Tuesday, May 16, 2017

LOGAN - A Special Double Film Review



They're back on the prowl!

It's another blind double review from Ben and Rick, continuing their tradition of independent reviews and analysis. This time, it's the holophratic Logan.

You know the drill, soldier! Ben will be writing from Los Angeles, California, while Rick will be reporting in from the great state of New Mexico. We have not discussed the film or its production to ensure that our opinions remain our own. As is the intent of the blog, we will analyze the film from the perspectives of admirers of comic books, films, and modern storytelling.

SPOILER ALERT - Please be advised that these reviews contain detailed descriptions of plot, character and dramatic conclusion of the film. - SPOILER ALERT

» Ben's Review
» Rick's Review


Days of Future Future

Review by Ben Alpi

Wow, it’s been a while. I had to dust off the writing desk. A few weeks ago, Rick recommended I go see Logan, the latest outing for the “Wolverine” character and Hugh Jackman, and then we could write another epic double review. He said the film was unique among super hero films, and he wasn’t kidding! I had not planned on going to the theater to see the flick, I must admit that I have actually skipped all the previous Wolverine-titled films as well as X-Men: Apocalypse, but I do love working with Rick and I really like Jackman so, without seeing any of the trailers or any other reviews or spoilers about the film, the wife and I headed off to the theater.

The film, directed by frequent Jackman collaborator James Mangold, began by setting the stage. It seems films today toss you in the middle of the pool of action and expect you to start paddling. Logan does this to a degree by tossing you into a future world where you have to piece together where/when the film is set and how the players got to this point, but does more to inform you than some. In the first scene, Wolverine kills a bunch of guys who try to strip his limo. Yes, Wolverine is an Uber driver. Okay, times are tough. This set the stage as it tell us “yes, there is swearing and graphic violence.” And that Wolverine is not the fighter he once was. He’s coughing a lot. I figure they must be pulling in adamantium poisoning. Wolvie’s seen better days. Drinking heavily. He wants to buy a boat. Why?

We get the tone of the world through a series of shots of relentless Vegas-style limo-driving. Shallow people, thick traffic, and no respect for a man just trying to make a buck. It’s bad. It’s raining. It’s so bad and rainy, it’s Noir. A noir film is an interesting choice. Such films usually feature an anti-hero so, that makes sense. I could have done with a bit more backstory, I had tried to forget X-Men 3 for instance, but I was buckled in.

After illegally buying prescription drugs, Logan meets a man with a metal arm named Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) who has a business card. All the villains have them these days. Says he knows what Logan is hiding in Mexico. Okay. Logan thinks it’s weird and so do we.

Logan meets Gabriela (Elizabeth Rodriguez) and her daughter (Dafne Keen) who asks him for help. He refuses. This is the first time in the film Logan refuses to help someone. It’s not the last. Gabriela later ‘Uber’s’ Logan and claims that Pierce is after their daughter. Logan still refuses, but helps them anyway. I’m sensing a trend.

We finally (in a good way) learn who or what is in Mexico: Professor Xavier absolutely brilliantly played by Sir Patrick Stewart. Stephen Merchant, always great to see, plays Caliban, one of the few remaining mutants. There are illusions to some sort of catastrophe that befalls mutants. Also, there are implications that Xavier caused some trouble at some point and has to be sedated and kept away from people. When we finally meet Professor X, it’s a scene that is very, very well played by both actors, proving once again how amazing they both are. I felt every point and counter-point as the characters argue about Charles’ situation. As the film progresses, their relationship is one of the most touching that I’ve seen in a long time in the theater. Certainly the highlight of the film.

After a few more border crossings, the mother ends up dead and I suspect the daughter has stowed away in Logan’s limo. And she has. She is the mutant that Charles has been psychically connecting with, similar to how he used to use Cerebro. He says that they have to help her get to Eden, a supposed mutant sanctuary, but Logan refuses.

Metal Arm Guy, A.K.A. Pierce, arrives at the hideout. He’s here for the girl. Logan is tempted to give her up. She fights back though, piercing Pierce with a foot blade, and this is where we find out that she is actually a little Wolverine. As we learn more about her, I started to question how a child could have her bones covered in adamantium given how much and how quickly they grow. It’s a small point but one of those things that tends to bug me. So, like ole Wolvie, she’s the strong, violent type. Also silent.

They knock out Metal Arm Guy and tell Caliban to cover his photo-sensitive skin and dump him in the desert. Wait, what? You kill everyone else who stands in your way, but you don’t kill the guy who poses a clear and present danger? All right, but then you have someone who has no ability to defend himself, especially in the sun, go dump him? That is pretty dumb. And when the inevitable happens and Caliban is captured, I was left thinking that nothing but the plot required that Pierce survive.

An army of soldiery thugs, led by Pierce, descends on the hideout and an impressive, gritty battle ensues. It’s really creative and visceral, showing Mr. Mangold really knows how to do action.

