Thursday, March 2, 2017

Review: "Logan"

Death to the super-hero. Long live the super hero movie.

Movies based on comic books have been a going concern for 20 years now. That’s middle age for film genres, and we’ve witnessed movies agitating to break out of the mold. “Guardians of the Galaxy” was a straight-up comedy, and “Deadpool” ratcheted things up to gross-out laughs and self-aware spoofing. “Batman v. Superman” brought intra-hero beefs to the forefront of the story.

Audiences have grown tired of the same old thing, which is why when they tried to reboot another big comics team, the Fantastic Four, with yet another same-old origin story, people stayed away in droves.

“Logan” is an elegy -- for one of the most popular super hero characters, Wolverine, but also for the first blossoming of this kind of movie-making.

If films based on comic books are to have a viable future, then this is a good step toward reinventing themselves. And by that I don’t just mean casting a younger actor to take over, as they’ve done with the other X-Men characters.

This movie is dark, depressing and dreary. I mean that as a compliment. It’s not about super-powered nobility saving the day against an end-of the-Earth scenario. Nothing otherworldly comes dropping out of the sky. This is a fight played out in the dirt over the withered scraps of humanity.

It’s also the first Wolverine movie that’s rated R -- something which, given the berserker nature of the guy with foot-long claws, is long overdue.

Based very loosely on the “Old Man Logan” comic series, “Logan” takes us a few years down the road into an increasingly morbid future. All the big supers have been killed or banished; the government has become dictatorial and removed from the will of the people.

Logan has gone underground, using the name James Howlett (the one he was born with, according to some iterations) to drive a stretch limo for cash. He’s hiding out Professor X (Patrick Stewart) in the Mexican desert, as the ancient teacher and telepath is prone to seizures that cause everyone in the area to go into a crippling palsy.

Less caretaker than prison guard, Logan is keeping his old mentor under lock and key until he can save up enough money to buy them a boat so they can take to the sea, leaving their troubles behind. Puttering around their hideout is Caliban (Stephen Merchant), a former mutant-hunter who resents being treated as the chambermaid.

This is not your father’s Wolverine. Although it takes place in the year 2029, the seemingly immortal mutant looks like he’s aged 50 years in that span. Hugh Jackman personifies the character’s rapid decline, coughing constantly and shambling about with a limp. His healing factor, which made him able to heal almost instantly from nearly any wound, has diminished to the point he’s not much tougher than a normal human.

“You’re dying. You want to die,” another observes of the scarred wreck of a man, and not inaccurately.

The threat is a familiar one: nefarious science/military types looking to exploit mutants for their abilities. This brings Laura (Dafne Keen), a young girl who doesn’t speak, into the tiny circle of Logan and Xavier. She has abilities much like Wolverine’s, raising sticky issues of her progeny, about which I’ll say no more.

Boyd Holbrook plays Pierce, a mercenary with a cyborg hand who relishes the role of huntsman. Richard E. Grant plays the mysterious Dr. Rice, who apparently has his hands upon the reins. There’s also another x-factor that shows up to taunt Logan about his younger, wilder exploits.

Director James Mangold, who also helmed the last Wolverine movie and co-wrote the script for this one, seems to have finally stumbled upon the essential tragedy of Logan. He’s the ultimate killing machine who has come to abhor death. Now he races toward it, snarling that he’s no longer a hero but always drawn toward redemptive acts.

It’s been said that everything has a beginning, a middle and an end. With “Logan,” the end of an iconic character marks the passage of super-hero movies into a grimmer stage of relevance.

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