Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Vicious Cycle – A "Logan" review

Logan is the third solo film in the long-running X-Men franchise to focus on the character of Wolverine, although some might argue all the X-Men films are focused on Wolverine to some extent or another. 

"What, you thought they were about Cyclops?" 

That being said, this film is deliberately set up to be the "final" Wolverine story––a broken, aging warrior's last chance to make a difference. 

Before we proceed any further, though, I must warn you that there will be 


ahead, as this is a full review, as well as a general overview of my reaction to the film. 

Hugh Jackman, who has played Wolverine for 17 years now, has claimed this is his final performance as Wolverine; it certainly feels like a final send-off, just as it is for Patrick Stewart's Professor Charles Xavier (although Stewart has expressed interest in reprising his role on the television series Legion, which would be fantastic). This is depressing for a number of reasons, first and foremost that at 48 Jackman finally looks like the gruff, rugged Wolverine from the comics instead of a lean, fresh-faced guy with similar hair. But, alas, all good things must come to an end, and Jackman has expressed interest in renewing his relationship with pasta now that his days of staying in peak physical form are past, which no one could truly judge him for. Although I'd still wager he could be coaxed out of retirement for one (or two, or five) subsequent appearances as Wolverine (get on that, Ryan Reynolds!), going forward we shall assume that Logan does indeed mark the final appearance of Jackman as Wolverine. 

This doesn't count as a cameo. 

The basic plot is this: in the year 2029, mutants––who were once prolific––have now essentially died out. There haven't been any new mutant births in years, and many of those that remain are suffering from diminished powers. James Howlett, a.k.a. Logan, a.k.a. Wolverine, falls into the latter category. His healing factor, which has sustained him for almost 200 years and allowed him to regenerate from many a mortal wound, is burning out, and as a result the unbreakable adamantium––the toxic metal that has been bonded to his bones––is starting to take a physical toll. He's going to die ... it's just a matter of when. And just in case the pain of living becomes more than he can bear, Logan has started carrying around an adamantium bullet, the only thing that can pierce his skull. 

Logan works as a limo driver along the Mexican border, supporting his heavy drinking habit as well as buying meds for the 90-year-old Xavier, the once-brilliant and powerful telepathic leader of the X-Men, who now wastes away from a neurological disorder that causes both severe dementia and seizures. Unfortunately, even though Xavier's powers aren't what they used to be, they're more dangerous than ever, because his seizures cause him to involuntarily lash out, causing extreme mental trauma. Logan's healing factor helps him to withstand Xavier's unintentional attacks, but it's still rough on him, and he knows before long he's going to have to get Xavier away from civilization. To that end, he's saving up to buy a yacht, so he and Xavier can live out the rest of their days in peace and relative comfort. But, yet again, he gets dragged into violent circumstances he can't walk away from. 

Helping Logan to care for Xavier is Caliban (Stephen Merchant), an albino who has the ability to track other mutants. A much younger Caliban appeared in X-Men: Apocalypse as well, although this version is wiser, kinder and less pretentious. Because he can't handle direct sunlight, Caliban knows he can't join Logan and Xavier when they leave, but he's content to help out while he can. 

While also working on his Darkman cosplay. 

While carting around various clients, Logan is approached by a Mexican nurse (Elizabeth Rodriguez) who pleads for his help. Logan refuses, and as she furiously drives away, he spots a young girl (Dafne Keen) glaring at him through the back hatch of the vehicle. Logan thinks nothing of it, but soon he runs afoul of Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook), a smarmy southern charmer with a cyborg hand who is sniffing around for the nurse and her precious cargo. Realizing he's stumbled into a dangerous situation, Logan is again hesitant when nurse approaches him again, pleading for his aid in getting the girl across-country to the Canadian border, but he relents when she offers him $20,000 up-front and the promise of another $30,000 at the end of the journey. $50,000 will buy a lot of booze, a lot of pills ... or maybe even a lot of boat. He goes to let Caliban know he'll be gone for a few days, but when he returns to pick up the nurse and the girl, he finds the nurse dead and the girl is nowhere to be found. He returns to Caliban and Xavier, thinking there's nothing more he can do, but Pierce follows him back, and soon Logan realizes he's in over his head ... and there's more to the girl, Laura (who has stowed away in the trunk of his limo) than meets the eye. 

