MOVIE BUFF-ET: Sci-fi Western “Logan” sets high bar for future super-hero films


After watching “Logan,” it’s easy to understand why star Hugh Jackman declared he was hanging up his claws and walking away from what thus far has been his signature big-screen role.

The film, directed by James Mangold, is so well made and such a definitive portrayal of the most revered character from the X-Men comic-book franchise that Jackman would likely find it difficult to top.

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Calling the movie a masterpiece might be a bit much, but the emotionally wrenching film Mangold and Jackman crafted is by far the best of the X-Men branded films.

“Logan” is a hard movie to define. Yes, it works as a brutally graphic, super-hero adventure, but the film is more than that. It’s a layered movie that’s as much a family drama as it is a sci-fi Western that contemplates the meaning of humanity as well as our common struggle with aging and mortality.

Whether intentional or not, the film could be framed as commentary on the United States’ issues with illegal immigration, and whether or not the motto etched into the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” remains valid or not.

The movie’s underlying depth is a treat, but like the best of layered entertainments, it does not detract from telling a compelling and in this case exciting yet dark story.

The film, set in 2029, finds mutant-kind on the ropes. No known mutants have been born in the last 25 years, and the ones left are hiding in ragged conditions. Jackman’s Logan is no longer the virile hero he was in his first nine performances as the character. He’s grizzled, broken-down, and ill, a shell of his former self.

The character known for his animal-like physicality and uncanny healing ability still has his claws, but finds it achingly difficult walking a short distances from the limousine he drives, working as a chauffer on the Texas border, to buy drugs for his and a friend’s condition.

With the help of fellow mutant Caliban (Steven Merchant), Logan is looking after his mentor and surrogate father Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), who is growing senile and losing control of his vast telepathic abilities.

Logan and Xavier come under fire from a cyborg mercenary Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) and his team of Reavers that X-Men comic fans will recognize. They are searching for an escaped science experiment known as X-23. That experiement comes in the form of a 10-year-old girl named Laura, who exhibits abilities all-to-familiar to Logan and Xavier.

Logan takes Laura (Dafne Keen) in after the Reavers attack the abandoned water tower where he and Caliban were caring for Xavier. The Reavers doggedly chase the trio as they attempt to reach a haven for surviving mutants in North Dakota known as Eden.

The film is beautifully yet starkly shot in a manner reminiscent of Sergio Leone’s Italian Westerns. Fans of Westerns will also see similarities to Clint Eastwood’s “Unforgiven” and particularly “The Cowboys,” one of John Wayne’s latter films.

Like Leone’s Westerns, the movie embraces violence where others sidestepped it. Mangold graphically shows the consequences one faces when angering a super-powered being equipped with indestructible, foot-long claws, even if he is technically no longer the best at what he does.

Logan and other characters in the film stab, slash, cut, dismember, and decapitate opponents and some bystanders. Likewise the profanity flows fast and furious from most characters. The movie isn’t intended for youngsters or the faint of heart of any age.

Mangold, who wrote the script with Scott Frank and Michael Green based on an idea of Jackman’s, crafts an excellent story and coaxed outstanding and touching performances from Jackman and Stewart. Oscar consideration for Stewart for supporting role would not be unwarranted.

However, Mangold’s work with Keen elevates the movie. A poor performance by Keen would have kneecapped the movie and rendered the fine work by the rest of the cast useless. But that’s far from the case. Keen is totally believable as a feral child in a performance that relies more on her body language and facial expressions than dialog until late in the film.

While the movie is stepped in X-Men film lore, Mangold directed it as a serious film about important topics. It delivers on all the action the super-hero genre demands, but its depth and heart lift it above norm.

(R) 2 hr. 21 min.
Grade: A

Classic Corner

The Cowboys
The 1972 Western “The Cowboys” is an unconventional tale of an elderly rancher Wil Andersen (John Wayne) who is forced to use schoolboys as cowhands on a 400-mile cattle drive when his drovers desert him to participate in a gold rush.

Andersen seems overly tough on the boys while training them ride, rope, and herd, and they resent him for being so hardnosed as their journey gets underway.

On the surface role is somewhat similar to Wayne’s classic turn as the headstrong rancher Thomas Dunson in 1948’s “Red River.” Andersen is just as hard-willed as Dunson, but with age exercises a bit more wisdom and heart with the younger cowhands.

However, as the boys begin to learn hard lessons, they grow to respect and even love their trail boss, who in not only teaching them how to work but also how to be men.
Roscoe Lee Brown stands out in the film as the drive’s cook Jeb Nightlinger, who is just as tough on the boys in his own way, but also understands how to soothe the youngsters when they need it.

A scraggly looking Bruce Dern proves to be a perfect cowardly foil for Wayne as Asa Watts, the leader of a questionable band of cowboys whom Andersen turns down for work when he catches Watts in a lie.

Watts is a loathsome character in the film without an ounce of redeeming character. The showdown between Dern and Wayne is classic, and the boys’ response to it is too.

The film, which features a rousing John Williams’ score, also introduced “Revenge of the Nerds” star Robert Carradine, the son of character actor and 1940s horror star John Carradine.