That’s when we get to the ‘on the run’ part of the noir film. It’s actually kind of lovely; Charles, Logan, and the little girl on a road trip. We learn that the little girl is Laura, and Eden is from a comic book. It isn’t real. But Logan doesn’t tell Charles for several scenes, which is a bit odd. Perhaps he wants Laura and Charles to live the dream? Is Wolverine that thoughtful? In Vegas, they stop at a hotel and Charles and Laura share a beautiful scene as they watch the Western film Shane on the TV. As the glowing hero Shane speaks in one room, Logan drinks and coughs in the next. When the bad army finds them though, Charles uses a mind blast ability to hold everyone at bay. It’s a pretty intense and well done sequence with Wolverine swimming though people frozen in place to save Charles and Laura. We also find out what had happened with Charles previously—it was just such a mind blast, though involuntary, that inadvertently killed several people and forced him into exile.

He's not even supposed to be here today. (Clerks image ©Miramax)

Logan vacillates between being the reluctant son of a elderly father and the reluctant hero. It’s indelible throughout the film and gives a lot of reality to a comic book film. It is just so palpable that Logan just doesn’t want to be here today. We see flashes of the hero inside of him, but he always, always backs off to keep to the seemingly easier side of not getting involved. But he consistently gets involved anyway. For a character who at this point has probably lived 100 years, Logan still doesn’t know who he is. He rejects people but also looks for himself in them. That is the tragedy of the character. He wears the mask of a vicious man, but what he really wants is to be free of his demons and be surrounded in friends who love him. He’s also always searched for a woman to love him, flawed as he is. Logan is a very passionate character and that’s at least partly why he always gets himself into trouble. He is certainly ruled by his passions and really needs a support network to keep him on the straight and narrow. So, I can see how the situation of this film could come about. This is pure Logan at his most unhealthy.

Back on the road, we’re introduced to robotic trucks from a big bad corporation. The corporation seems a bit shoehorned in because they’re really only there to supply Laura’s setup. I might have liked it if the story was more about the corp and its bad-for-you manufactured goods. It would have made for a much larger story though which probably wouldn’t have worked in this personal sort of film, however.

We learn that the corp, headed by Dr. Rice (Richard E. Grant), has been creating test tube mutants using DNA harvested from powerful mutants years back. This includes Laura who was created using DNA from Wolverine. Mr. Mangold and his Director of Photography John Mathieson, use an effective trick where instead of ‘microfilm’ or incriminating photos, they use video recorded on a smartphone to tell us all about the secret facility and the plight of the children. Tidy, quick, and logical.

The trio escapes to a country home where they are surrounded by a kind, loving family. They have a wonderful time and Charles tells Logan it was the finest evening he has had in years. Then, in the biggest twist of the film, Logan unceremoniously murders Charles. That can’t be Logan! You’re right, it’s not. He’s a clone created by Dr. Rice. The Not-Logan, as real-Logan soon finds, then murders the whole kindly family. Jesus this is dark.

Dr. Rice has arrived and has brought his latest creation, thanks again to Wolvie’s DNA, and the clone is pretty much an uncontrollable animal version of Logan in his prime. Another battle begins, Caliban commits suicide in an attempt to blow up Pierce. Wolverine and Laura, and half-dead dad Will (Eriq La Salle), lay waste to the whole shebang with a huge fight with Not-Logan. Finally winning the day, Logan manages to return to Charles before the professor succumbs to very terrible wounds. In an very touching scene, Charles believes they have made it to the boat and dies in Logan’s arms. Wolvie and Laura drive off with Charles’ body. Wait, what? They drive off? As in leave? As in leave Rice and Metal Arm Guy alive? This is the point of the film when I became very conflicted. On one hand I was hit hard by Charles’ death. The heart wrenching death of Logan’s adopted father, while in his care no less, and his last connection to the life he spent years building out of nothing. On the other hand, there is no way Logan would leave Pierce and Rice alive. I tried to rationalize that perhaps Logan didn’t know or thought the cops were coming… but no. The only reason Pierce and Dr. Rice survived was to serve the plot. (Again.)

Logan buries Charles in another quite touching scene. Logan is at wits end. His rage consumes him. Everyone he knew, everyone he loved, all of his friends, are now dead. He can’t help but blame himself. He’s alone. He wanted to die before. Now he’s certain. And he nearly does. But, in an incredible show of inner strength, Laura pulls him back together. For forever or for one last hurrah? Signs point to the latter. He said he would help her get to Eden. But it’s fake, he tells her. But still, all her friends from the project are going there, too. Indeed, a surprising number, perhaps even all of her friends survive the journey.

