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Movie review: Logan presents the definitive Wolverine on the big screen

Wolverine, played by Hugh Jackman, goes berserk in Logan
Wolverine, played by Hugh Jackman, goes berserk in Logan

The success of the Rated-R smash-hit Deadpool caused concern about the future state superhero movies.

Already facing the hurdles of fatigue and saturation of superhero franchises, the kind of money that Deadpool made is the kind that makes the copycat industry of Hollywood latch on to the wrong things and leads short-sighted producers to believing Deadpool’s success was purely because of mature language, the excessive violence, and crude humor. Their track record is uncanny.

So when Logan was originally announced as the first follow-up Marvel film in what seemed just like days after Deadpool’s vanquish at the box office, the fears didn’t go away.

Wolverine is a great comic book character who has had more misses than hits on the big screen, and part of what was missing was being able to see Logan go into berserker savagery.

The X-Men were always a little bit more edgier as far as where they were willing to go than Disney/Marvel Studios would dare.

Yet, the work that Bryan Singer has done is equally praiseworthy (amidst constraints) and frustrating (due to his own choices) to be kind.

Would excessive swearing and gory violence automatically make it better by itself?

Could James Mangold, a mildly decorated writer/director be able to give the character the treatment it deserves with a memorable script?

After all, he directed the last solo film, The Wolverine back in 2013, which was average at best. The concerns were plenty.

Well, allow me to assuage your fears, because Logan is the absolute best thing that can come out of the Deadpool aftermath, because all of those mature bells and whistles put the finishing touches on a carefully crafted action thriller that will bring people to the theaters multiple times.

For the first time, the proper tone and dizzying display of savagery that Wolverine has needed has been realized.

But believe me, everything else about Logan outweighs it all and it is the most remarkable version of Wolverine that’s graced the big screen.

The setting is the not-so distant 2029. A world that’s very familiar to our world and it’s apparent that the mutants have been dying and the homosuperior gene has stopped randomly occurring (which may lead to other interesting prequels).

We find Logan (Hugh Jackman) exclusively using his real name of James Howlett, and as a limo driver for hire in the border town of El Paso, Texas.

He’s hidden himself away from society and stowed away Charles Xavier AKA Professor X (Patrick Stewart) in a bunker across the border in Mexico, for his benefit, as well as the rest of mankind.

All we know is that Xavier was involved with an incident on the East Coast, which led to many getting hurt — and all is not right with the once famed leader of the School for Gifted Youngsters. They are no longer battling other mutants, they are no longer trying to make a case for the next evolution of humans, because mutants are near extinct.

One other mutant knows of their existence, and that’s Caliban (Stephen Merchant) an albino Morlock gifted with hunting and tracking abilities and amplified with Xavier’s futile efforts to scan for any remaining mutants in the world.

Xavier insists that there are other new mutants out there, but he’s become a less reliable voice of reason because he’s suffering from seizures and a degenerative disease, something that shouldn’t be combined with the most powerful telepath in the world.

And so Logan cares for Xavier as many parent-child relationships in these difficult situations often do with the surrogate son scraping for money to pay for his paternal figure’s medication, bickering obscenities at each other, forcing his old friend to take his medicine, and planning the way they’ll end their lives. They tolerate each other without any purpose to live.

It’s a sad existence but made even more troublesome when Logan is hired by a woman named Gabriela (Elizabeth Rodriguez) to transport her and her daughter Laura (Dafne Keen) across the Canadian border, and Xavier starts rambling about how special this girl is.

Logan wants no part of it, because he doesn’t want to endanger his friend and his mutant healing factor isn’t working as efficiently as it once did. And Xavier isn’t the only one to know how special she is as the people who created Laura want her back.

Feral mutants Laura, played by Dafne Keen, and Logan, played by Jackman
Feral mutants Laura, played by Dafne Keen, and Logan, played by Jackman

What ensues is a manhunt story through America’s Great Plains, enhanced subtly by the world of the X-Men. It’s bleak and is stripped of all of the extra dressing and an excessive character count plaguing the present class of comic book movies.

There’s no high concept villain to ask the audience to suspend disbelief. It’s a simple, linear story grounded in the real world that dares you to take the roller coaster ride and will leave you clenching to the lap bar.

There are stakes that everyone can relate to, palpable emotions and reminders of a hard-earned longevity in an unforgiving world where those with differences have lost many battles.

Yes, the themes of X-Men are apparent but the hope is no longer shining brightly as it once did — but that’s no reason to give up.

Both Jackman and Stewart are unforgettable in their umpteenth portrayals of Wolverine and Professor X, and there’s no need for long-winded origins or recaps.

By now you should know their history and common struggles and if not, it’s worn on their faces. The edgier tone gives fang-shaped teeth to their relationship and the love between them is communicated in word, body and what I’m sure to be telepathy.

Keen is primal as Laura, who is every bit as savage as Wolverine with another notch higher if you can imagine it.

The tables are turned as Logan, who usually grunts or growls through a movie, is the filthy chatterbox, while Laura disposes bad guys with precision and efficiency.

But they’re equally terrifying — no question. Logan and Laura’s relationship reminds me of the central one in Luc Besson’s movie, Leon: The Professional starring a young Natalie Portman and a hardened Jean Reno, but the roles are flipped.

Logan and Laura’s working relationship struggles to start, but it gives a glint of hope in an isolated dystopian world that only exists solely for mutants.

This isn’t Mangold’s first gritty rodeo though. He directed the remake of 3:10 to Yuma, and three other films that he wrote and directed include Walk the Line, Girl, Interrupted, and Copland, which Logan feels the most distant relative to.

The world he built both in the script and on the screen really felt like one vision, even though Michael Green and Scott Frank co-wrote the film with Mangold.

But it’s clear that there was a distinct and clear vision that Mangold had and, thankfully, the studio let him do it. As 20th Century Fox Film chairperson Stacey Snider told Variety, there was a real struggle between the execs that a film drenched in the themes of life and death, and the modern Western motif, would be boring.

I can assure you that couldn’t be further from the truth. Logan is perfectly paced, visceral and a beautiful ode to three fan-favorite characters.

There are many memories of comic-reading that Logan will conjur up whether it’s Old Man Logan, X-23, or even the works of Len Wein, Chris Claremont, and Frank Miller when they tackled Ol’ Canucklehead.

But the great thing is that no viewer needs to read these comics prior to experiencing Logan, and it might just be better that one doesn’t, so that one doesn’t constantly wonder where they’ll go and what story they’ll adapt during the film.

Just know that if you like this film as much as I did, seek out more at your local comic shop.

Given all of the grief 20th Century Fox has been given regarding the X-Men license in the past, it’s ironic that a film like Logan wouldn’t have been possible had Disney/Marvel Studios been the lone studio producing, since their approach to making superhero films doesn’t veer off from the well-worn path.

In the end, Logan thrives off of the Deadpool effect, in every way imaginable, but that doesn’t mean it’s now the universal blueprint.

Does that mean that every superhero film needs to be rated R? No. Can the same approach make other carefully selected projects better? Absolutely.

Great characters or actors cannot carry a film by themselves, as evidenced by what Warner Bros. has been doing with their live-action DC Extended Universe films.

So what Logan does show is that, in the right hands, Wolverine and really any superhero character are much more than a simple formula.

Each character deserves its own unique approach, and sometimes being able to go a little further is required.

But more importantly, with the right story constructed and the most capable people driving that vision, sometimes veering off a formula is the best thing that can happen to a character, and that’s certainly the case for Logan.

5/5 stars

Ernie Estrella is a TV and film critic. He is also a contributing editor at SyfyWire (formerly Blastr) and has also written for USA Today.
Ernie Estrella

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