**1/2 out of ****
(for strong brutal violence and language throughout, and for brief nudity)
Released: March 3, 2017
Runtime: 137 minutes
Director: James Mangold
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen, Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant, Richard E. Grant, Eriq La Salle, Elizabeth Rodriguez
For a movie hell bent on further redefining a genre, Logan is, well…it’s fine.
Much easier to admire than get wrapped up in, Logan makes a lot of interesting choices for a movie that’s ultimately fairly straightforward. It serves as the grand swan song for Hugh Jackman’s iconic take on the most rugged (and popular) mutant of the X-Men universe – Wolverine, who’s proper name is Logan – a character that he defined as much as it defined his career.
Now, nearly twenty years later, the age-defying Jackman brings his age-defying superhero to an end, as both find themselves succumbing to the wages of time. In one sense, despite all of the first-time R-rated amplification, Logan is a capsule of the collective Wolverine cinematic canon: sometimes good, sometimes generic, but always with an impassioned Jackman at the center.
Director James Mangold and co-writer Scott Frank, the pair behind the second stand-alone entry The Wolverine, are back for the character’s final chapter. After a funny if oddly morbid (and completely unrelated) opening comic short, Logan kicks off with a scene that establishes its gruesome hard-R bona fides in no uncertain terms, as profanity is unleashed with as much vigor as the finally-accurate carnage of Wolverine’s claw-swathing brutality.
It’s the near-future, 2029, and we find that Logan is a semi-loner alcoholic (he’s once even referred to as a junkie), whose age-and-healing rejuvenative powers are finally beginning to wane. Friends old and new are along for the ride, from Patrick Stewart’s elderly, dementia-stricken, F-bomb dropping Professor X, to the albino mutant Caliban (played by Ricky Gervais’ longtime creative partner Stephen Merchant), plus a little mute girl with a connection to Logan – and some claws of her own.
As a piece, Logan splices DNA from various genres and blends them seamlessly: Superhero, Western, Apocalyptic, Road Movie, and Character Study, punctuated by graphic violence. It all feels of a single piece, not a hodgepodge, to Mangold’s credit. Not quite a blockbuster and not quite an indie, Logan is an eerie and near-singular in-between. Suffice it to say, the film’s style (and the gusto of the team making it) is its strength.
The plot, on the other hand, isn’t nearly as provocative as the approach. Avoiding spoilers here isn’t just a sign of respect to the uninitiated; it’s a fairly easy task as there isn’t much to spoil. Once you get locked in to the script’s setup and structure, Logan unfolds with an episodic monotony, a bunch of ideas loosely assembled into an adequately complete whole. It’s fairly easy to stay one step ahead of where this thing keeps going.
That not only muffles any sense of surprise or suspense; it also mutes the clearly desired sentiment. Simple, streamlined plotting could be a virtue if it were in concert with a deeper examination of characters and ideas, but those remain thin as well, never really going beyond well-trod beats of familial dynamics, aging, and regret, each painted with a broad brush in rudimentary strokes.
A critical outlier, I’ve never been big on Marvel movies, but Logan (produced by 20th Century Fox, not Disney’s Marvel Studios machine) is “meh” for different reasons. Most MCU movies are bloated spectacles, and the bloat distracts/masks that there’s no “there” there. In Logan, rather than bloated spectacle, it’s hard-R content that’s the distraction, not $200 million worth of visual effects. Between those content extremes and the overall multi-genre hybrid, Mangold’s film is a self-conscious effort that, at times, tries too hard.
Thematically, the X-verse has always been about the outcasts, and for much of the past decade it’s served as a metaphor to our culture’s growing LGBTQ acceptance (“We’re born this way”, et al). One senses this chapter may be trying to expand its outcast undercurrent into the Illegal Immigrant zeitgeist, but that may have just been me reaching for substance in a film lacking it, despite all apparent intents to the contrary. I mean, when it’s all over, what’s there really to talk about?
Look, Hugh Jackman doesn’t hold anything back, and this may also provide Patrick Stewart the most intriguing take on Professor X yet. In that respect, both actors go out in style. But with a hard-R genre spin masking a repetitive, dramatically bland (even inert) finale, Logan leaves the impression that the creative inspiration for this character was aging far much faster than its star.