A LOT more.
Yep, li'l Laura has adamantium claws of her own, but that's not all: she's a female clone of Logan himself––essentially his daughter. In a message left on the nurse's phone, Logan learns that Laura, a.k.a. X-23, is one of several children genetically engineered by mad scientist Zander Rice (Richard E. Grant, who played the icy Dr. Simeon on Doctor Who) to be child soldiers. The children, however, developed empathy and refused to become monsters, so Rice declared the useless and ordered them to be exterminated. The nurse, with others, tried to help the children escape, with the promise of meeting up later at the border, where they could cross into Canada and be safe. Logan, perennial loner that he is, isn't all that eager to trade in his booze and limo for juice boxes and a minivan. He's gruff toward the feral, mute Laura, even though he does decide to help her with Xavier in tow. Unfortunately, Caliban gets captured by Pierce, who uses him to track his prey. What follows is a whirlwind adventure with a lot of F-bombs (many of which are lobbed between Logan and Xavier) and bloodshed, much of which comes in the form of collateral damage. 

There is a particularly heartbreaking scene where, while on the road traveling through Oklahoma, Xavier convinces Logan to stop and help a farmer (Eriq La Salle) and his family rescue their horses, which have gotten out of their trailer and are running onto the highway. Logan grudgingly does so, and the farmer invites them to his house for dinner. Logan says "no"; Xavier insists. So, against Logan's better judgement, they sit down for a home-cooked meal and ultimately agree to stay the night, and for the first time in a long time, they're at peace. They're happy. They're almost a family. And then, of course, the crap hits the fan. 

I'm not going to sugarcoat this, although I am going to––once more––warn you that there are 


ahead. Got it? Because I'm going there. 

Pierce and company manage to track Logan to the farmhouse, but they don't do anything. They just wait. And they release Rice's newest weapon, X-24. 

Logan and the farmer run afoul of some local redneck thugs working for the owner of the adjoining farm while trying to fix the water pump that serves both properties. The adjoining farm is part of a huge corn operation that produces genetically modified corn for the production of corn syrup. This seems like a throwaway detail, but it is ultimately a very important one. Logan runs the thugs off, and they head back to the house. Meanwhile, Xavier is in bed as Logan enters the room, and Xavier reminisces on the events that led to the downfall of the X-Men. Some time ago, when Xavier's mind first started going on the decline, he suffered a horrible seizure at the X-Mansion that injured 600 and killed several X-Men. We don't know who died, exactly, though it's probably a safe bet that any other telepaths (*cough* Jean *cough*) got iced, otherwise they would be around to try and heal or at least help Xavier. Since developing dementia, Xavier's memory of "the Westchester incident" has been spotty at best, and he sadly comments that even though this has been the best night he can remember since then, he doesn't deserve it. Logan steps forth out of the shadows, places a hand on Xavier's chest ... and pops his claws. 

^ Literally everyone in the theater at that exact moment.
Now, before y'all start thinking Logan got triggered by the awful memory and snapped, let's get something straight: it's NOT ACTUALLY LOGAN. It's X-24, a "perfect" soldier clone of Wolverine unencumbered by silly things like morals, friendship, empathy, etc. X-24 proceeds to massacre the farmer's entire family, and then also slices through the thugs (who have returned to drink beer and kick butt, and they're fresh out of beer). Logan tries to fight him off, but he's completely outclassed (and, by the way, X-24 acts as evidence that Jackman COULD indeed still play Wolverine in his prime ... just sayin'). Fortunately, the mortally wounded farmer manages to smash X-24 into a combine harvester with his truck, and then proceeds to empty a shotgun into his oh-so-handsome Hugh Jackmany face. He then turns toward Logan, aiming the gun at the man who brought death and ruin to his house, and Logan just stands there, knowing he deserves it and hoping that maybe––just maybe––there will be an end to his pain and torment. But the gun is empty, and the farmer falls dead. 

