's impaled with an arrow. I am personally bothered by seeing children involved in such situations. Sure, Laura is a not literally a human character, but the idea of a child being exposed to such atmospheres is very troubling, and one that parents should think more than twice about, as if the R-rating wasn't enough.

On the other hand (and this is a thought, not an endorsement), maybe that's what the filmmakers were aiming at, as the theme of the film revolves around characters who are lost (or were born) in darkness and discover life; some for the first time (Laura), and others once again (Logan, Charles). "This is what life is," a voice-of-reason Charles tells Logan. "You should take a moment and feel it. . . . You still have time." It even impacts Laura, who was born and raised to be a weapon for the government, and is moved by what it means to live.

Yet, I question how this film and its success (along with Deadpool's) will effect the genre in the future. Marvel and DC, for one, are reportedly open to more R-rated comic book movies (read here). Director Zack Snyder, after all, has already made adaptations of the graphic novels 300 (2007) and Watchmen (2009), and the "Ultimate Edition" of Batman v Superman (2016), released on Bluray. In addition, both studios have been having successful T.V. series in the forms of Gotham (The CW), Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage (all Netflix). The Hollywood Reporter also wrote an interesting article on the subject recently, with the implication of whether the future of comic-book movies being R-rated is necessary.

I hope that this doesn't become a trend. The good thing, though, is that these R-rated versions of comic-book characters aren't the only versions out there. And kids and families can still encounter various cinematic adventures in less bloody and violent ways (look at The Incredibles, Batman: The Animated Series, Big Hero 6, and most of the PG-13 Marvel films), recalling the universal thrills that set the genre in motion many times before.

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