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Film Review: Logan (2017)

Here's another game changer for Marvel films.

Photo courtesy of The Mary Sue

Ever since The Dark Knight came to theatres in 2008, we haven't really had another superhero film that actively challenges what the comic book movie genre could be.

Until now.

A friend and I decided to wait a week for the hype crowd to pass so that we can watch the James Mangold film in peace. Needless to say, we were quite pleased with the direction it took, and believe it's an overall great film for Hugh Jackman to go out on as Wolverine.

It's 2029, and the mutants are on the verge of extinction, with Logan (aka Wolverine), Professor Charles Xavier, and Caliban being the last three known mutants that are just barely living. However, they soon discover that a biotechnology corporation called Alkali-Transigen has been breeding children mutants using DNA samples from other mutants for a project called "X-24." They would then attempt to eradicate the children upon the project's completion. 

Logan is reluctantly roped into escorting a young mutant girl named Laura to a safe haven in North Dakota called "Eden," where all the children who managed to escape await her. Alkali's chief of security, Donald Pierce, is on the hunt for them, and forcibly uses Caliban as a means to track them down. How our heroes fare in this dangerous pursuit may determine the future of mutants.

In keeping with the spirit of the film, I've intentionally kept the above synopsis fairly nebulous in nature. Logan employs a notable amount of effective visual grammar, descriptive tricks, and emotionally-layered dialogue, doing away with as much exposition as possible in order for the audience to draw conclusions themselves. Because of this, I'd like to keep readers who haven't seen the film in the dark about many details like what happened to the other X-Men, why our only living heroes are in trouble, and what project "X-24" is.

But there's so much more Logan has going for it. Unlike most other superhero films that tend to perpetuate the big-picture, "save the world" motif, this one focusses on a more downscaled, character-driven narrative. We see the mutants endure everyday life, not just the struggles of being heroes, and all the emotions and hardships that come with it. There are many poignant, atmospheric, and even philosophical undertones within the script that illustrate just how familiarly harsh reality is, with a lonely hope breaking through the angst. 

Powerful moments are aplenty; however, one scene in particular I'd like to draw readers' attention towards is the one where the heroes stay the night with a family they help retrieve their loose horses. For the first time in so long, they are finally able to re-experience what it is like to be part of a loving family again, which is appreciatively pointed out by Xavier. It leaves an impact, because we know they need to cherish this opportunity that they may never relive again. Logan himself knows deep down in his heart that it is what he wants, too. Everything that follows makes that fact all the more heartbreaking.

The film is considerably unpredictable in where it takes its plot, and a lot of it comes from its clever cinematography - I'll leave it at that. The body language, especially that of Jackman and Dafne Keen as Laura, is exceptional in conveying exactly what the characters are thinking at every given moment. I also like how Laura and the rest of the children are instinctual, resourceful, and even stone-faced in the face of adversity. It perfectly shows how in this circumstance, everyone needs to adapt and be prepared to do anything almost capriciously, even if it results in a major risk, especially where the possibility of psychological trauma is concerned. 

All the child actors do a wonderful job alongside the cast presenting this aspect of survival horror. Logan is rated 18A, but reasonably so, and everything I've discussed thus far justifies the rating. I saw quite a few children in the theatre with their parents last night. It does admittedly surprise me on the one hand, but on the other it doesn't, and I'd even go so far as to say that youth can potentially connect with the mutant children they see on screen, in that they can understand why the children do what they do and how they're trying to change their ways and make their lives better.

I applaud the film for being self-aware, but not in the sense that it's mockingly calling itself out like Deadpool does. Instead, it explicitly - and grimly - addresses the difference between how comic book characters and places are perceived in their source material, and how they actually are in reality. Still, hope is real to some people, and the thought that salvation may be out there helps keep their spirits high. It does make you wonder if it really is worth remaining apathetic.

The humour is threefold, and I appreciate each instance of astute placement. Logan is a sci-fi drama filled with engagingly heavy sentiment and merciless violence, but it definitely doesn't hesitate in entertaining the audience with snippets of sarcasm, dark comedy and satire, especially when it's all at the expense of Logan. Jackman himself shows us a tortured Logan who is conflicted between his desire to distance himself as a self-perceived token of misfortune from the people he loves, and doing everything in his power to protect whatever is left of the mutants. They're people too, after all.

My favourite performance is that of Patrick Stewart as Xavier. He is wise, witty, but also incredibly kind. His wistfulness and guilt-ridden dialogue are just heart-wrenching.

For all the praise Logan deserves, however, it also presents some problems. For me, it mainly has to do with the ending, but because I can't spoil that, I'll go straight into the other issues. Pierce, despite being portrayed well by Boyd Holbrook, is kind of annoying, but not nearly as much as Richard E. Grant as Zander Rice, the true main antagonist. He is clearly yet another moustache-twirling connoisseur of monologues and acts too "deliciously" diabolical for this film's tone, whereas Holbrook mostly gets it right.

I found the action to be quick, gripping, stylistically creative, and realistic for the most part. But there's a point where the children assist Logan and Laura in combat, and it immediately turns into Avatar: The Last Airbender. It looks good in cartoon form; but in live-action, it looks really silly and a total departure from the rest of the film's fight choreography.

Finally, I would've liked to see more growth in Logan and Laura's relationship. It's obvious that they share a bond, but it's never really fully realized for it to be entirely convincing come the end. They spend a little too much time hating each other than they should. One thing that especially irked me was the constant switch back and forth between Spanish and English with Laura (and Xavier, temporarily) when she finally revealed that she can actually speak. Even though Spanish is her first language (with Alkali being based in Mexico), she can still understand English and speak it decently enough, so I'm not sure why it is necessary for her to reply to English speakers in Spanish. It doesn't help that there are no subtitles for people who won't necessarily understand everything, even if it is primarily basic Spanish.

Still, the nuances greatly overweigh some of the more jarring bits. Even if you're not a comic book fanatic, Logan has my full recommendation for anyone curious enough to see a uniquely sophisticated and stylized take on the human condition, with - naturally - characters you can relate to and care about.