Logan (2017) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): Wolverine on gritty, elegiac mode

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Besides being the best work in the X-men series, “Logan” is possibly the best superhero film since Christopher Nolan’s Batman Trilogy. While there are several top-notch action sequences in the film, story and characters always come first, and that is why it can do something rarely done in many other recent superhero movies: making us genuinely care about what will happen to its main characters in the end.

The story is set in the near future world where mutants have been almost eradicated mainly because of the absence of new mutants during last two decades, and the early scenes of the movie show Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) slowly going through his own decline. Currently working as a limousine driver around a border area of Texas, he still can pull out his shiny metal claws, but his aging body is not as strong as before, as shown from his accidental encounter with a bunch of hoods in the opening scene.

At least, he is not as senile as Charles Xavier/Professor X (Patrick Stewart), who constantly needs to be taken care of by Logan and their fellow mutant Caliban (Stephen Merchant) due to his deteriorating body and mind. Besides being heavily medicated, Xavier has been kept inside a big empty water tank in an abandoned factory for safety, and we see what danger he can inadvertently cause when his brain happens to have another seizure at one point.

While he goes through another working day as usual, Logan is approached by a Mexican woman named Gabriela (Elizabeth Rodriguez), who wants him to take a little young mutant girl accompanying her, named Laura (Dafne Keen), to some place in North Dakota. Logan initially rejects her, but he comes to agree to help Gabriela when she later offers him a considerable amount of cash, though he already knows well that he will get into a big trouble for that.

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Of course, the trouble comes to Logan faster than expected, and he soon finds himself running away along with Xavier and Laura from a bunch of mercenaries chasing after them. While Boyd Holbrook is effectively villainous as the leader of those vicious goons, Richard E. Grant is slimy and shady as a big bad guy behind them, and their characters feel all the more loathsome to us when we later come to learn more about how cruel and ruthless they can be for covering up their heinous business associated with Laura.

Following its main characters’ perilous journey across the American continent, the screenplay by the director James Mangold and his co-writers Scott Frank and Michael Green attempts an interesting mix of western and road movie. With his dark, violent past, Logan can be regarded as a quintessential western movie hero who cannot get away from violence and guilt, and that aspect is clearly accentuated by the brief appearance of “Shane” (1953) in the middle of the film. His relationship with Laura is awkward and rocky at first, but he becomes a father figure to her during their journey, and she gradually comes to learn a few important things through Logan and Xavier.

The action sequences in the movie are quite gritty and brutal to say the least. While one very intense vehicle action sequence will definitely take you back to those impactful moments of Mad Max movies, the movie goes all the way for sheer verisimilitude in case of its physical action sequences. I found myself often cringing during many bloody, violent moments in the film which surely deserve R-rating, but I was also impressed by how these moments are handled well with enough amount of style, energy, and gravitas. We can really sense real dangers from characters’ actions, and we accordingly become more involved in what is at stake in the story. Although the expected climactic part may look modest in its scale, it works nonetheless as driven by story and characters, and that is definitely more impressive than usual CGI spectacles.

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The two main performers in the movie comfortably embody their familiar roles as bringing more human aspects to their characters. Hugh Jackman, who will always be associated with Wolverine for the rest of his career, gives a solid performance as ably conveying his character’s growing vulnerability, and Patrick Stewart is poignant especially during the scenes where his character’s mind is more lucid than usual. They certainly know their characters to the bone, and we can always feel a long history between their characters even though they only mention their past briefly from time to time.

In case of young performer Dafne Keen, she holds her own place well between her two co-stars. I am still horrified by that little murderous superhero girl in “Kick-Ass” (2010), but Laura comes to us as a character as fascinating to watch as the young heroine of “Hanna” (2011) at least, and Keen effortlessly moves back and forth between innocence and ferocity while never softening her character at all.

Since it began with “X-Men” (2000), the X-men series has taken a long, convoluted road during last 17 years. After its first three films, the series went down with “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” (2009), but then it came to rebound with “X-Men: First Class” (2011), “The Wolverine” (2013), and “X-Men: Days of Future Past”, though that was soon followed by the bloated CGI spectacles of “X-Men: Apocalypse” (2016).

While it surely energizes the series, the elegiac tone of “Logan” seems to signify the end of a period like some notable western films during the 1960-70s did, and I somehow come to have more worry on its genre, which has felt like reaching to the level of exhaustion during recent years. I am still not so sure about what will happen next, but “Logan” shows some real possibility of significant change anyway, and we must appreciate that for now.

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