They get to Eden and, again, Logan is ‘There you go, have fun. I wasn’t even supposed to be here today.’ But almost dies. The children take them in and nurse Logan back to health. No one points out that any of the children failed to make it. That seems odd in a film of such reality. Also, that would mean the corporation must have concentrated their forces on getting Laura? Ostensibly they were supposed to send guys after all the kids, but we really only learned the whole backstory a few scenes back. And it does seem that they were at least spending the majority of their resources, including Not-Logan, on just her. Rice even came down, taking a personal interest. Why is that? Seems the plot had a hand in that decision, too. I do get the feeling that some rewriting happened, however. Perhaps this whole ending was new (or old)? Was the original ending too dark? Because from this point on the story feels like it’s from a different film. We’ve spent so much time scraping, clawing, bashing, and slashing our way through an ultra dark, ultra real world to get to this point, and suddenly the film becomes somewhat formulaic. The kids idolize Logan and I could see him taking a page from Charles’ book and becoming their teacher; and teach them how to avoid following in his footsteps. But, after everything, EVERYTHING, still he rejects Laura and the kids. His one desire being to be set adrift again. Really. After the life you’ve lead, going through this whole film, and the children representing all you have left in this world, you’re just going to give up? I understand that Logan is an anti-hero. Friends of mine when I was young loved how much of a badass he was. They respected his gruff, no-nonsense, fly-in-the-face-of attitude. I liked him a lot too, especially his sense of honor, but they also liked the violent version of him that developed over time and I didn’t. I liked the Chris Claremont version and Claremont wrote some of the toughest, emotional stories ever in comics. But there was always a sense of doing the best you can under the circumstances. And I think the Wolverine character works best as part of a team and with a foil. He always seemed to pick up strays like Shadowcat. Although I was interested in following him in his search for his past, I found his solo stories a bit too dark. So I’m sure that you, dear reader, can understand my reaction to this rather dark film.


Reminds me of a favorite Calvin and Hobbes, click to read it »
(image by Bill Watterson, ©Andrews McMeel Universal)

So, the kids do exactly what they said they’d do and leave Logan behind. He seems surprised, which is odd. By the way, the kids shaving his face was fun, but also added to the sadness. Sort of putting the cherry bomb on the cake of all that Logan has lost since the glory days. And of course the bad guys have found the kids, which we knew would happen, and Logan is compelled to get involved again. He runs headlong into the final battle with the help of a super serum the corp has developed—which we are told a half dozen times how it will wear off and when it is indeed wearing off. The kids, who have been relentlessly trained in combat, run and run and run and don’t use their powers against their oppressors. Finally, with Logan in the fray, they begin to fight back. Pierce is there, Rice is there, Not-Logan is there. Rice is dispatched quickly and easily, as he should have been a quarter of an hour ago. Not-Logan is left for Logan as the children gang up on Pierce, their assumed tormentor, to capture and murder him.

Now, the kids in this film deliver some pretty good performances. But, Mr. Mangold doesn’t quite get genuine performances all the time. There are some cheesy bits to Laura’s brooding, but she’s pretty darn good. Although, I was finding myself asking why she was so broody. Logan brooded because he was a man without a past. His only memories were only fragments of being violated by doctors who took advantage of him and his abilities. He belonged nowhere and had animalistic tendencies—all of which pushed him to be Mr. Broodyface. For certain, Laura had cause to be unhappy and angry, but as a youth who never lived outside the lab, she had no context to know how terribly she was treated. Still, she can be a dark child so, no real worries there, I just felt she was trying to mimic Hugh’s Wolverine a bit overmuch. It felt a bit gimmicky. To avoid mimicry, I might have asked Miss Keen to watch lion and other predator documentaries. To study not just the movements of cats, but the reasons behind their body language and the way they live.

Still, she did a really good job. The other kids did not do so well, however. There were some shots of them I didn’t think were genuine, but when they crowded over Pierce as they killed him, I was tossed straight out of the film. They ‘looked scary’ in a goofy kids film sort of way. In other words, they were caught acting in the very serious climax of this very serious film. There is no room for goofiness when committing a murder. The big battle at the end was already feeling trite and even a slight misstep is amplified at this point in a film. In screenwriting, it used to be the middle that was the hardest to figure out. These days, it seems the ending is the hardest as so often now it’s thrown away and the audience is already grabbing their coats before the credits roll. The film industry blames video games and Facebook for slower attendance growth but I think it’s all about how you leave the audience at the end. One mistake can erase a history of success.

So now, we are dragged to the conclusion of the film that we know is coming but don’t want to see. The hero of millions of children young and old killed by a mindless, raging animal skewered on a tree. Without a functioning healing factor, there was no way Wolvie will survive. So, surrounded in children who never got to have a childhood, a mugger runs at us to steal ours. One of the children who helped bury Logan held a large toy figure of the character. Very meta. The children wept, but they didn’t really know Logan. They were completely unable to understand or truly be affected by who it was they were burying. But we know. We are Logan’s lost family and friends. We who cherish him and are left asking “Why?”

And to the gruff tunes of The Man in Black, the lights came up in the theater. No one cheered. No one even spoke. Eventually, the stunned silence was broken but only in short, quiet utterances as people dried their eyes and slowly started to rise. I had not realized that sitting in front of me was a teenage boy and his father. The teen wiped the tears from his cheeks. Poor guy, I thought. It was like they really did kill Wolverine and I felt a pang of anger. How dare they kill this kid’s hero. I at least had the bulwark of years watching and reading about the character to reassure myself that this was only a ‘what if’ story.

As my wife and I walked out the theater I told her I was really touched by Logan and Charles’ relationship. She wasn’t, she said. I said that I felt the filmmakers made exactly the film they wanted to, but it’s isn’t really the kind of film I enjoy watching. I spent the rest of the day in a funk. I was sad, perhaps even in a sort of mourning. A film hasn’t affected me that much in a long while. I also fretted about what Rick would think when he found out I didn’t totally like it! My wife and I spoke off-and-on about the film, the choices made, the plot, and the internal logic, as I tried to fight off the doldrums. So much sorrow. Why would anyone want to watch, let alone make, a nihilistic Wolverine film? What was the moral learned? To reject everyone in need except when the guilt of not helping poses a greater threat? Was it out of love that he helped Charles, or was it because he couldn’t avoid feeling obligated? Was he simply paying a penance or was he actually trying to escape? These are not the qualities of a hero. Selfishness is not what we want to teach our children. The film successfully posits that, left to his own devices, Logan would self destruct. But didn’t we know that? Isn’t that why he’s a compelling character—not because he will self destruct, but because he has the courage to reject that part of himself? This film essentially gives in to the Dark Side. This is why I think the filmmakers were successful, this is the noir film they wanted to make. And to make a film of that genre, there are indeed certain elements one must add—and so they did, in spades. I have to applaud Mangold for an amazing effort, except for the ending. The baddies did get their comeuppance, but do we feel that Logan has really made an impact on his world? I suppose if Sony was interested in creating a whole clone-based X-Men franchise, this would be one way to do it. But, I want to see my heroes on the screen, not imitations of them. I have always felt a little cheated that all the X-Men films have essentially been Wolverine films with my favorite characters Storm and Cyclops completely stereotyped and sidelined. Although, X-Men: Days of Future Past is one of my favorite films of 2014. The chance that First Class director Matthew Vaughn was given to reboot the franchise is one I would have loved to have. But that film lacked a solid emotional backbone and seemed not to understand the plight of mutants—and certainly not X-Men as allegory. Wolverine was recast as Magneto whose powers only worked as the plot dictated. This is a big beef with me. When storytellers establish the magical system of a fantasy world, but change the rules whenever they need to serve their plot. (Why didn’t Obi Wan Force-run and save Qui-Gon?)

Logan was a powerful, gritty film that tried very hard for realism. It mostly succeeded there, but it may have been meant more to the initiated and would have benefitted from more explanation in parts. Not everyone knows about adamantium poisoning, for instance, or can recall the previous films when they were alluded to. I don’t know if Pierce was from the comics or not—if he was, perhaps knowing more about him would have made him more than a cardboard villain. Rice was even more two-dimensional except when he appealed to Logan about giving Charles up. That was good and you know Logan was again tempted. With such flimsy antagonists though, I have to wonder if Logan’s Selfish Side was the true villain of the piece. There were some logic issues, as I mentioned, and I do have to wonder if they could have chartered a plane and skipped the road trip (the cost wouldn’t have dented the boat money) but, that’s not noir. Speaking of, I’m fairly sure the makers are the first to make a contemporary noir super hero film.

I’m not sure I would recommend this film unless I put it in the context of “It’s a what-if.” But even then, it is a tough movie to watch. Perhaps not as tough as The Road, but I don’t think I’ll see either film a second time. Great action, amazing performances, but so much sadness, murder, and violence. I think this is a time we need to look up instead of down. I’m done with having to take a dose of guilt and pessimism with my heroes. In Captain America: Civil War, the heroes were made to pay for damages they didn’t incur. Why? Because the socio-political climate of our times says we shouldn’t look up to people who are trying to use their extraordinary powers and intellect to help people? I think showing the pitfalls, like the creation of Ultron in Avengers 2, is totally valid, but at least use logic to make it make sense. Make it reflect our own society and show us how such injustices might be rectified—or simply that trying to rectify injustice is worthwhile. Perhaps the anti-hero parts of characters like Ironman and Wolverine are tantalizing to all our vengeful sides, but if they don’t force themselves to reject their dark sides, then they are villains. Superman and Captain America are the opposite of these characters and for it, they’re called boring. Are they, though? Or is it that these naysayers themselves are simply unable to imagine exciting stories with these characters? Millions of people around the globe watch It’s a Wonderful Life every year. Why? George Bailey is Superman, he is Cap. People watch it every year because it is a vindicating story that shows how a man can stand up to indifference and malice in his own community and do what he can for the greater good of all people. Is he, or any of these characters perfect though? Of course not, George has very serious doubts and he regrets not being able to leave town or fight in the war, and that makes him human. I don’t think it’s the super powers that make any comic book hero great, it’s the connection I can make with his or her humanity. X-Men are outcasts who go through a life-altering change at adolescence which speaks directly to any young person and that never really came out in the films. It’s not just about mighty mutants duking it out, it’s about people similar in their differences banding together for a cause greater than themselves. To help humanity, not just battle Magneto. That’s an incredibly powerful story and one reason why the comic book has survived and thrived.

