Skip to main content

We've got ourselves an X-Men fan.

Logan
(2017)

(SPOILERS) I was tepid on Logan’s prospects, both commercially and artistically, but the acclaim that has greeted it appears to have proved me wrong on both counts. And yet, and this really isn’t sour grapes, as I’d have loved to agree with the raves… I don’t think it’s a great movie. I don’t even think it’s the best X-Men movie. It has the kernel of a great movie, sporadically it’s a great movie, and Hugh Jackman gives a great performance – and another that’s not so great – but its estimable aspects are rather levelled by the sheer, unwavering competence of director James Mangold. It certainly doesn’t “transcend the genre”.


Don’t get me wrong. Logan’s a good movie. But my appreciation of it is tempered by buts, of how it falls short of its best intentions… It’s entirely valid to aspire to classics when setting out your movie stall, but it particularly felt as if the makers were on tenuous ground here, almost to the point of mashup, with the references ad nauseam to the kind of movie it was like, from Unforgiven and Shane (and good God, do they overegg that pudding, to the point of inanity – it’s hardly a classic adaptation anyway) to Paper Moon. The former, in particular, does Logan no favours at all, as it instantly draws attention to the gulf in quality between their screenplays. There are a series of strong beats in the script from Mangold, Michael Green (the upcoming Alien: Covenant and Blade Runner 2049) and Scott Frank, but they’re no collective David Webb Peoples, and the end result bears similar structural issues to Frank’s earlier The Wolverine, the most pervasive being the failure to come up with a remotely worthy antagonist. That, and a less-than-spectacular finale (and in a final curtain such as this, it’s all about the finale).


So, on the positive side, the reconfiguration of the X-Men saga to a derelict, pre-apocalyptic 2029 in which mutants have all but died out thanks to Richard E Grant’s Dr Rice, and in which the increasingly sickly, toxified Logan (there’s a push-pull relationship with the advances of science here; on the one hand, medication keeps Charles from imperilling others, on the other, the name of advancement has washed up the Wolverine) cares for the increasingly frail, mentally absent Charles Xavier, is striking and arresting.


This is easily the most interesting Xavier has been on the big screen, a character haunted by his mistakes (a definite bonus to leave the Westchester Incident unvisualised) and the infirmity of the very faculty that set him above the rest; trying to bring a whiter-than-white character back down to a relatable level is no small task, but it’s achieved here in a compelling way, and Stewart, who can be wearisomely stoical in his roles, gives it his all. Although, and here’s the but: sure, go for a higher certificate, but don’t lob F-bombs around indiscriminately just because you can.


Logan’s the kind of character who would believably swear like a trooper, Charles just isn’t, and giving him a whole scene of f-ing and blinding feels like pandering, either to the actor or to an adolescent urge (Deadpool, of course, was an entire movie personifying an adolescent urge) to overindulge what hasn’t been seen in the series before; all that’s missing is Professor X ordering hookers and smoking a crack pipe. The real deal would have been showing the maturity to hold back when necessary, to go overboard only when it had most impact. Instead, there are occasions when the swearing and violence derive from the same kind of juvenile idea of “adult” material as Deadpool; now we can show titties! That’s why we have a scene where Charles does nothing but speak with a potty mouth, whether or not its germane to his character (sure, you can argue he’s a man at the end of his tether, but what you want is contrast with Logan, preserving an aspect of the character’s dignity, rather than everyone sounding like their vernacular has been punched up by David Mamet).


The violence too. Some of it is as giddily enervating as John Wick Chapter Two’s. The opening carjacking sequence is a masterpiece of building up to what we want to see: Logan unleashed. But this new-found taste for gore, like anything, quickly loses its lustre if every altercation is like that. The final sprint in the woods is well-enough handled, but the extreme splatter on display is already over-familiar by that point.


