Monday, March 06, 2017

Escape Claws

The new movie Logan marks Hugh Jackman's final appearance as Wolverine (according to the man himself), capping a nearly 20 year run as the character. It's an interesting finale, in that it's quite dissimilar in tone from any of the movies that came before, X-Men or solo.

Instead, Logan seems to owe two films in particular for its sharply different approach. First, of course, is Deadpool. That runaway, surprise smash taught execs at 20th Century Fox that fans will flock to see an R-rated superhero film loaded with violence and cursing. Whether there was any nuance to that lesson remains to be seen, but it works out well enough to let the character of Wolverine cut loose the bonds of being PG-13. Logan is a movie about a man haunted by a violent past, and the best way to drive that home is to show in detail more graphic than ever before just how violent he is.

But the other movie to which Logan owes an even greater debt is Children of Men. For those of you who haven't yet seen Logan, I won't spoil things by going into explicit detail, but suffice it to say that the plot and many of the story beats in it are lifted wholesale from that earlier movie. If I held Children of Men in the sky-high regard that many people have for it, chances are this would really tick me off. Instead, I received it more like an homage. I was entertained generally, and glad that a superhero movie dared to bite off such serious material.

But then, Logan doesn't actually play very much like a superhero movie. The protagonists are in dire straits throughout this movie. With the focus on the violence and the relative scarcity of superpowered individuals (compared to, say, X-Men: Apocalypse), the film does start to feel more like an Eastern Promises or a John Wick than strict superhero fare. For some, this shift will be stark enough that you actually won't get what you're hoping for. For me, though, it felt like the rare superhero movie where events actually "mattered," that there were consequences and stakes that the average romp usually lacks. (And they didn't have to destroy entire cities in a failed attempt to create them.)

Hugh Jackman gives a great tough man performance here, a beaten-up-by-the-world shell who nevertheless does let down his guard and feel things more than he would like. Patrick Stewart is great in one last appearance (again, according to him) as Charles Xavier. Continuing the theme of heroes brought low, Xavier is facing old age and senility here, and its a sympathetic portrayal with or without the psionic powers upping the ante. Young Dafne Keen is solid as Laura, giving a stripped-down and feral performance that could have easily skewed comedic (see Kick-Ass, and Hit Girl), but instead stays honest and scary.

I'd give Logan a B+. With the low bar set by the first two Wolverine stand-alone films, that's high enough to easily be the best of the series. Yes, there was room where it could have been better still (perhaps by getting its own plot), but it certainly serves as a good swan song for the character.

No comments: