Logan (2017) Review

Logan (2017)
Director: James Mangold
Screenwriters: Scott Frank, Michael Green, James Mangold
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen, Richard E. Grant, Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant
Plot: In the near future, a weary Logan cares for an ailing Professor X somewhere on the Mexican border. However, Logan’s attempts to hide from the world and his legacy are upended when a young mutant arrives, pursued by dark forces.

What a breath of fresh air it is to bear witness to a modern action film that concentrates on the ideologies and characterisations of its superheroes alongside their abilities and the ways in which they can be exploited for creative set pieces, instead of solely focusing on the latter, something this movie’s predecessor Origins was found to be particularly guilty of. In an age of special effects, where over-the-top action sequences are thought to be the norm, James Mangold has instead sought to tell the journey of Wolverine as an interesting and always exciting character study more similar to the Westerns that inspired him than the X-Men movies that came before it. Logan may be the best presentation of the Wolverine character in live-action cinema history. From start to finish it explores that which we have yet to see in the titular character’s cinematic universe and does so with such class that almost every emotional twist and turn elevates the film to such heights that even its disjointed conclusion can’t tarnish just how great this movie is.

Perhaps the most intriguing thing about Logan is the film’s unwavering focus on the three characters at the centre of its journey: Logan, Xavier and Laura. Each character is designed to enable the other, while each remains filled with enough characterisation to be regarded as believable in their actions. Logan and Xavier of course benefit from over 17 years of backstory that the audiences no longer need introducing to, yet Mangold’s attempts to focus a usually character-heavy genre on only a few mutants helps to gift this movie with the sort of focus that so much of its big-budget contemporaries seem to be lacking, particularly those within the same franchise, not least Apocalypse (2016). This also enables some of the better performances within the franchise’s rich history of great performances from well established actors, with Sir Patrick Stewart’s Xavier being portrayed as having a deeper connection to his emotions than in previous instalments, while Hugh Jackman managed to bring more pain and grief to his character than we have perhaps ever seen. It was clear that the goals of each of the actors corresponded with the vision of the film’s director and that their mutual respect for the characters was a strong tie that enabled the film to establish the truly human struggles of the protagonists whom were presented as struggling with the morality of using their mutations more so than ever before. This combination of strong performances in a tightly knit character study presented by a director taking tips from a plethora of fantastic westerns that perfected a similar formula, was a new and interesting take on Wolverine as a character and a franchise, and actually made sense as the logical next step for the character and the genre given the staleness (at least in critical circles) that seemed to be imminently approaching Wolverine, X-Men and superhero films as a whole.

To describe Logan exclusively as a character study does seem to be a little over the top however, especially given that the character is actually a mutant whose extendable bones are bound to indestructible metal and whose skin regenerates. Thus, the film must also be graded for the action and computer generated images that such a character trait requires. Thankfully, to fans of the franchise and action movies in general, Logan delivers action sequences that are a lot of fun. In fact, some of Logan’s more exciting and creative moments came from these parts of the film. The 18 (R) rating certainly helped in this regard, with blood, decapitations and dismemberment being key to a number of the more confrontational moments in the narrative. This isn’t to suggest that the picture hid behind gore to effectively pull off the action however, as some of the earlier scenes in particular were excellently choreographed moments of magic that took the excitement and cinematic nature of the film to new heights while still effectively developing each of its characters in new and vitally individualistic ways. Laura, for example, is presented as if a monster in a horror movie, with the introduction of her mutation coming from the sounds of screaming mercenaries being beaten behind closed doors and a following blood bath she conducts in cahoots with Wolverine himself. This scene worked as an example as to what the Laura character was capable of, but also helped to develop her relationship with the movie’s central protagonist Logan; it even offered further commentary on the mutant versus human moral question that has been present from the very beginning of the X-Men franchise. This was, of course, one of the better sequences in the film, but it’s stark evidence as to how Mangold and company were actively attempting to place a meaning behind each and every action movie trope that had to be thrown in for the good of those spreadsheets that are said to evaluate what audiences want. The CGI was as spectacular as you’d expect from a 2017 X-Men movie and the choreography on some of the chase scenes was phenomenal, so while this certainly is not a movie that you’d want to see just for the action set pieces and graphical mastery, the technical aspects of the action sequences remained at a very high standard throughout.

Where Logan really struggled was in maintaining its high levels of quality across the board as the film progressed. The simple road-trip Western formula worked with three outlaws on the run but fell down when new and important characters were introduced in ways which became more and more convoluted. This watered down the impact of some of the movie’s more emotional moments, and while the picture still proved to have a very strong finale, there seemed to be a disconnect between the emotionality of the hero’s conclusion to his journey (which was very moving) and that of other characters of whom we had barely been introduced to. Similarly, some of the action fell back into levels the likes of which were present in Origins and The Wolverine, which were generally much less enjoyable films with much less believable action sequences. Mangold tried to hide this under the guise of character deaths, some of which were out of left field, but it wasn’t enough to fend off the cringe factor on a few different occasions. As remarkable as much of this film certainly is, there remain these few lingering X-Men franchise problems that cannot be overlooked.

Conclusively, Logan isn’t about explosions or mutant powers – though it does have plenty – it is instead about the struggles of three extraordinary human beings being tested by ultimately human problems, and this is precisely what is so different and excellent about the movie. This isn’t an easy-watch kind of film, though, if it is, it must be considered a very good one, because Logan is challenging and emotional more than it is exciting and awe-inspiring in the best of ways, and though it may lessen in its impact towards the end of the second act, there is no denying this film as one of the best in the X-Men franchise and the ultimate send off for Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart as the titular character Logan and Charles Xavier respectively.

17/24

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