Cinema: Logan ends Hugh Jackman’s role on a high note

Film review: Logan: In his 17 years playing Wolverine, Hugh Jackman never faltered. The quality of movies in the X-Men franchise constantly fluctuated; the same series that produced gems like X2 and Days of Future Past also produced X3 and Apocalypse. After last year’s success with the irreverent Deadpool, Sony found much needed creative renaissance with R-rated comic book property. This paved the way just in time for Jackman’s swan song in Logan, which flies past the previous two solo Wolverine ventures in terms of quality with whiplash velocity. For the first time, Jackman is given material worthy of his caliber.

Logan takes place in a timeline separated from the other films in the franchise, slashing away continuity limitations that have bogged down previous entries in the franchise. It’s 2029, and the majority of mutants have been wiped out in an unspecified event. Logan’s stride is replaced with a limp, his hair is graying, and his claws don’t retract smoothly anymore (in a shield-your-eyes scene, he yanks one out with his bare hands). He drives a limousine in some sort of Uber-like service in an ambiguous western setting, and gives medication to an ailing Dr. Xavier (Patrick Stewart), one of the few fellow surviving mutants. Tucked away in a toppled water tower, Dr. X suffers from a mutated mental illness that gives him seizures that harm everyone around him.   

The opening 20 minutes are overly dour in an on-the-nose attempt to set up the tone for the rest of the movie. Dr. X rants about new menu items for KFC for no reason and overall behaves like Jar Jar Banks – he’s crazy, got it. Logan swigs beer in every scene and can’t walk in a straight line (yet has the stamina to fight a gang trying to steal his tires) – he’s old and cranky, gotcha. But the film finds its tonal footing shortly thereafter. Perhaps it’s the rating change, but Logan doesn’t toy with his prey anymore – he aims for the head. In one of the numerous stunning acts of violence in the film, he stabs an assailant’s skull through the bottom of his jaw, and his silver adamantium claws are visible through the gasping mouth.

Laying low never works out for Logan, and it’s no different here. He is soon threatened by a mechanical armed agent (played by Richard E. Grant) after a stranger pleads with him to take a young girl up to North Dakota. The girl, Laura (played by scene-stealing newcomer Dafne Keen) is a young version of Logan, complete with two adamantium claws on each hand. She’s on the run from agents who wants to reclaim her. Forgoing dialogue, Keen (a series regular on BBC’s The Refugees) bounces off Jackman and Stewart naturally with just a look or a pose. She has raw talent that can’t be faked at only 12 years old.

Unlike the two previous Wolverine standalones (2009’s X-Men: Origins and 2013’s The Wolverine), the picture sets out to tell a story about Logan himself, rather than focusing on what he can chop down with his claws. Director James Mangold has been holding out on us; he crafted each sequence of this film with remarkable insight and intelligence seen nowhere in his dour, sloppy 2013 entry. Throughout this 17 year run, the writers have sent Logan down multiple time lines, killed off more than one love interests (and the same love interest more than once) and had him receive what would normally be fatal wounds as often as we get hangnails. Logan is a natural culmination of what that turmoil would do to someone, even one who is invincible. It (literally) cuts down to the bones of the character – the word “Wolverine” isn’t mentioned once, as a symbol of the film’s intention. Whatever work he’s turned in in the past, Mangold should be commended now for this project.

There’s a certain stigma against comic book movies that make it easy to claim a well-done film “transcends” its genre, which many other reviews for this film state proudly. Logan doesn’t transcend the comic book genre – instead it brilliantly fuses its roots with action, drama and western aesthetics. In the next few years, the film will undoubtedly be referred to as a benchmark of what the genre can accomplish. It can tackle deep themes and characterization, and take on concepts not normally associated with superheroes. Whereas previous X-Men films ooze generic, melted plastic, Logan is a fully realized work of art.

Let’s be thankful Jackman was finally given something to show for his career-spanning dedication to the role, but let’s also hope Sony doesn’t see the giant pile of money Logan has made and go knocking on his door. Logan is the perfect ending note – let’s keep it that way.

Trailer view: Alien: Covenant and Life: Speaking of generic, it doesn’t get much more synthesized than this. Ridley Scott, for some inexplicable reason, is adamant about continuing to make Alien prequel films, even after lukewarm-at-best reaction to Prometheus. While that film can be appreciated for at least having a somewhat original storyline, Covenant looks like something copy and pasted from the Wikipedia summary section of every alien movie to come out in the past 5 years.

Heck, there’s one coming out next week – Life starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Reynolds. Let’s compare them side by side.

Opening scene featuring a spaceship crew discussing their upcoming mission: check. Discovery of an alien life form early on in the plot: check. Alien turns out to be a threat and starts picking off the crew one by one: check. Escalating music as the crew realizes the threat: check.

Guarantee to sell tickets in truckloads: check. Promise to bore audiences with concepts they’ve seen before and will probably see again in a few months: check.