Reeling It In: ‘Logan’ takes a hard, gritty edge

This image released by Twentieth Century Fox shows Hugh Jackman from the film, “Logan.” (Ben Rothstein/Twentieth Century Fox via AP)



Twentieth Century Fox

2 hours, 17 minutes

There’s no question that this week’s “Logan” sets a new high standard for super-hero movies in general and for the “X-Men” franchise in particular.

Better shot and scripted than most films in the genre, “Logan” takes a hard look at the unforgiving life of a hero and paints a completely unglamorous portrait of a man whose most distinctive feature is that he has knives protruding from his fists. This film does not flinch in the face of harsh realities. Whether or not that’s the kind of superhero movie you want to see is another story entirely.

“Logan” finds our titular hero, aka Wolverine, aka James Howlett, in the year 2029, living outside of El Paso, Texas, eking out a living as a limo driver. The world is a bleak place and Logan is sick. But his aching bones and empty wallet are not the worst of it. Logan is squatting in an abandoned oil facility and on the property, in a defunct oil tank, is his real burden. Charles Xavier, world-renowned telepath and leader of the X-Men is languishing in a fog of dementia, suffering from seizures that can, and have, proved devastating to the people around him.

Here Logan, along with an aged Caliban, the albino mutant tracker, cares for Charles, keeping him medicated and, more important, hidden. As far as he knows, there are no more mutants – their appearance upon the earth apparently a momentary fluke. This sad little family may be all that’s left of their kind.

Or so he thinks. Apparently, in his more lucid moments, Charles in communicating with someone – someone lost and in need of help. Enter Laura, a wild young girl with terrifying abilities who will change things irrevocably.

Laura is on the run from the same kind of shadowy military/medical cabal that form all the X-villains. Her arrival brings the Reavers, a cybernetic death-squad, and sends Logan and his charges on the run. Where they can go is less certain. A mysterious note gives coordinates to Eden, a supposed mutant safe-haven, but in “Logan,” very little is safe.

I suppose the question of the hour is whether or not I enjoyed “Logan.” That’s not as easy to answer as you might think. The world it exists in is oppressive, the violence it portrays is disturbing and off-putting, and the story is unrelentingly bleak. So, enjoy? I don’t know. There were moments when I whooped in triumph. There were moments when I wanted to look away. I’ll probably watch it again, and I think I’ll enjoy it more, being able to appreciate the lighter moments and the small victories. Enjoy is different than appreciate, however.

“Logan” is a masterfully made film. The cinematography, the soundtrack, and the story all play together extremely well. This is a movie where the action sequences are thrilling, if not exactly fun, but the small character moments are stellar. Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart, perhaps emboldened by the finality of this project, bring their all. Seriously, amid all the head-stabbing and car chases, there are beautiful, heartbreaking moments of interaction between these two characters that not only enrich this film, but speak to an entire series of films, most of which have little connection to each other.

Also giving stellar performances are Stephen Merchant as Caliban, a thankless mother figure in Wolverine’s sad little family. Caliban has always had a kind of sinister look in the comics, but here he is more tragic than anything, tired and hopeless, but still trying regardless.

Rounding out the quartet is newcomer Dafne Keen as Laura. Her performance is mostly wordless and contains the energy of Hit Girl from the “Kick Ass” series while maintaining the pathos of a child forced to violently kill people trying to kill her.

Pathos is a good all-around descriptor for this film. It’s hard, because this is still a superhero movie, still a comic book movie, but it’s not middle of the road entertaining in any way. It’s mean. It’s cruel. And while this makes sense to the story and can be argued to dig into a fundamental truth of the character, is not necessarily enjoyable.

There were a couple of moments when the movie almost lost me entirely – unnecessary moments of cruelty to the characters where the film feels like it loses its way for a moment. I won’t spoil them and director James Mangold, who brought us “The Wolverine” and “3:10 to Yuma” is able to course-correct, but I was still thrown off.

The problem is, when you go to see a movie like this, you want to like it. Other dark films don’t ask that – grim spectacles by Lars Von Trier or David Lynch don’t necessarily ask you to like the characters or enjoy the plot, but a superhero film, by its very nature, does.

“Logan” kind of throws that whole system off, however. I think maybe, at the heart of it all, is that I really like the people involved, and I just don’t want them to have to go through this, to be in this world. In some ways it’s like reading a Garfield comic where he learns the harsh realities of living life on the street as a starving alley cat. Interesting. Potentially beautiful and tragic. But not fun. Be prepared.

Grade: A-

“Logan” is rated R for continuous and often gruesome violence, pervasive language, and adult situations.

Chris Jenness is an art teacher, freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.