Meanwhile, Caliban makes the sacrifice play, grabbing a pair of grenades and blowing up himself and the surveillance van ... unfortunately, Pierce escapes more or less unharmed. Logan and Laura continue their journey, but Laura accidentally leaves behind a photo with the coordinates of their rendezvous point on the back, and Pierce uses it to track them now that Caliban is dead. 

They reach their destination, and sure enough––the other kids made it. Logan is on his last legs, and the kids give him a mutant growth hormone serum they swiped from the lab that will temporarily restore his powers ... just enough, in small, gradual doses, to keep him alive a bit longer. Laura asks him to join them, and Logan declines, saying everyone he cares about dies. Laura indignantly replies that she'll be fine, then, and Logan passes out. The next morning, the kiddos are on their way, but Logan sees Pierce's cybernetic goons, the Reavers, heading to intercept them. He quaffs the entire vial of serum and, like Popeye on spinach or John Belushi on cocaine, goes into a final berserker rage, chopping and slicing through Reaver after Reaver. 

The kids are no slouches themselves, mind you. One of them dismembers a Reaver with her ice breath; another, Rictor (Jayson Genao), can shake and shape the earth itself. But eventually the kids get subdued, and Logan has to approach Pierce and Rice head-on while Laura tries to free her friends. Rice reveals that his father was one of Logan's victims when he first clawed his way out of the Weapon X facility some 45 years prior, and he is also the one behind the decline in mutant births, heavily implying the mutant gene-suppressing formula was spread via the genetically modified corn syrup. 

Darn you, Coca-Cola NOT-SO-CLASSIC.

Logan responds by shooting Rice in the face and blowing Pierce's cybernetic hand off (he's not one for gunplay, but by golly, these be desperate times!). Unfortunately, he's too late to stop X-24 from being released. Logan yells for the kids to run, and they do ... after working together to finish off Pierce. Laura tries to help Logan fight X-24, but he's simply too powerful, and Logan's serum is wearing off. X-24 hefts Logan up and brutally impales him on an exposed tree root, but Laura blows the top of his fool head off with the adamantium bullet. Dying, Logan begs her not to let her origins define her, and she embraces him as her father before he breathes his last. 

Yes, they freaking KILLED OFF WOLVERINE. They actually went there. 

Laura and the kids bury him, and as the others run off into the wilderness, Laura pulls up the makeshift cross and places it askew, forming an "X," before joining her friends. 

Y'know, a lot of people cried after watching Logan. I didn't. There were a few moments when I felt my tear ducts starting to open up, but the tears never came. The abruptness of the ending ... of Logan's death ... left me numb, and I'm honestly still processing what I watched even now. All I know for sure is it's a beautiful film, rife with all the blood and gore you could want from a gritty, realistic take on Wolverine. The cinematography is gorgeous, the action is well-paced and the acting is spot-on.

Jackman really pulls out all the stops to portray this weathered, weary Logan. He might not look old-as-dirt, but he feels it. He is tired of the violence (which nonetheless has not grown tired of him), he is tired of the pain and he is tired of the loss. His claws don't pop like they used to and his scars don't heal. And there is such a beautiful, tragic, father-son relationship between Logan and Xavier that is difficult to watch at times because it feels so authentic. He and Xavier have been through so much together, but there is resentment on both sides––from Logan for all that Xavier has cost him and the strain of taking care of him, and from Xavier for the feeling of being trapped in his own body, and of being essentially held prisoner to keep him from accidentally harming others. They bicker and cast verbal barbs at each other that cut deep as only family can cut one another, yet there is still love there––dysfunctional, grudging love. They are both very old and very tired, and Stewart very effectively channels the encouraging teacher, the stern father and the hotheaded young man he once was, while also conveying the sense that he is old and broken, and completely bewildered by that fact. 

