Logan (*****): Take a moment. Feel it.

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Logan – 2017

Director James Mangold
Screenplay Scott Frank, James Mangold, Michael Green
Starring Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Richard E. Grant, Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant, Dafne Keen, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Eriq LaSalle, Elise Neal, Doris Morgado, David Kallaway, Han Soto, Jayson Genao and Krzysztof Soszynski

After grinding down so much earth into dust, they finally found a single diamond. Logan is the Wolverine our hearts always thought was there, even if we wasted many years wading through several mediocre movies to get to it. The X-Men universe was brought to a silly dead end last summer with Apocalypse. It was truly a movie that exemplified all that has been wrong with the film version of the hero troupe.

What should have been a crescendo of a decent second trilogy turned into another version of the Last Stand. Filled with colorful weirdos showing powers for no particular reason, we see parts of the planet destroyed and quickly repaired. No consequence and zero impression left.

To say that this movie was intended to counter that film would be cutting it short. Jackman has his own trilogy in the midst of the X-Men films, and in his own series, each film was better than the previous entry. It’s a sad truth, though, that many will find the entire series disposable prior to this opus.

The film starts in 2029 near El Paso, Texas. Logan is living on the wrong side of the border, mainly because he wants to stay hidden. He’s taking care of an aging and ever more erratic Charles Xavier (Stewart). Why? That’s for you to discover.

Adamantium is taking a toll on Logan’s healing powers. To the point that he carries around a bullet made of the stuff to just end it all sooner than later. He can’t end it though. One reason is Charles, who insists he’s been talking to a mutant. This is important because mutants are almost all completely wiped out.

The mutant he is talking to comes into their lives, even though the erstwhile Wolverine would prefer to just take his old friend and go out to sea. That ain’t gonna happen because X-23, or Laura (Keen), as she’s called, comes with some baggage.

Mangold and Jackman score quite a few home runs in this movie that pretends to be playing station to station. Stewart is a Godsend, as he makes even the silliest dialogue seem at once literate and heartfelt. This is nothing compared to what happens when Stewart is given some truly eloquent and memorable words to express.

As antagonist, Boyd Holbrook is an above average placeholder. There is nothing special about him, and this is a wise choice. They have other things to do in this film than to pretend that the bad guy in the ad has a chance.

I won’t say much about the other antagonists in the film, other than to say that the writers hate expositional explanations as much as old man Logan does. This is comes to a welcome relief.

Keen has an excellent, ravaging energy. She is berserk when she needs to be and definitely doesn’t waste words or screen time. Many in the theater really enjoyed her performance, laughing much and snickering as she attacked with ferocity any who crossed her. I found the performance impactful and there definitely were a few funny moments.

The key to Keen’s performance, though, is seeing how she, Stewart and Jackman play off of one another. There is little joy in Logan. For our older heroes, the entire exercise is a drawn out torture that is exacerbated when they see how easily she is drawn into conflict.

When lucid, Xavier believes she is a light in the world, capable of improving on what mutant kind was before now. Logan refuses to invest too much emotion in the little girl who so desperately needs to cling to something solid. Life is hell for her now, he knows. Why should he pretend it ever won’t be?

Clint Eastwood made a remarkable 2nd career out of playing the guy hobbled by age, injury and heartache. Hugh Jackman has always channeled a bit of Eastwood in his portrayals of Logan. This film is different. Jackman owns this version of The Wolverine and he treats it with the utmost care. His emotional range is beyond anything even Eastwood has done. One has no choice but to feel every blow Logan receives in this film. Neither his flesh nor his spirit is willing this time around. When he fights, he fights scared. But not scared stupid.

Jackman has never been better. Stewart has rarely reached this level. Keen is remarkable for such a relatively inexperienced actress. Any or all of the three deserve nominations for their performances here. I won’t hold my breath, though. If they didn’t reward Stallone for his portrayal of Rocky, the Academy will likely assume the Oscars are too good for this astounding film.

The carnage is breathtaking in Logan. There is much mutilation and severed limbs and heads. As bad as it is, it is matched unnecessarily with an over reliance on profanity. Yes, I know that is the image of The Wolverine comics, but moderation might have made a more distinct impression. I will say it does work in relation to Charles. Something must be wrong if that refined and dignified person is throwing curses like punches.