It has become my mission to direct feature films that bring back a sense of optimism. I don’t mean unrealistic cheese ball films, I mean stories that accept that we’re imperfect and don’t dwell completely on that imperfection. That shows we can still do good in a world that constantly tries to tell us we can’t and why we shouldn’t. Wolverine is not dead. The fate we have seen in this vision of the future is not set. We can change these events and with this knowledge Logan can unlock this chain of events and avoid this bleak and terrible end. If we have the will to make it so.

I’d like to thank Rick once more for inviting me to team up with him for another titanic review. Thank you for reading and let us know what you think in the comments! As always, stay safe out there.

Ben Alpi
Los Angeles, California
USA



Litigating the Logan Act

Review by Rick Arthur

It slices. It dices. It juliennes. Order now and you will get a second one for free! It is three AM in America and the combination of alcohol and tiredness are making this offer seem really appealing. Operators are standing by. The tenor is exciting. We collectively reach for our credit cards and dizzily punch in the numbers on our phones.

I did not fall in love with Wolverine right away. I was introduced to him in what seemed the endless summer days of my youth through the magic of Hulk comic books. I just loved Hulk at that time and I think Herb Trimpe was the main artist. The particular issues with Wolverine were fun but I was much more fascinated by the Wendigo character. This was Hulk numbers 180 and 181. It wasn’t until later when Wolverine appeared in a backwater comic called X-Men that I sat up and took notice. I had read and liked some of the earlier X-Men comics but was not overly smitten. I was a kid after all. When I picked up issues 94 and 95, I was excited by how different it felt from the other comics I read. I loved the Russian Colossus character with Thunderbird and Wolverine coming in second and third. The Dave Cockrum art was crisp and solid and I can picture that classic cover with my eyes closed, the characters spilling out of an exploding plane to their comic book melodrama doom. Not a usual introduction. In issue 95, Thunderbird dies. At the time I was confused by this but attracted at the same time. He was one of my favorite new characters. This was really just a clue that the X-Men title was going to be something different, more “real” and that was fine by me. Wolverine stepped out of the rubble to become my favorite character.

Not much later in the comic book series, Cockrum left to be replaced on art by some guy named John Byrne. The art style totally changed as did the pacing of the book. I think the writer, Chris Claremont, was just picking up steam. The “All-New, All Different” X-Men was propelled by some of the greatest storytelling to appear in serial comics. Wolverine was decidedly different than all the rest of the team and took a huge step forward in my imagination. He was feisty, a bad ass before that became the accepted norm for all comic book heroes. I think most importantly there was a mix of violence and mystery about the character that grabbed my attention. Claremont also did something clever that helped a lot of people identify with that X-Man. Wolverine had trouble communicating his feelings and was a bit socially awkward in that regard, more than mildly passive/aggressive. This was a perfect way to tell stories to budding teens who struggled with the awkwardness of growing up. The hook was in my young mouth and I bit. I would follow Wolverine for many years after this under the collaboration of countless writers and artists. The character never strayed too far off my emotional radar.

Flash forward to the X-Men films. I was like a lot of fans who were skeptical that one of their favorite comics could be adapted successfully to the big screen. Marvel had not had a lot of success up until this point in the cinematic universe. I didn’t love the movies but they had charm and much of that was provided by the Wolverine character brought to life by Hugh Jackman. The Australian actor made the role his own through a long series of appearances as Wolverine in the X-Men franchise. He got some of the movies’ best lines of dialogue and most intense action sequences. Multitudes became converts to Wolverine by seeing him on the screen. He lived, breathed, and clawed his way into our collective movie-going conscience. Jackman is a pretty talented guy and I loved him in the film adaptation of Les Miserables opposite Anne Hathaway and Russell Crowe. I hope he will continue to entertain with less stunt-filled roles after his superhero gig is finally finished although I can’t picture him not doing cameos of one sort or another.

I want to divide my review of the film, Logan into two (or more) parts. One part will be about discussing the plot, characters, effects, and overall story. The other part will be in poking into some of the themes and ideas in the film. There are a lot of potential threads to pull on and I am sure I will only be as comprehensive as my time allows. I feel my purpose here is to put a certain end cap on my personal relationship with the character, one I have grown up with who deserves my consideration. The Logan film is perfect for the continuing discussions my friend filmmaker Ben Alpi and I have about modern myth making. If you have read this far and don’t realize that this review will be full to brimming over with spoilers, excuse yourself now. For the rest of you, pop some popcorn and grab a frosty beverage and settle in. We are going to the movies.

I am going to start my review of the movie, Logan, with a quick look into the violence portrayed onscreen and the difference between showing and implying violence. This film is rated “R” presumably for violence although we get a gratuitous flash of flesh from a member of a wedding party. A lot has already been written about the fact that this particular film has an “R” rating compared to all the other movies in the franchise. Yes, of course, now the filmmakers can fill the screen with the kind of over-the-top hyper-killing and blood spatter that have been commonplace in other genres for a long time. Wolverine can now be depicted for “real,” for what he would really be like in all his gory, visceral detail. There are three distinct reactions I have to this. First, to most film fans, the level of violence in Logan is not new at all. This depiction of Wolverine does not raise any kind of bar as far as being horrific, impactful, emotional, and it certainly doesn’t bathe the audience in blood like The Shining, Carrie, Hellraiser or 300. The Christian Bale serial killer flick, American Psycho uses more gallons of blood.

