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WARNING: There are minor spoilers regarding character identity in this review.

In his comic book iteration, James “Logan” Howlett was not a nice guy.  While charismatic in a terrifying way, he was as far from charming or approachable as a Marvel superhero could get; the very definition of antihero.  A hairy, Canadian, 5’3” ball of rage, his only calming influence were the moments of careful kindness from his X-fixation, Jean Gray.  That she was in love with another (taller, cleaner-shaven, less cranky) man, and soon to become an extraterrestrial threat to the universe complicated matters, and didn’t help the whole “mad at the world” thing one bit.

In the films, Logan is played by Hugh Jackman.  In contrast to the comic book creation, the tall Aussie was drop-dead gorgeous, even with the ridiculous, moulded head and facial fuzz that’s been tamed over successive chapters, giving the character an allure he did not have on the page.  While Jackman never hit a bum note in his portrayal, either in his reading of Wolverine, or in gamely investing in the muscular fighter’s physical chops; he was innately affable and charming, giving the Marvel icon a cuddliness and sweetness one might not have expected.  At various times in the series, Logan became a guardian to the X-Men leader, Charles Xavier, a big brother to his first onscreen friend, the similarly lonely Rogue, an unrequited romantic hero to Jean Gray, and at worst, a nanny to the many mini-mutants inhabiting Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters.

Logan the film is an interesting prospect in that it embraces those warmer sides of the character we’ve seen over the years, while giving us the rabid, feral beast that’s hasn’t been fully portrayed in this series.

This is the first film featuring Wolverine that is rated R, and appropriately so.  The level of violence and intensity here has never existed in any of the previous X-Men movies.  Nor, thankfully, does the screenplay shy away from making an adorable kid a whirling dervish of pure, unrepentant, blood-soaked mayhem.

By the time this review goes up, the big “secret” of the film will be well-aired.  The movie’s MacGuffin is the living embodiment of decades of fear of the mutant threat by non-super-powered humanity.  Apparently, when Logan went into that secret government facility for his adamantium upgrade, there was a little biological schmutz left behind.  The cellular data of Wolverine and many other mutants has been put to use in a wide variety of genetic experiments meant to even the odds.  In hidden facilities, the covert cloning and modification of very small humans with special “gifts” is taking place.  The results are as varying as the powers exhibited by the children bred for these experiments.  The goal is to make invincible warriors who will fight for the “right” side and eliminate the unpredictable, intractable mutants, such as those who made their home at the famous Xavier Institute.  As one objective is reached, there is no need to salvage the obsolete models behind it, and so the unsuccessful test subjects are cast aside – permanently.  Unfortunately, the walking god-complexes behind these heartless experiments do not count for the humanity of the nurses and medical staff who have become substitute parents to the isolated children, and in a daring escape, they run for a fabled mutant sanctuary called Eden, deep in the North Dakota woods.  One of the rescued children, bitterly pursued by the scientists who want their property back and safely contained, is a wee mite called Laura, who could really use a hero to help to find her way north.

Troublingly for Laura, her hero ain’t what he once was.  After literal centuries shunning the ravages of time, time wants its payback, and the legendary Wolverine has become old.  Not only is the evidence in his wrinkled, haggard grey appearance, but stuff just isn’t working for him so well.  His six metal-coated bone claws don’t pop out with the snappy “Snikt!” that they used to, and far more troubling is the decreasing effectiveness of the regeneration power that has granted him life after life these long years.   

Overall, things for mutants everywhere haven’t been so great.  Besides Logan himself, a sun-hating telepath called Caliban, and the great Charles Xavier, there is no one left.  All his friends and fellows are gone, and his own small coven lives in hiding in an abandoned warehouse in the middle of a Mexican desert.  What’s even worse is that with the passage of time, the mind of the world’s mightiest telepath is weakening, and only a steady diet of sedatives doled out in shifts by Logan and Caliban, restrains  Xavier’s awesome powers from meltdown-level mass destruction.  Once the heart of the most powerful group of heroes the world had ever seen, Logan is now Xavier’s nursemaid, working nightly as a chauffeur to save enough for a seaside escape for the ragtag trio.

The last thing he needs is another hungry – very hungry - mouth to feed, or another friendless waif to foster, yet Laura seems destined to be by Logan’s side.  There are similarities between the two that go beyond a bit of churlishness and advanced scowling; a fact that becomes abundantly clear when the mercenaries who’ve been tracking the little girl find her at the new Chez Xavier.  A big clue to her true identity is divined when her interaction with three of the soldiers ends with her using the head of one unlucky fellow as a bowling ball.  The other hints are the claws that spring from both her hands and feet to amplify her superhuman strength, speed and fighting ability, scored by her almost-inhuman shriek of rage.

Yes sir, that’s ma baby - sort of.  Laura - or X-23, as she was enumerated by her creators - is made of sugar and spice (and Canadian berserker) and doesn’t care if she’s nice.  Yet in his quest to keep Charles Xavier safe, Logan is at first willing to hand his clone over to the mercenaries, but as one of Professor X’s innumerable powers is the ability to appeal to his feral friend’s better nature, suddenly Logan must contend with a very small, barely tamed, female version of himself.