If you’ve skipped all of the X Men films after the 2nd, this might be a good place to pick up again. Heck if you skipped all of the films, but want to see an incredibly well played drama, partake in this feature. Much care went into this film, and it feels like everything is balanced on the edge of a knife. And then the knife slips and goes right through.

It’s worth all of the pain, just to know how Logan feels in the moment.

(***** out of *****)

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The Wolverine: Characters will survive…

The-Wolverine poster

The Wolverine – 2013

Director James Mangold
Starring Hugh Jackman, Hiroyuki Sanada, Tao Okamoto, Rila Fukushima, Famke Janssen, Will Yun Lee, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Haruhiko Yamanouchi, Brian Tee
Screenplay Christopher McQuarrie (uncredited), Mark Bomback, Scott Frank

James Mangold’s take on The Wolverine is an example of how good any film can be if one focuses on the importance of building a good story around a great character.  That character, as portrayed by Hugh Jackman, has survived 6 films and continues to grow, even if the plots for his films have not always succeeded in creating other worthwhile characters.

This story starts with Logan as a prisoner in Japan just before the end of fighting in The Pacific theater.  He saves a Japanese soldier named Yashida from certain death and that soldier is eternally grateful.  Forward to present day, Logan is living a true nomadic existence in the Yukon.  His will is broken and he promised the ghost of Jean Grey that he will never use his prodigious powers again.  Of course this promise lasts only as long as one wants the crowd who paid for the movie to wait for theatrics.  In this case the beautiful Yukio (Fukushima), the adopted granddaughter of that soldier finds him just before he takes apart some unscrupulous hunters (like is there any kind in movies).  Before one can say “I wonder if he will go to Japan?” Logan is in the air with Yukio and, just as quickly, back on the ground in The Land of the Rising Son.

Once there, he is introduced to the Yashida, now an old man (Yamanouchi) near death.  Yashida gives Wolverine an offer, trading his immortality to the old man, so he can fade peacefully into old age and someday join Jean Grey.  Logan refuses, and, after he saves Yashida’s other equally beautiful granddaughter Mariko (Okamoto) from a certain death, he has an extremely odd dream.  This dream is followed by a discovery that Yashida has been pronounced dead.  Yukio tells Logan she did not foresee this death, which is counter to her mutant ability.

The Women in the Wolverine
The Women in The Wolverine

From here, we move to the funeral, an attempted kidnapping of Mariko and to the development of multiple plots.  All the while, we see Logan’s mind and heart open up like we’ve never experienced in the earlier films.  This is genuine development of character, spurred on by the accompaniment of genuine characters (Yukio and Mariko) who have personalities, motivations and true character.  They are possibly the two most completely drawn peripheral characters in the entire X-Men Series.  Their characters help push Jackman’s performance further than ever before.

The story for The Wolverine is thorough.  It’s better than anything else the series has seen.  There are threads that run through simultaneously and independent of one another.  They still create a flow that feels organic.

Yukio - a beautifully dangerous bodyguard
Yukio – a beautifully dangerous bodyguard

Fukushima and Okamoto are fantastic.  They have a presence that does not need them to fill the screen with words.  The economy of dialogue allows for what they do say to have more weight.  This weight is something that Jackman handles with aplomb.

If there is a weakness in the film, it’s with the male characters outside of Logan.  Just about every one of them is either spineless, foolish or has whimsical motives subject to change for little to no reason.  Yashida’s Dr. Green, the intentionally mysterious until they clobber you over the head about how mysterious she is.  Viper (her mutant name), could be better.  Her character is as goofy as she is dangerous.  We even get 3 obligatory scenes where she explains who she is and what drives her.

There are several high points to the action in The Wolverine.  The flight from the Yakuza through the streets with the bow and arrow sniper and then on the train, back at the Yashida compound and then the final showdown all work within the story, and not seeming to be some sort of tacked on scene.  It’s a solid film, not just a solid X-Men film.

The-Wolverine(****1/2 out of *****)