In between, there’s at least one other fine sequence, in which Logan valiantly struggles through a hotel to inject Charles with a suppressant, taking out immobile heavies on the way. And the whirling dervish of Laura/X-23 (Dafne Keen, who bears a passing resemblance to Lukas Hass circa Witness), going crazy on anyone and everyone also leads to some well-choreographed action. But here’s the thing. There’s a nagging feeling in each case that they could have been even better (perhaps that’s partly a consequence of some absurd and ridiculous buzz that compared the quality of filmmaking here to Fury Road), and between the rumbles, Mangold often appears to confuse languid pacing with character development; there just isn’t enough depth to the characterisation and storytelling to justify the longueurs, as strong as the main trio of performances are.


I expected the worst from teaming Logan up with a pint-sized sidekick, particularly an adamantine-clawed one, but thanks to Keen’s performance this is element is an unreserved success, avoiding the urge to sentimentalise as Laura’s presence rekindles Charles’ innate compassion and Logan’s grudging sense of duty and responsibility. There was a point where I feared, having spent so much of the movie mute, that Keen would reveal herself as not such a thespian after all when she began speaking, but the only bum notes struck are Laura wailing “Daddy!” as he dies (she doesn’t seem like the kind of kid to use that word, even if she feels that emotion – it might be Mangold tipping his hat to Aliens) and the remarkable memory Laura shows when spouting Shane by way of eulogy over Logan’s grave. The movie didn’t need the extended clip anyway, and this just cements that.


Other sequences and emotional beats don’t quite attain the heights they’re reaching for. They’re fine on paper but Mangold’s too workmanlike. The interlude at the farm is strong in theory, but it hasn’t yet been earned at this point, and the various elements brought to bear fail to make the murder of the family a satisfying (if that’s the word) horror to avenge. Much of that is down to the nature of the beast. Being the X-24. Having mostly avoid spoilers outside of trailers, I was unprepared for his introduction, and initially thought the anti-Logan might be an elaborate dream sequence. Certainly that, while not ideal, would have been preferable to the banality of yet another alter-ego villain. One that doesn’t even offer Jackman an acting challenge since all he is guttural rage (Superman III’s evil Supes, on the other hand, was the highlight of that particular affair). Yadda yadda the greatest enemy is yourself. Maybe, but only if presented in an interesting manner.


This is also where Unforgiven comparisons simply break down. The pieces are in place – the savage slaying of Logan’s dearest friend as a spur to vengeance – but the conveyer of this act carries no dramatic or emotional weight. Not even with the brain and brawn split with Grant. Now, Reg is great, but he’s entirely wasted in Logan, given nothing in the way of wit or even a hint of depth. About the only notable aspect of his presence is the manner in which Logan shoots him in the head in the middle of a ream of exposition. Admittedly, Unforgiven was Mark Millar’s premise for Old Man Logan, and Mangold probably rightly departed significantly from it (quite apart from issues of various other character rights), but what he didn’t find was a worthy foe for Logan’s last stand.


Of the rest of the cast, Boyd Holbrook provides a cocksure mocking tone as cybernetically enhanced head Reaver Pierce, and he’s a good enough actor to make his leading duties in The Predator something to rest easy about, but Pierce isn’t, when it comes to it, a goon for the ages.


And Stephen Merchant’s Caliban… Well, he’s okay. He isn’t much of an actor, Merchant. Take out the comedy and that’s blatantly obvious, but he gets by (it’s probably also why his best line is about being little more than a glorified truffle pig). What chafes rather is that Tómas Lemarquis was profoundly superior in his one scene in the uneven (and much-derided) X-Men: Apocalypse. In narrative terms, the kiddie mutants are a motley crew who really ought to have been in training up that mountain for just such an event as befalls them in the final reel. And distracting that the most formidable amongst them’s super skill appears to be grass weaving.