This is Professor-freaking-X, and he's been reduced to a sad,
sick, lonely old man in a wheelchair. Who can melt your
brain with his mind if he's having a bad day. 

Merchant, too, is excellent as Caliban, as is Grant as the cold, cruel Rice, but it is Keen who steals the show. She is vicious and impulsive, but she is also a lonely, vulnerable child who wants her father but is too hardheaded to reach out to him, just as Logan is too hardheaded to reach out to her. And her fight scenes are nothing short of incredible. Because only her claws (two in each hand, one in each foot) are the only parts of her coated in adamantium, she has an otherwise normal skeleton, allowing her to launch herself at enemies in ways Logan can't (as he weighs roughly 300 pounds with his metal skeleton). She's a cross between a deranged kitten and a Ninja blender, and it's a blood-soaked joy to see her in action. 

Early on, director James Mangold makes it clear the film is supposed to play out like a Western. This is entirely unsurprising, as Mangold also directed the superb remake of 3:10 to Yuma, which shared many of the tragic themes as Logan, such as dysfunctional father-child relationships and unfair collateral damage. But the plot becomes a bit on-the-nose when Xavier and young Laura are chilling in a hotel room watching the Western classic Shane together. If you've seen Shane, the plot from that point onward becomes very familiar. Indeed, the last words Laura speaks over Logan's grave are the closing lines from Shane, where Shane comforts the little boy before bidding him a final farewell. But this time, the wounded hero doesn't ride off into the sunset. 

Where does this leave the X-Men franchise? Well, for starters, I don't think there will be another movie to take place after Logan. Yes, I would love to watch an X-23 film, because Keen absolutely nails the role, but after such a grim finale, it would probably be best to let the timeline end riiiiiight there. What's especially saddening about this film is that "the Westchester incident" takes place not too long after the happy ending of X-Men: Days of Future Past, so even though Logan was able to save the X-Men from one apocalyptic future, they were nonetheless wiped out by another enemy even more pernicious and sneaky than the Sentinels: high-fructose corn syrup. 

Seriously, Coke, you can eff right the heck off. 
But there is a ray of sunshine, and his name is Cable, the time-traveling son of Cyclops and not-Jean Grey. Cable's jam is fixing catastrophic timelines, and I'm sincerely hoping his mission in Deadpool 2 is to prevent the Westchester incident. It would also be a perfect way to rope Patrick Stewart in one more time––think about it: Cable knows something horrible happens that destroys the X-Men, paving the way for a resurrected Apocalypse to take over the world (or something––maybe in the film timeline it'll be Mr. Sinister or the Shadow King). So he decides to nip it in the bud by going back to before the Westchester incident to assassinate Professor X. He runs afoul of Deadpool along the way, who convinces him that Xavier is a cool dude, and then they find the real enemy, Mr. Sinister (whose Essex Corporation provided Rice with all his mutant DNA samples) and stop him before he and Rice can unleash the unspeakable evil of cheaply-produced corn upon the world––saving the X-Men, saving the potential mutants and even saving Wolverine from a really depressing movie. Shoot, Cable could even bring young Laura back in time with him, allowing her to interact with the current-day (or even the '80s-'90s) X-Men. 

It really can fix anything. 
Or maybe Deadpool 2, and the X-Men franchise as a whole, will go off in a completely different direction. Or maybe Logan is considered to be a non-canon, one-off film altogether. Either way, even though it's a really good movie, it's nonetheless the kind of movie that leaves you feeling all manner of feels afterward, not all of them good. I would still argue that X2: X-Men United is the best film in the X-Men franchise, closely followed by the verrrrrrrry polarizing X-Men: Apocalypse, but Logan is right up there with them. In a lot of ways, it's a lot like Sam Mendes' adaptation of The Road to Perdition, or the smash hit video game The Last of Us. You care deeply about the characters, knowing full well it's not going to end well for any of them, and even though the journey is beautifully presented, you are still left uneasy by the resolution. It's good––very good––but it hurts to watch. 

Final score: 4.5/5 

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