James Mangold's Logan is an uncommonly mature comic book movie, practically from another universe unto itself. It's a movie demanding and deserving to be taken seriously, an elegy for a mutant.
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A classic loner hero, Logan, a.k.a. Wolverine as played by Hugh Jackman, is iconic in a genre too often rebooted or recast. Mangold seeks more than a shorthand screen presence in the portrayal this time. Jackman throws a haymaker, an emotional bruiser that's surprisingly good for this sort of movie.
Mangold smartly sets his movie years after human criminalized mutants in X-Men's floating chronology. Logan is vulnerable, weakening, drinking heavily and ducking his past. The movie begins with him passed out in the back seat of a limo he drives across the Mexican border, a limo being stripped by a gang who'll regret it.
Over the next few minutes, Mangold convinces us that Logan won't be comic book cinema as usual. This movie puts the "X" — at least a hard R — in X-Men legend with its violence, finally unleashing the full visual impact of adamantium-bladed knuckles slashing flesh and bone. It isn't a pretty sight, but it's pretty impressive.
Throughout the movie, Logan takes as well as he gives, healing slower with each point-blank shotgun blast or tire iron face creasing. This certainly isn't a superhero flick for children. At times, the passion play quality of Logan's suffering is a bit on the nose, as are Mangold's references to the Western classic Shane. Neither is a deal breaker.
Logan's sole purpose in life is caring for Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), now 90 and on the edge of dementia, not a safe place for a mutant with telekinetic powers. Charles insists there's another mutant out there, a claim Logan believes impossible until Laura Kinney (Dafne Keen) is thrust upon him for protection. Laura has powers like Logan's, for reasons leaving him no choice but to rage.
Those relationships bring out the worst of Logan and therefore some of the best parts of Jackman's portrayal. Reluctance is a constant theme of his performance; to give up on a friend, to resort to violence, to accept a responsibility. Jackman's screen persona as someone who'll do the right things is constantly being challenged.
Jackman's enduring investment in this role is equaled by Stewart's, who uses the time-leap setting to lend Shakespearean gravitas to Charles' condition. Not many actors can make a seismic psychic seizure so sympathetic, while slow-mo carnage is carried out.
It may be, however, that Logan is eventually remembered as the screen debut of Keen, a talented preteen newcomer who is nothing less than extraordinary as Laura, a curious death machine.
Speechless for much of the movie, Keen couldn't say much more than her alert, searching eyes already do. I've seen this sort of amoral breakout by a child actor before, by Natalie Portman in The Professional and Chloe Grace Moretz in Kick-Ass. That's not bad company to be considered with.
Logan establishes a new beachhead in comic book cinema wars, somewhere between hectic Avengers spectacle and Deadpool irreverence, a somberness that Batman and Superman haven't mastered. Marvel beats DC to another movie punch, proving just how darkly thrilling a knight can be.
Contact Steve Persall at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.
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