Thematically? Besides a serviceable meditation on regret and loss (when someone expiring actually says “So this is what it feels like”, you aren’t dealing with better than serviceable)? Did Fox have an insight into the election outcome? Was the fix in? How else to explain the Trump’s America border wall with Mexico, and Canada seen as an undisputed safe haven? There are also derivative elements such as drones used to (indirectly) pick off innocents. The running with the child experimentation thing is interesting, however. Obviously, it runs deep with the Wolverine saga anyway, but off the back of Stranger Things it feels like there’s a resurgent theme of the dark and deadly abuses inflicted by an establishment knowing no bounds. Much has been made of the intradiegetic aspect of the X-Men comic books appearing in the story, but it didn’t really do much for me; are you undercutting the mythology of a character or re-mythologising him? Make a decision. Either way, you need a director with the chops to underline the element through artistry.


I suppose you can never say never again with these kinds of movies. They could easily resuscitate Jackman from the grave if the deal was sweet enough, or set him in an earlier time, and there are bound to be offers due to the picture’s unqualified financial success, but he’d be wise to stick to his guns. He’s a fine actor who has made much of not that interesting (as in, to justify a series of solo vehicles) character. I’m sure that’s heresy to some, but Wolverine/Logan seems to me to be a character better in silhouette than attempting to flesh out, and that we’ve got this far is all down to Hugh. It’s just a shame that the kind of farewell catharsis that should have been is rather undermined by a screenplay that fumbles the final hurdle; nothing amps up or unfolds quite as effectively as it should, is quite as tragic as it might be. Which is frustrating, as it comes close. So, Logan is the best of the solo Wolverine vehicles, but it lingers some way behind First Class and Days of Future Past in the pantheon. What it does leave me wondering is how long this newly-ignited capacity for swearing, sex and splatter in comic book movies will last before makers realise the tail is wagging the dog.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

I never strangled a chicken in my life!

Rope (1948) (SPOILERS) Rope doesn’t initially appear to have been one of the most venerated of Hitchcocks, but it has gone through something of a rehabilitation over the years, certainly since it came back into circulation during the 80s. I’ve always rated it highly; yes, the seams of it being, essentially, a formal experiment on the director’s part, are evident, but it’s also an expert piece of writing that uses our immediate knowledge of the crime to create tension throughout; what we/the killers know is juxtaposed with the polite dinner party they’ve thrown in order to wallow in their superiority.

They'll think I've lost control again and put it all down to evolution.

Time Bandits (1981) (SPOILERS) Terry Gilliam had co-directed previously, and his solo debut had visual flourish on its side, but it was with Time Bandits that Gilliam the auteur was born. The first part of his Trilogy of Imagination, it remains a dazzling work – as well as being one of his most successful – rich in theme and overflowing with ideas while resolutely aimed at a wide (family, if you like) audience. Indeed, most impressive about Time Bandits is that there’s no evidence of self-censoring here, of attempting to make it fit a certain formula, format or palatable template.

You must have hopes, wishes, dreams.

Brazil (1985) (SPOILERS) Terry Gilliam didn’t consider Brazil the embodiment of a totalitarian nightmare it is often labelled as. His 1984½ (one of the film’s Fellini-riffing working titles) was “ the Nineteen Eighty-Four for 1984 ”, in contrast to Michael Anderson’s Nineteen Eighty-Four from 1948. This despite Gilliam famously boasting never to have read the Orwell’s novel: “ The thing that intrigues me about certain books is that you know them even though you’ve never read them. I guess the images are archetypal ”. Or as Pauline Kael observed, Brazil is to Nineteen Eighty-Four as “ if you’d just heard about it over the years and it had seeped into your visual imagination ”. Gilliam’s suffocating system isn’t unflinchingly cruel and malevolently intolerant of individuality; it is, in his vision of a nightmare “future”, one of evils spawned by the mechanisms of an out-of-control behemoth: a self-perpetuating bureaucracy. And yet, that is not really, despite how indulgently and glee

Oh, you got me right in the pantaloons, partner.

