Movie Review - Logan

The obvious comparison is to the western the film itself references. The three main characters at one point stop to watch Shane (1953), a classic, and yes, there are connections, but on the TV could have easily been the film True Grit (1969). When it comes to westerns, there are probably just as many parallels to that film as Shane. The most overt is an old man paired with a young, scrappy girl on some mission in the name of fatherhood. The problem is that this film has a lot of external forces in the way of comic book lore, which does not allow one to feel the self-contained nature and isolation the film perhaps wants.

This movie in many ways wants to be Firestarter (1984). Yet, director and co-writer James Mangold (Girl, Interrupted and Walk the Line) makes the same mistake as the Duffer brothers in their nostalgia-soaked series Stranger Things. Yet, Mangold's mistake is the same as the Oscar-winning Moonlight, so he would probably argue he's in good company. However, I disagree that making his prepubescent protagonist mute for the majority of the film's run-time is a good choice. In Firestarter, inspired by Stephen King's novel, the filmmakers allowed their main child to speak. It helped to build character and allow us more into her head. This movie keeps her at bay in that regard and needlessly.

Firestarter was about a father and daughter both with superpowers on the road and on the run from essentially, evil scientists who created them and who want to harness their powers. This movie is the same, except the motives of the evil scientists here are never truly clear. Ostensibly, it's to kill them and all the children like the daughter, children also with superpowers. However, when given the chance, they don't kill the children, which means they might want to harness their powers, but what for? It's evidenced about half-way through that the scientists have no need for the children. Therefore, the entire chase is rendered rather pointless.

Hugh Jackman (The Prestige and Les Misérables) stars as Wolvernine, the character first introduced in X-Men (2000). If you don't know the premise. Wolverine is a mutant, or a human born with supernatural powers. Each mutant has a different and unique ability. Wolverine's ability is that he has rapid, regenerative healing. He's basically invincible. If he's stabbed, shot or broken externally or internally, his body will quickly fix itself. This includes his bones, which has retractable claws that emerge in between his knuckles. He also doesn't age. Wolverine was the name he used as an underground wrestler. Outside the ring, he went by the name Logan.

In X2: X-Men United (2003), it was revealed that Logan was the subject of a horrible experiment that fortified his skeleton with an indestructible metal called Adamantium, or at least it's a metal about a hundred times stronger than steel. Logan was recruited to work at a private school where he met other mutants striving for acceptance by humanity. The school also existed as a safe haven for mutants rejected or targeted by humanity.

When Logan first appeared at the school, he looked like a man in his mid thirties. Because Logan doesn't age, it's revealed he's been alive for a long time, and that he's looked like a man in his mid-thirties for an even longer time. In the sixth film featuring this character, simply titled The Wolverine (2013), Logan looked like a 30-something during the tail end of World War II. He even lived in Japan. That film toyed with the idea of Logan losing his powers, which is the same idea here, except it's not a toy.

Mangold also directed The Wolverine, so he's only stealing from himself, but he nakedly does so only to achieve what is the easiest ending for this character and the easiest for sentimentality. Mangold thinks he's solved the dilemma for a character like Logan. The reason people have children is the same reason that all living creatures do because of mortality. Yet, Logan for the most part has no mortality. It's believed he would not die. Mangold thinks he's solved that, but he hasn't. He's simply made the character not the character any more. He cheats. Mangold pulls a Kobayashi Maru via Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Instead of embracing immortality and chasing it to its limits, Mangold cheats it.

Patrick Stewart (Star Trek: The Next Generation and American Dad) reprises his role of Charles Xavier aka Professor X, the man who founded the aforementioned school where mutants found safe haven. Stewart is great as he always is. Here, however, his character is more comedic than he normally is. He's arguably the film's comic relief. He's like Alan Arkin in Little Miss Sunshine (2006). He's the cranky but occasionally, wise-cracking, old man pulled along on a crazy road trip.

Dafne Keen co-stars as Laura, a young girl probably 11 or 12 who is also a mutant. She has the exact same abilities and condition as Logan. She's merely shorter and female. She only has two claws that emerge from her hands, yet she does have one claw that emerges from her foot. If this were Firestarter, she would be Drew Barrymore, but, as said earlier, Mangold keeps her mute, much to the character's detriment. Unlike with a film like Hanna, there's no sense of discovery here, or any moments for nearly two hours where we're invited into her head-space. It's only by the end, which is too late.

If anything, Mangold makes Laura too self-sufficient, too capable, which isn't necessarily a bad thing when it comes to female empowerment. It does keep you wondering why Laura even needed Logan. Laura was a science experiment where Logan's genetic material was used. It's not as if he donated sperm or was tricked into having sex with someone. The woman who frees Laura from Alkali, the company behind the experiments, has a plan to get them across the border to a Canadian safe haven. Why Alkali can't follow them there is never explained, but it's also never explained why the woman doesn't just take Laura there. Instead, the movie wastes time while the woman is elliptical and vague with Logan who works as a limo driver. She could have easily bought a bus ticket to Canada and saved two hours of bloodshed.

Mangold also cheats in another way. He wants to detach this movie from a lot of the criticism of other films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which is why don't the protagonists call upon the help of all those, other, super-powered beings. Mangold contrives for all the other mutants introduced in X-Men who could help to be all dead. Except, his contrivance isn't convincing enough. It also makes the United States, or North America, out to be the only place on Earth. Given that Laura speaks Spanish, being mostly Mexican, the fact her character is trying to leave the U.S. would make this appealing to Trump supporters.

Yet, Mangold's contrivance and his attempt to put a cap on an iconic film character makes his movie derivative of Alfonso Cuarón's Children of Men and JJ Abrams' Star Wars: The Force Awakens. In that example, Logan would be the Han Solo of this story. Like Han Solo being made into a father, this movie makes Logan into a father. This movie does a little better than The Force Awakens because it shows us a little of the relationship between father-and-child. The Force Awakens overlooks it. What Mangold gives isn't sufficient though because as he establishes, Laura is so self-sufficient and such a great fighter, she doesn't need Logan, so he doesn't really teach her anything. While Mangold's plot cribs from Cuarón's, his narrative also doesn't teach us anything. There's no insight into humanity or any deeper themes or nuances that we couldn't have gleaned from the first X-Men, which also had Logan trying to protect a young girl named Rogue. The production design and camerawork isn't as stunning as Children of Men either.

The only real pleasure is watching the beefcake that is Jackman killing man after man, slicing and dicing through countless bodies, splattering blood everywhere. With this, Mangold really doesn't hold back. It's so much that eventually it loses its thrill and all pleasure. It's standard in action films that we are to delight in the so-called good guy killing all the bad guys. It's certainly been the staple of watching Logan for 17 years. After a decade and a half, it just feels soulless.

When it comes to action films where an action star is paired with a child, Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) still stands as the best, mainly because James Cameron came up with the great idea to make his killing machine not kill. This helped to build empathy for a former villain, but it allowed a way for the two characters to learn from each other. Mangold keeps his killing machine very much a killing machine. What are we to take from that that we didn't get from any previous film with this character?

Rated for strong brutal violence and numerous f-bombs.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 17 mins.


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