Thursday, 9 March 2017

Logan review

Ahh... 'Logan'. I decided to see the next film attempting to redefine the Marvel Cinematic Universe; and the world of mass-media entertainment.

Around the time 'Deadpool' pulled in big cash at the box office last year, Fox started talking about an R-rated 'Wolverine 3', which arrived with a humorous poster of Hugh Jackman giving the claw middle finger. This was classic cash-grab: see an idea that works, and then aim to replicate it as soon as possible to get in on the trend. I'm not sure what happened in the pipeline along the way, but what we've ended up with is very different, and much better, than what we could have ever hoped for.

A different kind of superhero movie...
'Logan', as you probably have heard by now, is dark - really dark. Although 'Deadpool' may have said 'fuck' a lot, his humour was childish and puerile - and it was clear that the movie was aimed at a very particular audience. 'Logan' has gone down a decidedly different route: a route different to what it's initial poster suggested, and different to what we have come to expect from a studio. As anarchic as Reynolds proved to be, it was, at the end of the day, a pretty standard superhero movie with a superhero plot. But this time around there's no Stan Lee cameo, and no end credits scene. This time we're in for one hell of a cinematic ride.What's perhaps the most surprising of all, however, is that this doesn't feel like a superhero movie: it feels like a Western.

Taking it's cue from the fantastic (not to mention revolutionary) Mark Millar storyline 'Old Man Logan', the film takes place in the year 2029, finding Wolverine living under his natural name (James Howlett) as an Uber limo driver. Make no mistake, this man is a shell of the one we've seen in previous movies. He's disheveled, he drinks all day, he lives with a permanent limp; his claws cause him immense pain, and his adamantium skeleton is beginning to poison him from the inside. He's close to death, in a world where (for reasons we can't quite be certain of) no new mutants have been born in 15 years, and the majority of X-men have been massacred. Indeed, suffice to say that it ain't a happy setting.

He lives in the desert with a 90 year old Professor X, who's pumped up on drugs in order to avoid evoking painful memories in the past - and to control disastrous seizures that cause anybody in the nearby vicinity to experience total paralysis. After a chance meeting (well, not too chance) with a Mexican woman looking to safeguard a young girl from further harm by carting her to North Dakota, the pair are forced into a high-stakes game of cat and mouse - tracked down by a sinister geneticist (Richard E Grant) and his crazy accomplice (Boyd Holbrook). Indeed, on the cross country trip, there are various diversions - the kindness of strangers, supermarkets, small-time gangsters, casinos et all; but the film is really about the journey.

A smaller scale, higher potency movie.
In this way, it shares a certain small-scale sensibility with 'Deadpool' - fuck the rest of the world, that film told us; we're here to tell a story and we're going to tell it our way - without needing to save the world. Wolverine doesn't need to save the world because ha has no need to - when a story is focused and emotional then it's easier to sympathise and become engaged. I'm not naieve - I know this is all about the budget concern - but I genuinely think that the constraints put upon these movies has acted immensely to their advantage.

And what an emotional journey it turns out to be. With the added humanity of these characters, there's a lot at stake. A lingering sense of disappointment hangs in the air - Logan has ultimately spent his life filled with regret, and without love. There's a sense of hopelessness and unfeasibility of his dream to buy a 'Sunseeker' yacht and tour the world; and he carries around an adamantium bullet which he has no whims about disclosing is for suicide.  Prof X is effectively on his death bed, and there are hints that he may have done something terrible in the past. Indeed, there are moments of humor and hope peppered throughout - but, overall, the tone is decidedly morose. Put it this way: at multiple times in the cinema there was mass tear-shedding.

Of course, the movie is R-rated (15 here in the UK) for a reason - the violence is exceptionally brutal. For too long (10 movies to be precise), the X-Men movies have tread a weird line where the stabbing and slashing from wolverine's claws produces bloodless injury - and James Mangold's vision almost feels like wish fulfillment on this part. What with the characters in this movie being honest, realistic, more relatable people than in past movies - the violence similarly matches. It's not 'Kick-Ass' or 'Kingsman' excess - but rather an accurate portrayal of what happens if you stick three knife-claws into a human being, and then slash their body open. At points this becomes squirm-inducing (specifically in a stunning slow-motion scene during one of Prof X's seizures), but it feels right - and makes the carnage seem less indiscriminate. It also, of course, adds to the 'gritty' Western feel of the movie - furthering the idea that 'Logan' is trying to break out of a cinematic niche.