This film literally becomes a road trip as the group must find this alleged Eden, where Laura believes her friends are waiting to escape to sanctuary.  We see the joys and terrible risks of what these latter days with uncontrollable powers and bad guys still around every corner means to the remaining mutants out in the world of the regular Joe.  We witness the devastating collateral damage that even mere kindness to the hunted strangers can instigate.  We see exactly what occurs when time comes to claim its due even from the most powerful.

Logan is a remarkable balance of action, humour and emotion.  The action is fast and furious with not only Wolverine’s burly fighting style present and made more brutal by the loosening of the ratings reins, but heightened and contrasted by the whiplash-quick slashes and stabs by the tiny, agile X-23; the baby born to slay.  Claws through skulls, the popping out of eyeballs, decapitations by a grade schooler, feral screams; while played as tastefully as possible, director James Mangold doesn’t shy away from any of it and it’s pretty great.  X-23 believes in getting the job done; slithering around the back and onto the shoulders of a would-be assailant like a deadly ferret, and poking them full of holes until it’s overkill.  She doesn’t ask questions, she doesn’t reason, she’s not worried about moral conundrums.  Like the semi-wild creature she is, once the danger is sensed, it’s fight or flight, and with Laura, it’s usually fight.  

Logan contains the best depiction of Berserker rage we’ve seen onscreen.  That it is amplified by a serum made by the scientists who used him so terribly seems like justice.  We also experience the true, heart pounding terror of Charles Xavier’s power unleashed in a way we’ve never seen before and it’s breathtaking.

For a movie that has as many despondent notes as Logan, it’s actually very funny.  Most of that humour comes from the interaction between Messrs. Jackman and Patrick Stewart, reprising Xavier in his dotage.  While Charles might be drugged to the eyeballs, he can still wield a well-placed shiv of sarcasm or gallows humour.  The comfort forged by the actors’ nearly two decades of working side by side is apparent, even when Charles and Logan bicker like an old married couple.  British funnyman Stephen Merchant is freakishly perfect as the telepath caretaker, Caliban, who also has no qualms about nagging Logan into keeping up his part of the restraining Xavier chores, or letting him know exactly how he, as a light-threatened albino, feels about the Canadian’s great idea of living on the sea.  Even the rises that little Dafne Keen as the silent but deadly X-23 gets out of her new papa of sorts, as he gets used to real parenthood for the first time, are a hoot.  The classic X-Men comic books making an appearance and actually being a key to the story was clever, as was the sight of a child holding his pointy-eared, yellow and black spandex-clad Wolverine action figure like a security blanket.

For all the thrills and laughs, there is heartache.  Logan’s set-up is grim from the get-go: There’s something innately wrong with the ageless, powerful figure we’ve come to love after five films (of varying quality) being so broken and at wits’ end.  We keep waiting for things to turn around, because it’s a comic book movie and we’re supposed to cheer for our victorious heroes, ne?  Maybe not this time.  Logan hails from a darker spectrum where it’s all up for grabs and what it takes away is going to hurt.  The trick to this picture is how to make it possible to inflict those wounds on the audience and leave them walking out of the cinema thoughtful, yet wildly entertained.

This is Hugh Jackman’s true gift as he shows us this character is his, inside and out.  Not just because he made Wolverine handsomer or more accessible, but because he’s been able to find the humanity in Logan, while knowing when to let out the beast.  That talent is in particular demand in the last half of the film, and it’s glorious to watch.  Not only does Jackman sell the physicality of an older, dilapidated warrior fighting with all he has for those he loves, but he shows us the internal war of someone who has lost everything and is just one breath away from putting an end to his own long story of sorrow.  So, too, is he charming enough to pull off playing the exasperated caregiver to both the very old, doddering Xavier and the very young, innocently mischievous Laura.

There are a few things that keep Logan from perfection.  Most of which have to do with some marked vagueness in the story.  Those unfamiliar with the “Old Man Logan” comic on which the movie is loosely based, are left to surmise important details for ourselves: Such as, what exactly is the problem with Wolverine?  There is mention of a “sickness” inside him, but it’s not said specifically, so I reckoned his ailments must’ve come from some type of adamantium poisoning.  We don’t quite know what happened to the other X-Men, which seems a rather big thing to leave out.  And while the script seems to make a point of keeping the fantasy aspect of mutant powers to a minimum (Which is a little disappointing toward the film’s end.), we are given a very unsatisfactory villain in the orange-haired Donald Pierce, who sports a Terminator-like arm and a permanent, undeserved smirk.  We keep waiting for him to be more than he is, and leave disappointed.  That even this lessened Logan had a moment’s trouble from this flakey foe is a little beyond belief.  I would have been happy to have less of him and a lot more of Stephen Merchant as the acerbic Caliban.

Still, small stuff compared to the rush that Logan is.  It’s packed with fun, thrills, and a hardcore body count that daringly, emotionally, includes friends and loved ones in a way that is as heart wrenching as it is satisfying.

This is the X-Men movie - and the Wolverine - I’ve been waiting for.

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

Feb 24th, 2017

 

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Photos

Stills Courtesy of  20th Century Fox

 

 

 

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