Under the direction of James Mangold, Logan hovers somewhere on the violence depiction spectrum slightly above what we are used to with the onscreen Wolverine character and far, far below the stylized graphic violence of modern horror films. No lines were really crossed. Nothing new was really shown or added. No boundaries were redrawn. A thoughtful examination will tell you what you already know. This violence was not in service of the character or the story. Showing “more” added absolutely nothing to the emotional content of this film. Nothing. Let that sink in for a minute. During the entire run of films with Wolverine, we are told and it is suggested how out of control, violent and berserk this character is as a part of his identity. Graphic depictions of beheadings and real time amputations seem more than a bit tame as presented here. They do not shock in the slightest since all previous efforts took great pains to imply the goriness which in Logan are actually shown. Since all the characters are grim, stoic, and half robotic to start with, there is little or no emotional value expressed and the result is no context for the violence.

One of the scariest things I ever saw on film occurred in the Jeff Goldblum film, The Fly. The horrific consequences of a man having fly digestive acid dissolve his arm was harrowing to watch. The camera does not pull away. A friend commented to me about Logan by describing the violence in a sort of shorthand that is all too common. “That’s what I would have done.” Yet, violence is generally without reason, an instinctual rather than reasoned response. There is no thinking taking place, only action/reaction. You honestly won’t know what you will do in a violent situation until you are in it. Past is also not necessarily prologue. One of the important things soldiers are conditioned for when training for war is how to dehumanize there feelings toward the violence they will encounter in combat. You don’t want people to freeze on the battlefield. You want programmable assets.

Talk soon revolved around a single particular scene in the film. Professor Xavier has slowed down every human being in the radius of a casino hotel. Wolverine, pushing with great force against invisible energy, inches toward an armed bad guy who has just enough time to notice Logan out of the corner of his eye. That feeling of being trapped, seeing danger coming, and knowing you will die but being unable to avoid it is a powerful producer of fear. It is like having full awareness as you smash through the windshield of your crashing car.

Much of the physical action in Logan involves the title character cutting, slicing, dicing, puncturing, lopping off, disemboweling, or beheading his enemies. We are lead to believe that this is the result of something called a berserker rage, an overpowering aggression that consumes all rational thought. It is meant as a state that represents man’s banal, murderous impulses run amuck. I would think of it as the ultimate in loss of temperament, a purely chemically fueled orgasm of rage which would blot out anything rational. I suppose that it might be like describing and in a sense condoning psychotic breaks so severe that people died horribly because of them. Let the smoke clear. Warriors would transform themselves into an instinctive state that allowed them to kill in battle both passionately and dispassionately. Other than Norse or Germanic mythology, I am pretty sure this has never been a heroic virtue.

Logan is described often in the comics as possessing this “animal” trait. In the comics, he is depicted as entering this wild, uncontrollable state and not being able to return to normalcy until his thirst for violence was abated. It was suggested that friend and foe alike would tremble in the presence of the Wolverine in a berserker rage. John Byrne often drew the character as a dervish of unleashed killer instincts capable of great destruction and coming out of battles sweaty, spent, and dazed, looking more than a bit drugged. I am somewhat reminded of Mel Gibson’s overwrought character Riggs embodied by manic, violent outbursts then transforming back into his dispassionate self when the action was done. Jekyll and Hyde. Hulk and Banner.

For the film Logan, I wonder about this depiction of the Wolverine character. Sure, he has endured a lot and acts broken and wizened but it appears as though only injections can return him to his frenzied fighting form. Otherwise, his character is shown to be as rational and in control as you could want, though in the same breath depressed, decaying, and conflicted. He even takes on the role of caretaker to Charles Xavier and the man-made mutant named Laura. Logan yearns for isolation from his horrific memories. Perhaps a boat out on the ocean away from every living being except Xavier whom he keeps alive will sooth his anguished soul? The death of Xavier severs Logan’s link to the past and the girl Laura remains Logan’s only link to the future. She is like the open door at the end of a long, dark hallway offering a glint of hope. I am reminded of two scenes in film that use the same device. One scene is from The Professional where the character Leon comes preciously close to fighting off an entire SWAT team and escaping into the sunlight through an unguarded back exit. For a second, there is hope. Secondly, it is the paranoid thriller The Parallax View starring Warren Beatty which finds his reporter character maneuvered into an assassination plot where he becomes the scapegoat. There is only that open door leading to the sunny, normal outside world which causes him to run. In both The Professional and The Parallax View, the main characters are manipulated into making a fatal choice.

