2017. Directed by James Mangold.
A skin deep swan song by way of a bloodstained road movie, James Mangold’s Logan is a touching, but sadly adequate capstone to the X-Men saga pioneered by Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart. Profanity laced unbridled fury, an outstanding debut performance, and a meticulously crafted entry into the superhero genre are unable to obfuscate the film’s mediocrity.
Using threads from the Old Man Logan comic series, the story begins during the final days of the last mutants on Earth. Logan is has finally, irrevocably broken underneath years of pain and alcoholism. Professor X is slowly losing his mind, making him an unstable danger to friends and foes alike. This quiet extinction is disturbed when a young girl is dropped into their midst putting them on the run from nefarious, albeit typically boring Marvel villains. Mangold’s story is ultimately a sly metaphor on how the genre itself is being consumed by its fandom. The heroes are used up and uninterested in caring, let alone acting. Society has become automated allowing evil men to do evil deeds while the grassroots of manual labor are mercilessly replaced. Regrettably these chilling concepts are only flirted with, as Mangold seems to use every intriguing moment as a stepping stone to the next CGI bloodbath.
On the topic of violence in the film, rumors of its brutality are vastly overstated. For an R Rated adult offering, this is tame considering how practical effects could have been used for maximum impact, but ultimately violence itself is a fleeting notion in this film as scores of mechanically augmented soldiers are repeatedly, unceremoniously ripped to shreds. Joel Harlow’s makeup design is fantastic, chronicling a life of torment on Logan’s body and as the damage multiplies, the visible, slowly healing wounds become marks of desperation. John Mathieson’s cinematography latches onto the obvious with a death grip, never deviating from the surface except during some wonderful shots of automated behemoths in a corn field and a few stills of Logan at his worst.
In the end, there is no real villain besides time, an existential conceit that is never developed in favor of a repetitive combat rhythm that carries the story into a remarkable final act that comes too soon despite the overlong running time. It’s a strange paradox, but this is a strange film. Everything is apparent. The tired gunman on one last mission cliché is everywhere, even on a television displaying one of the many films from which this trope was conceived, the ultimate admission that blockbusters have run out of fresh ideas.
Patrick Stewart delivers an award caliber performance. Professor X is the heart of this film and Stewart does an amazing job with the unexciting material he’s given, delivering the film’s greatest heartbreak and some hilarious one liners. Jackman fully embraces being able to finally be the Logan we’ve all wanted with ease and it’s a touchstone to how talented this man truly is. Newcomer Dafne Keen gives ferocious turn as the girl that everyone is pursuing. She’s primal and abrasive, compassionate and furious, portraying the anguish of a living experiment with a handful of words. Stephen Merchant’s supporting performance as Caliban also merits mention, as he is the example of the work-horsed mutant’s plight in a world that no longer needs them.
In theaters now, Logan is a great sendoff for its titular character, but little else. The marketing campaign set this up as a transcendent experience that had the potential to rewrite the entire game. Potential is the key word because it is genuinely everywhere within Logan’s dust choked set pieces. Sadly, the film is more interested in getting to the sendoff rather than exploring its powerful capabilities. It’s worth seeing in theater for the remarkable tribute to Jackman and Stewart’s work and the fact that adult oriented superhero films need all the support they can get to ensure that the studios continue to take chances on them. However, if you’re looking for something that breaks the mold, this is the not film.