Third Time’s The Charm

I’ve often lamented that in a movie trilogy, the first one’s often good, the second’s better, and then the third turns out to be a load of crap. Superheroes are particularly at risk of this. After two decent films, the Christopher Reeve Superman series added Richard Pryor to the third movie and jumped the shark bigtime. Val Kilmer’s turn as Batman was a step down, with Jim Carrey and Tommy Lee Jones not just chewing the scenery but ripping it apart with their teeth. Tobey Maguire in Spider-man 3 actually made me cringe – twice! And then there’s X-Men: The Last Stand. It almost was for the series.

But the Wolverine movies have flipped the script. X-Men Origins: Wolverine was awful, though it did serve a purpose by so badly mauling Deadpool’s character that Ryan Reynolds had to make his own movie. 2013’s The Wolverine was better, though the ending was a mess. But now with Logan, the series has its strongest outing with Hugh Jackman’s last turn in the title role. It’s not the best superhero movie ever, but it’s really good, and Jackman gets to go out with a bang.

By 2029, the world of the X-Men has collapsed with most of the mutants gone after years without new mutant births. Those left hide in the substrata of society. Logan (Jackman) works as a limo driver, ferrying drunk bachelorette parties and rude businessmen around El Paso, Texas. He lives on the Mexican side of the border in a deserted factory with an enfeebled Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), whose once-all-powerful mind is breaking down, and the albino Caliban (Stephan Merchant), who nurses Charles while Logan works.

On a funeral job, Logan is approached by Gabriela (Elizabeth Rodriguez), seeking his help for a young girl, Laura (Dafne Keen). Gabriela wants to get Laura to North Dakota near the Canadian border, to a fabled sanctuary for mutants called Eden. She tells Logan that Laura is just like him, a description that’s soon confirmed. But Logan’s also approached by Pierce (Boyd Holbrook), a smooth-talking mercenary with a mechanical left forearm and hand. Pierce works for Dr. Rice (Richard E. Grant) and has been tasked with cleaning up a mess. Part of the mess is Laura.

As with The Wolverine, James Mangold directs. He also came up with the story and co-wrote the script with Michael Green, who’s currently bringing Neil Gaiman’s “American Gods” to Starz, and Scott Frank, who’d scripted The Wolverine and who also did Out of Sight, Get Shorty, and Minority Report. They keep the film tightly focused while the action flows like waves throughout the movie, building to the climax. One interesting aspect to the story is they’ve incorporated the comic book world into the plot, as if the comics were inspired by the real characters. It actually works.

Over the course of 17 years and 9 movies, Jackman’s Wolverine has become the iconic character in the X-Men series – an evaluation with which Deadpool would definitely agree. He’s always exciting to watch, even with his one-profane-line cameo in X-Men: First Class. Here though he plays a much more human and humane version of the character, facing mortality for the first time. Likewise, Patrick Stewart gets to play Professor Xavier as King Lear, betrayed not by family but by his own mind. As Laura, Dafne Keen is a fitting foil for Jackman. She’s the daughter of Will Keen, who’s mostly appeared on British TV series such as “Wolf Hall” (as Thomas Cranmer) and the recent Netflix hit “The Crown.” Laura is a key role to make the film work, and Keen owns it.

The production benefited by following in Deadpool’s wake, since that movie proved that a superhero film didn’t have to be constrained to fit a PG-13 rating. Logan earns its R rating with hard-edged action beyond what’s been seen in the X-Men franchise thus far. It’s not gratuitous but fits with the life-or-death stakes in the story.

Wolverine was Jackman’s first role outside of Australia, and it was only a scheduling conflict for the actor originally cast in the role, Dougray Scott, that allowed Jackman’s casting 3 weeks after shooting began. Now he’s conquered stage and screen (and Deadpool’s heart) and is a major star. It’s fitting that he gets to give a farewell performance in the role.

I’ve mentioned Deadpool several times during this review, partly because in a number of venues a teaser trailer for his next film is attached to Logan. It’s also on YouTube and can be viewed here. Minor spoiler: the scroll at the end is a book report on “The Old Man and the Sea” as written by Deadpool. Enjoy.

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