Hugh Jackman takes his final solo X-Men turn as the title character in a much more complex performance than the grunting and smirking that has been previously required. The script suggests a great deal more deliberation and visceral acting from him. What is suggested onscreen is a sad tale of an invincible warrior whom carries the ghosts from his tortured life with him. This is the end. His character is desperate to have his pain expiated and Logan is at the weakest and most vulnerable in his long life. Logan is beset by crippling “post traumatic-style” emotional conflict which is killing him. His legendary healing factor is sputtering. Wounds won’t heal. Claws won’t extend. He carries scars as hideous reminders of his physical and mental battles. He longs for release but clings to the Professor as a drowning man in the ocean to a raft.

Does he have any more fight left in him? We get real hints of darkness. Is he having suicidal thoughts? Uncontrollable nightmares? Does Logan keep a dying demented Xavier alive simply to access his own memories and take his pain away? When he meets Laura, the relationship becomes a little like that of Brad Pitt’s Louie to Kirsten Dunst’s Claudia, the child vampire. The director and screen writers would love to have the audience view this film as an updated, mutant spaghetti western. There are great pains made to insert Alan Ladd and the movie Shane as well as accepted gunfighter motifs like the deserted town and the lonely train tracks out in the middle of nowhere. Snippets of dialogue echo classic films. The cinema violence in Logan reminds me briefly of samurai films, the beheadings of Highlander, or Clint Eastwood taking a near-death beating only to come back for vengeance. Yet, at this distant point, what is Wolverine fighting for? What does he believe? What motivates him to continue to roll out of bed, his super mutant abilities betraying him in an orgy of rotting flesh, unable to heal? Why does he live?

In mythology, Sisyphus is condemned by the gods to labor at the rewardless task of repeatedly pushing a large rock up a mountain and having it roll back down once reaching the summit. Wolverine is similarly burdened but his rock are his sins, his guilt, his regret, his memory, his anguish and his pain of loss. An invincible, immortal being must be broken, humbled, and made mortal. His flesh must rot and time must be his constant enemy. The body must become weak in order to make way for the renewal of the spirit. This is an old idea which was popularized by Joseph Campbell in his book, The Hero With A Thousand Faces. The struggle for Logan’s redemption is indeed a hero’s struggle. The endless acts of evil he has done in an eternal life has both withered and twisted his spirit. The blackness has touched every part of him, corrupted everything noble about him and burned everyone he has ever touched or loved. Wolverine can no more run and hide from his past than he can escape his indestructible adamantium bones or his regenerative, animal flesh. It is a nightmare, a curse, a warrior forever trapped in the post traumatic stress of his countless violent deeds. He carries with him a single adamantium bullet. For what dark purpose does he hide it away? For what future, desperate moment?

In a previous film, Wolverine kills the Deadpool character by cutting off his head. Those laser eyes cut a death spiral path down the inside of a collapsing nuclear cooling tower. It is as though Wolverine had triumphed over the snake-haired Medusa. A single adamantium bullet to the head wipes out his memories even as he emerges victorious in battle against a bogey man foe swiped from Logan’s id, an amalgamation embodying the sum of his relationships grafted into a super-powered Frankenstein’s monster called Deadpool. That bullet to the head is the adamanitum gift of release, the gift of peace of mind, the chance for a rebirth of his spirit but it carries with it a most terrible price.

Logan’s brain heals his past. There is no hope for wisdom. No lesson is learned. The rock has rolled to the bottom of the mountain again without victory or achievement. It is a cruel reset of his emotional condition and he will be tricked again into an endless cycle of loving and losing of pain and suffering. In this current film, as he contemplates this kept bullet and its final meaning, can he know what it will bring? Has Xavier fished this information from Logan’s mutant brain like a hacker recovering files from a broken hard drive? If Logan is aware of his past, does he understand what resetting will mean? Also shown in a previous film, Xavier is morally unable to shoot Magneto in the head despite the pleading that Magneto can tests his power this way. It is a thinly veiled death wish by Magneto. Xavier won’t grant it. Would he, in turn, grant it for Logan? Assisted suicide and mercy killing, putting an animal out of its misery would reduce Xavier to a complex moral quandary.

Why does Logan drive a limo? This is one of those things that doesn’t make too much sense in terms of the world in which the characters find themselves. In order to hide out from a military/industrial/medical complex that wants to hunt you down, you don’t get a driver’s license or limo medallion. You don’t pass through checkpoints so often that guards know you by sight. You don’t go anywhere that might put you in contact with cameras, sensors, scanners, police or government types. Wolverine is especially suited for survival in harsh environments, even if dragging Xavier around is not. What about stashing away in the Yukon or any mountain or forest on the continent. Sure, maybe this “risk” of hiding in plain sight is justified by the need for special medication for Xavier. This too is flimsy. Wouldn’t it be easier and safer for Wolverine to slash and grab an army duffle full of the medication from a supposedly secure source? Or get a Walter White character to rove around the desert and cook some up in a lab? Not sure how wearing a shirt and sport coat fits into the “wild man as hiding animal” motif. I do like the obvious comparison to the limo driving in the film Strange Days with Angela Basset behind the wheel however.