A darker and more adult tale.
The acting is nigh on impeccable, and if the Academy would get their fucking act together, then I feel like there would have been a real possibility of nominations. Both Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart  give incredible performances in their roles - portraying age and vulnerability masterfully (especially Jackman, who isn't that old himself). Indeed, the perception of 'Logan' as a comic-book movie immediately dissuades these suggestions, but all things considered, the acting here is of a better standard than a lot of the movies long and short listed for this years Academy Awards. As for the girl (Dafne Keen), she's used sparingly enough, and at the right angles, to not become cringey - thank god for that. But in terms of acting, her seeming need to put on a pantomime serious facial expression becomes seriously annoying at points. Luckily, there were no standout moments of awkwardness - but it definitely could have been a little better.

Similarly, the production design is absolutely fantastic. Instead of the bright palettes of a Marvel movie, or the darkened hues we've come to expect from DC, we get a sun-drenched, realistic, and rather more beautiful picture more evocative of a John Wayne flick than anything else. Indeed, again, this serves to distance 'Logan' from other superhero franchise fare - by directly including it in the world of movies that exists outside the realm of the summer blockbuster.

On that same point, there's a general lack of CGI throughout the entire affair. The blood and gore seem to be, in general, made up exclusively of practical effects (and thank fuck for that). There are a couple of in-camera effects such as when the abilities of children are showcased, an explosion here and there, and of course the seizure scenes. But there's no big explosive finale - if anything, the climax plays a bit like the climax to the 'Raid' films - focused, violent, and entirely personal. This kind of finish isn't from everyone - somebody I went with complained of a lack of spectacle - but for fans of cinema, rather than marvel blockbuster fare, this is pretty much the peak of the genre.

'Mad Max' vibes, anyone?
There are problems, here and there. There's a lot of it that feels derivative... For a start, the entire concept (which involves Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart saying 'fuck' as many times as humanly possible in a movie) is most definitely bred straight from 'Deadpool'. Without that particular film, this film wouldn't be happening, and it feels a little too much like gunning for a repeat. Additionally there's way too much 'Mad Max: Fury Road' in this film. Caliban (Steve Merchant) looks exactly like a war boy when, in the comics, he doesn't even look human. The desert setting and chase scenes play a lot like that particular movie. And, on top of this, the plots are exactly the same - what amounts to a long car chase across a large stretch of land in a dystopia (this is just less dystopian and has more stop-offs). OK, I get it: you're trying to ape the successes of the two most acclaimed blockbusters in the last two years but, please, be more subtle about it.

There also seems to be a kick for casting in terms of diversity, which usually isn't a problem (see Disney's new 'Star Wars' saga); but this time takes it a little far. For instance, in a collection of scenes where young mutants are together, of whom all have been raised from birth by the same people in the same facility, there is the amalgamation of practically every shade of skin colour and accent on the whole of planet Earth. And, getting this out the way, why is there an incredibly obese kid? These children have been through an intensive process of training and strict dieting... they should all be in precise peak physical condition. It's so outlandishly weird to have a movie that doesn't give a fuck about showing kids rip apart soldiers with claw hands; but feels the need to remain politically correct. The audience, for your information, did laugh. 

The 'Magnificent Seven', with claws...
But here's the real standout point - 'Logan' isn't setting up anything in the future. If we look at a movie like 'Avengers: Age of Ultron' - then we're being fed a sequel that relies on the past installment of the franchise, and serves solely to set up the next money-grabbing piece of shit. There is no feeling like this in 'Logan' - it feels free from the shackles of the modern blockbuster. Whilst watching it, it's easy to forget you're watching a franchise comic-book movie - and that's precisely what we need right now.

At the end of the day, 'Logan' proves to be more than a great superhero movie: it's a great movie full stop. As a standalone film, it powers through without any need for its predecessors - and provides the perfect endpoint for a series that has been a cinematic mainstay of the last 17 years. It lands alongside the great pillars of 'Watchmen''The Dark Knight', and 'Kick - Ass' as a true game changer in content, style, and intelligence. Go see it now - this is the birth of a cultural icon.
'Logan' gets 4 stars!

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