The Party (1968) (SPOILERS) Blake Edwards’ semi-improvisational reunion with Peter Sellers is now probably best known for – I was going to use an elephant-in-the-room gag, but at least one person already went there – Sellers’ “brown face”. And it isn’t a decision one can really defend, even by citing The Party ’s influence on Bollywood. Satyajit Ray had also reportedly been considering working with Sellers… and then he saw the film. One can only assume he’d missed similar performances in The Millionairess and The Road to Hong Kong ; in the latter case, entirely understandable, if not advisable. Nevertheless, for all the flagrant stereotyping, Sellers’ bungling Hrundi V Bakshi is a very likeable character, and indeed, it’s the piece’s good-natured, soft centre – his fledgling romance with Claudine Longet’s Michele – that sees The Party through in spite of its patchy, hit-and-miss quality.

I'm an old ruin, but she certainly brings my pulse up a beat or two.

The Paradine Case (1947) (SPOILERS) Hitchcock wasn’t very positive about The Paradine Case , his second collaboration with Gregory Peck, but I think he’s a little harsh on a picture that, if it doesn’t quite come together dramatically, nevertheless maintains interest on the basis of its skewed take on the courtroom drama. Peck’s defence counsel falls for his client, Alida Valli’s accused (of murder), while wife Ann Todd wilts dependably and masochistically on the side-lines.

A herbal enema should fix you up.

Never Say Never Again (1983) (SPOILERS) There are plenty of sub-par Bond s in the official (Eon) franchise, several of them even weaker than this opportunistic remake of Thunderball , but they do still feel like Bond movies. Never Say Never Again , despite – or possibly because he’s part of it – featuring the much-vaunted, title-referencing return of the Sean Connery to the lead role, only ever feels like a cheap imitation. And yet, reputedly, it cost more than the same year’s Rog outing Octopussy .

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019) (SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

You can’t climb a ladder, no. But you can skip like a goat into a bar.

Juno and the Paycock (1930) (SPOILERS) Hitchcock’s second sound feature. Such was the lustre of this technological advance that a wordy play was picked. By Sean O’Casey, upon whom Hitchcock based the prophet of doom at the end of The Birds . Juno and the Paycock , set in 1922 during the Irish Civil War, begins as a broad comedy of domestic manners, but by the end has descended into full-blown Greek (or Catholic) tragedy. As such, it’s an uneven but still watchable affair, even if Hitch does nothing to disguise its stage origins.

Sir, I’m the Leonardo of Montana.

The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet (2013) (SPOILERS) The title of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s second English language film and second adaptation announces a fundamentally quirky beast. It is, therefore, right up its director’s oeuvre. His films – even Alien Resurrection , though not so much A Very Long Engagement – are infused with quirk. He has a style and sensibility that is either far too much – all tics and affectations and asides – or delightfully offbeat and distinctive, depending on one’s inclinations. I tend to the latter, but I wasn’t entirely convinced by the trailers for The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet ; if there’s one thing I would bank on bringing out the worst in Jeunet, it’s a story focussing on an ultra-precocious child. Yet for the most part the film won me over. Spivet is definitely a minor distraction, but one that marries an eccentric bearing with a sense of heart that veers to the affecting rather than the chokingly sentimental. Appreciation for

I think you’re some kind of deviated prevert.

Dr. Strangelove  or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) (SPOILERS) Kubrick’s masterpiece satire of mutually-assured destruction. Or is it? Not the masterpiece bit, because that’s a given. Rather, is all it’s really about the threat of nuclear holocaust? While that’s obviously quite sufficient, all the director’s films are suggested to have, in popular alt-readings, something else going on under the hood, be it exposing the ways of Elite paedophilia ( Lolita , Eyes Wide Shut ), MKUltra programming ( A Clockwork Orange, Full Metal Jacket ), transhumanism and the threat of imminent AI overlords ( 2001: A Space Odyssey ), and most of the aforementioned and more besides (the all-purpose smorgasbord that is The Shining ). Even Barry Lyndon has been posited to exist in a post-reset-history world. Could Kubrick be talking about something else as well in Dr. Strangelove ?