Obviously, using the mutant Laura to advance this story is a deliberate choice. The child must be innocent, born in violence, and not given a choice in becoming a weapon. Wolverine must find a commonality with the girl. The fact she is almost a direct reflection of Logan in powers, temperament and adamantium is not unnoticed. Gee, could she represent his past and future at the same time? Not too subtle at all. Actress Dafne Keen play the child mutant Laura. While she does not have too much to do in the script except snarl and cry, Dafne does a great job as the first new mutant born in the past twenty-five years. I am a little perplexed by her powers however. She has healing abilities and animal instincts. Why did the bad guys graft adamantium onto her too? She is so young, her bones are going to be growing for almost another whole decade. Isn’t that going to screw up the adamantium which will be bonded to her? Her scenes with Hugh Jackman remind me a bit of Ryan O’Neal and Tatum O’Neil in Paper Moon. The first child born after a drought of births reminds me of Children of Men. As Laura rocks on the toy horse outside the store, I am reminded of Jennifer Connelly in a movie called Career Opportunities. Mangold seems to lift, nudge or wink at a variety of films and genres if only by association.

The issue of what exactly adamantium can do in this film is cause for a raised eyebrow. Logan is suffused with it over his bones and claws. It is suggested that the adamantium is causing an allergic reaction with Logan’s super immune system which is weakening him, making him vulnerable. So, even somehow degraded, adamantium is the strongest metal known to man. If you had this rare metal and it was in the shape of a knife, it would cut through anything, steel, stone, flesh, and bone. Cutting through any solid object would be equivalent to swinging your arms through the air. There would be no resistance, no hesitation, no getting stuck. Only contacting other adamnatium could stop it. Like cutting through butter with a hot knife. Extended claws could never cut halfway, pick someone up off the ground or in any way show resistance. In the last few scenes of the film, Logan is thrown onto a sharp tree stump which impales him. This is a vampire’s death for sure. Naturally this could never happen. The wood is far less strong than the metal and could never pierce Logan.

I might have liked to see the Logan clone be an inexact copy, one that was more animal with bushy eyebrows and sharp teeth, perhaps even animal eyes. It is weird to see because we are told that the clone is stronger and faster and more primal than Logan. There does not seem to be any indication that the clone experiences the berserker rage. He wades pretty dispassionately toward Logan and actually fights in a fairly straight forward fashion, going toe to toe. This could have been a great opportunity to show Logan utilizing his experience rather than raw fighting skill to essentially defeat himself. Alas, I don’t feel the clone idea was thought through too well and is a low point in the film. Wasn’t this supposed to be a mutant western after all? In the hands of the choreography team that produced the stunning fights between Captain America and Winter Soldier for example, this might have been the hottest ticket in town. The action looks and feels a bit flat by today’s standards which is a shame because the filmmakers went to the trouble of getting an R rating and writing more adult versions of the characters.

No review of the X-Men/Wolverine movies would be complete without mentioning alcohol. I know this is an R rating but the use of alcohol in this film is meant to directly suggest machismo and drinking in order to drown depression and anxiety. Super poor presentation. We have had binge drinking, revenge drinking, male bonding drinking games in Thor and now flat out using alcohol as a crutch for emotional problems. I can not say that alcohol has been used very responsibly or casually in these films. These characters are bad boy role models for young adults and adults who haven’t grown up. Perhaps that is the point. Wolverine is immature and impulsive when it comes to dealing with his emotions. You would almost guess the opposite. After fighting animal rage for decades, he might actually have learned to control himself if only by default.

Logan has something important to say in this film. Don’t become what they made you. It is an odd summation. Don’t be an animal? Don’t be a killer? While he is directing this to Laura as dying words of wisdom, this is actually a total summary of Wolverine’s pained existence. Yet, all he can blurt out is don’t be what they made you. Maybe a better sentiment would be, it is okay to trust, okay to love, okay to lose and rise again (like a phoenix). For all of Jackman’s theatre chops, this ending didn’t do much for me. Fizzle not bang. What about the anguish he has held onto during the entire film? The loss? His dead memories of dead teammates and loves? Not a mention, a hint or a wink. So, again a wasted opportunity.

I would like to close this review by remarking how well Hugh Jackman was able to embody this character as written for film. He got a lot of funny lines along the way, more than his share of intense action, and a little bit of drama. Jackman was able, over a long period of time, to create a character which propelled audiences through his movies. It was no small feat considering how high the expectations were for the Wolverine character. Jackman injected a lot of human emotion and empathy into his portrayal which in turn allowed him to connect with viewers. Anyone else trying to wield the claws in subsequent films will have a high bar. I feel just a bit sad writing these words. Wolverine has been in my life since I started reading comics and has been a favorite. While this definitely does not mark the end of the character, it does feel like a good place to book mark him and let others pick up where I leave off in my affection. In my memory, Wolverine will always be that Claremont/Byrne bad ass, stone cold killer rising up out of the murky sewer water to challenge the Hellfire Club. Is that the best you can do, bub? Jackman sets the standard on film. You know what comes next.

Thank you,
Rick Arthur
Central New Mexico
USA


No comments:

Post a Comment