Movie Review: “Logan” (R)

Movie Review LoganFew trailers in recent memory have so perfectly represented the overall tone of a movie then that first trailer for “Logan.” The inclusion of Johnny Cash’s haunting cover of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt” was a stroke of genius. Props to the marketing teams at Marvel Studios and 20th Century Fox for that one.

In “Logan,” we’re introduced to a considerably different Wolverine than the one we’ve seen eight times before. It’s still a perfectly cast Hugh Jackman in the role, but this Logan is far more weathered. He’s alone, he’s broken, and he’s fittingly cynical. And how could he not be cynical? He lives in a world where very few mutants remain, where violence is part of day-to-day life, and where the heroics of his past have very little bearing on a rather bleak 2029 climate. Kind of like the world we live in now.

When Logan’s not serving as a limo driver for hire, he serves as a caretaker for an aging Charles Xavier who is now suffering from dementia. Of course, when this particular mutant has a spell, it isn’t at all healthy for those around him.

Movie Review LoganAdding to Logan’s misery is the unthinkable notion that he’s sick, virtually dying from the very thing that made him who he is. Logan reluctantly finds a new purpose though when he discovers the existence of a child with several traits that are oddly similar to his own. Young Laura has an undeniable set of fighting skills that are only rivaled by her ferocity, attitude, and eerie sense of quiet. Ultimately, Logan and Charles hit the open road in an effort to elude the military and to get Laura to safe ground. Along the way, they aid a family of farmers all while forming an inevitable bond.

“Logan” shifts tones on a dime. It’s a “Mad Max” and “Terminator” style action movie, it’s film noir, it’s a western, and it’s a road movie, but “Logan” is also a moving, sobering, melancholy-laced character driven piece. What’s more, writer/director James Mangold (“Cop Land,” “Walk the Line,” “The Wolverine”) has fashioned a standalone movie that still manages to honor the legacy of everything that has come before it.

Speaking of honor and legacy, this is Hugh Jackman’s ninth time breaking out the claws, and if he’s to be taken at his word, this is also his last time as Wolverine. If this truly is the case, then the likable Aussie actor is going out on a high note. True, this particular incarnation of the character is grittier and darker than some audiences might be prepared for, but given that the film takes its cue from “Old Man Logan,” it all makes sense. Whatever you might think of this more somber take on Logan, Jackman pretty much nails it in every facet. This man has watched nearly everyone he’s been close to, die, and that has taken quite a toll on him. Jackman brings real emotion to this movie, but rest assured that he gets to kick plenty of ass, too.

Equally impressive are the performances Mangold gets out of a stellar supporting cast. As an elderly, sickly Charles Xavier, the great Patrick Stewart has never been better. He brings both humor and humanity in equal measure. Xavier as presented in this picture has undeniable power that he can barely control anymore, and his dementia tends to cause him to behave in a way that is very non-Professor X. It’s his constant words of wisdom to a broken Logan, however, that truly make this character so memorable. There’s a great father/son dynamic going on between Stewart and Jackman, and while this bond has been explored in past films, it resonates in a much more profound way in “Logan.”

Also turning in quite the impressive performance is Stephen Merchant. His mutant Caliban shares Xavier-caretaking duties with Logan, and each time Charles has an “episode,” it takes a little more out of him physically. It would have been nice if the film would have delved a little more into Caliban as a character, because Merchant is an actor of considerable depth. He gives this mutant a soul. Look no further than a pivotal moment in which Caliban must make tough decision after being forced to do bad things against his will.

Rounding out the leads is fierce young newcomer Dafne Keen. As a mysterious little girl with a couple of pretty big secrets, Keen emerges as a stick of cinematic dynamite. A breathtaking sequence in which her Laura finally reveals her true self is a sequence you’re not likely to forget. With barely any dialogue at all, Keen breathes life (and fire) into this tough-as-nails youngster, and the fashion in which Laura bonds with Logan later on in the picture is a real kick. It sort of plays like “Children of X-Men.”

This is Mangold’s second time helming a “Wolverine” picture, and while his last outing was admirable, he clearly has meatier material to work with here. Themes range from timely politics to the power of family, and Mangold and co-writer Scott Frank even throw in comic books themselves as a creative means to drive the plot forward.  And again, it’s refreshing and admirable that Mangold has opted to put character over spectacle. In fact, had he solely gone the character-driven route, this picture might have been even more effective.

Admittedly, “Logan” is a little too long. It gets a bit bogged down by a supermutant-soldier subplot and an extended finale in which Wolverine must lead a revolt against a military squad. Furthermore, the second half of “Logan,” which turns into a slice of Americana road movie before leading into its oddly paced final act, doesn’t quite live up to the near-perfect first half. Some fans are also questioning what exactly happened to all the characters Logan was so close to throughout the years. True, there’s ambiguity at play in a big way here, but this is Logan’s story, and answers to some of these questions will no doubt be answered in the future. In that regard, Mangold sort of does here what J.J. Abrams did with “The Force Awakens.” Rather than showing what led up to to a specific point of origin, he simply meets up with where these characters currently are.

For my money, “Logan” certainly has its flaws, but they don’t really detract from the big picture. With “Logan,” Mangold and Jackman have given us a fitting Wolverine swan song (if it truly is a swan song) that is well worth watching for character and emotional gravitas alone. This is a dark, gritty, R-rated take on one of Marvel’s most beloved properties and if you’ve followed all of the “X-Men” and “Wolverine” big-screen adventures, you’re likely to walk out of this picture with a big old lump in your throat. In fact, when you go to see “Logan,” you may even want to have a box of tissues handy.

Leave it to those creative (and shrewd) storytellers at Marvel Studios to open their movie with a stinger instead of close with it.

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