REVIEW: Logan

18 02 2017

Does “Logan” feel as good as it does because of its own merits – or because the superhero genre is just that bad these days? I’m tempted to argue for the latter if for no other reason than to cover my own ass. Skeptical reviews tend to hold up better than overzealous ones. (See my 2011 review of “I Am Number Four” for an example.)

Director James Mangold as well as co-writers Michael Green and Scott Frank succeed by avoiding so much of what makes comic book adaptations – including the “X-Men” series – flop. The film boasts a remarkably self-contained story free from a glut of new characters or excessive action sequences. Remarkably little happens over the course of “Logan,” even to the point where the opening sequences of Wolverine’s pensive limousine driving recalls the Matthew McConaughey Lincoln commercials.

This ability to ruminate on character and dwell in the submerged pain of the moment no doubt stems from the circumstances surrounding the film. Hugh Jackman has given a remarkable 17 years to playing Logan, a role that launched him into stardom – but also a character that helped stabilize the franchise throughout its different incarnations. Supposedly “Logan” marks Jackman’s last time sporting the claws, and such finality likely gave Fox and Marvel the confidence to begrudgingly let him go out on his own terms. Those terms include invoking the spirit of the old Western genre, specifically the archetype of the aging and world-weary gunslinger.

Heavy-handed “Shane” allusions aside, “Logan” earns the right to make these comparisons simply through Jackman’s decades-long commitment to the character. At least for now, it’s hard to imagine any other actor in the superhero arena with enough cultural cachet to earn this resolution. Jackman’s haggard expressions and general exasperation more than once gave me flashbacks to his gaunt appearance at the beginning of “Les Misérables.” He appears tired and weary – and as the character, not the actor! (An important distinction to make for many franchise headliners.) Logan has a clear antagonist in the corporation Transigen, although he’s mostly grappling with his own legacy and history.

Yet without eight serviceable “X-Men” films prior, the narrative stakes of “Logan” might not have felt as weighty. As the hero attempts to outrun, but ultimately acquiesces to, the definitive final battle, there’s simply no other way to convey the battle wounds of the past than to have watched them accumulate over time. But even so, Mangold still makes a convincing argument that the superhero genre need not only resemble the western in cultural functionality. It can also take on their form, tone and content for satisfying, incisive cinema. B2halfstars





REVIEW: Jane Got a Gun

6 05 2016

Jane Got A GunReally, truly and sincerely – I cannot think of a recent movie that I watched with more dispassion or disinterest than “Jane Got a Gun.”

The film, whose three-year journey to the audiences involved a revolving door of exiting talent along with the dramatic bankruptcy of its distributor, endured more than most. Yet in spite of (or, more likely, because of) this off-screen fracas, nothing remotely cinematic emerged. It feels like watching the motions of a western with no actual genre feeling. The wheels of time move, so the machinations of plot are there, but nothing really seems to happen. It’s mobile paralysis, if you will.

I generally tend to abide by Roger Ebert’s dogma when critiquing movies that suggests (as paraphrased by Wesley Morris) judging a movie against the best version of itself. All I can say is that the world is a worse place for not having the version of “Jane Got a Gun” directed by Lynne Ramsay, the wunderkind who summoned one of Tilda Swinton’s greatest performances in “We Need To Talk About Kevin.” Far more intriguing than watching any scene in the film directed by Gavin O’Connor (director of insipid MMA drama “Warrior”) was imagining how Ramsay might have approached the same situation.

I wondered how she might have gotten a more multifacted portrayal of the titular protagonist out of Portman. (Fun fact: this would have been the first feature-length film for Natalie Portman under a female director. So, yeah, go look up #HireTheseWomen.) I pondered how her impressionistic style could have livened up what otherwise feels like direct-to-DVD western fare. Surely whatever kind of uncommercial art film Ramsay was concocting could have made more money than this hastily assembled version of “Jane Got a Gun.” C-1halfstars