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Review: Logan

January 26, 2018

By John Corrado

★★★★ (out of 4)

Right from the opening scene of Logan, a brutal attempted carjacking staged in the middle of the sparse New Mexico desert, the film immediately sets itself up as offering something different from the majority of other comic book movies, let alone the ones in the X-Men universe.

This is more neo-western than it is superhero saga, a portrait of heroes who might not even make it through another day, let alone be able to save it.  The result is a thrilling film that takes as many cues from modern action films as it does old John Wayne movies, keeping the focus on its flawed characters.  As such, it received an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay this week.

The year is 2029, mutants have all but gone extinct or are now in exile.  Logan (Hugh Jackman) is living out his final days on a hidden property near the Mexican border, taking care of an aging Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart), who has to stay in a metal silo in order to keep his powerful seizures from wreaking havoc on the world.  But Logan’s plans are upended when he has to care for Laura (Dafne Keen), a young mutant who has escaped from a government facility.  They set out on a road trip, with the goal of bringing Laura to a safe house for mutants that is rumoured to exist near the Canadian border, but they are pursued by dangerous agents along the way.

Loosely based on the Old Man Logan storyline from the comic books, Logan is most unique for the way that it presents a sobering look at a hero in the twilight of his life.  Hugh Jackman delivers one of the best performances of his career, portraying Logan as a man who’s grizzled and broken down, as much feeling the weight of the world on his shoulders as he is ready to leave it all behind.  The film presents him as an aging hero whose healing powers have diminished, making it harder and more painful for him to use his claws.  He has grown weary and depressed, and carries an ademantium bullet with him everywhere, in case he loses control or the pain becomes too much and he needs to end his life.

Patrick Stewart also delivers one of his finest turns, portraying a hero who is reaching the end of the line, succumbing to dementia and being seen by the world as more of a threat than a saviour, with his powers now at risk of doing more harm than good.  It’s deeply moving work from the veteran actor.  Dafne Keen shines in one of the finest ever debuts for a child actor, brilliantly portraying the scared, troubled and ultimately lethal facets of her complex young character.  Last but not least, Stephen Merchant does memorable work as one of the film’s most sympathetic and conflicted characters, an albino mutant named Caliban who can’t be exposed to light, and helps Logan care for Professor X.

The X-Men comic books exist in this world, but they are shown to be mere embellishments of the truth, and ways to make the stark realities of life more palatable to children.  They are like “ice cream for bed-wetters,” as Logan describes them after discovering that Laura has been taking refuge in the hopeful hero narratives that they offer.  There is an impending sense of dread running through Logan that makes it both gripping and emotionally draining to watch.  The quiet character moments are threatened by bursts of violence, and even the film’s most innocent and sympathetic characters – a working class farming family who give refuge to these travellers partway through – aren’t safe in this world.

At a time when graphic depictions of violence are so common that audiences have become largely desensitized to their impact, Logan is powerful precisely because of how sad and angry the violence here makes us feel.  The violence is seen as a consequence of this brutal and unforgiving world, and it really stings.  Every cut, every shot, leaves a mark.  This is a superhero story that doubles as Greek tragedy, and the final scenes carry with them a haunting emotional impact, especially for those of us who have been following Wolverine over the years.

Director James Mangold has made an artfully crafted blockbuster, right down to the haunting orange-hued cinematography, which effectively evokes the feel of an old western.  This is a bleak, thrilling and powerfully acted anti-superhero movie, that cuts deep and leaves a bruising impact.  It’s not only the best X-Men film yet, but also an emotionally charged swan song to two of the franchise’s most beloved characters.  What Logan does is it elevates the comic book movie to a level of great art, and it stands alongside The Dark Knight as the best superhero movie of all time.

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