REVIEW: “Logan”

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It could be argued that Hugh Jackman as Wolverine has been the best bit of superhero casting since this wave of comic book movies started in 2000. Not only does Jackman keenly capture the adamantium-clawed mutant’s look and personality, but he’s been incredibly committed to fleshing out the character through the good movies and even the rotten ones.

“Logan” is the tenth actual X-Men movie and the third Wolverine solo adventure behind 2009’s abysmal “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” and 2013’s surprisingly good “The Wolverine” directed by James Mangold. Mangold returns to direct “Logan” based on a story he began writing following the previous film. After some rather cryptic messaging it was confirmed that “Logan” would be Jackman’s final turn as Wolverine. The star worked closely in development even taking a pay cut to ensure an R-rating, something he and Mangold felt was imperative to the character’s final violent chapter.

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“Logan” could easily be categorized as a superhero western and the influences are everywhere. “Shane” and “Unforgiven” instantly came to mind and readers of the original “Old Man Logan” comic book series will see a handful of similarities.

The film is set in 2029 and there have been no new mutants in 25 years. Logan has been off the grid, making money as a limo driver in El Paso, Texas. He has aged and his body is showing it. The claws don’t pop like they used to, his eye sight is failing, and his healing factor isn’t as effective. Essentially the adamantium inside of him is taking its toll.

He uses the money he makes to take care of his old friend and mentor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) who is kept hidden in an old dilapidated factory just across the US/Mexico border. The ailing Charles is suffering from a form of Alzheimer’s which causes devastating psychic seizures if left unmedicated. Caliban (Stephen Merchant), an albino mutant tracker, helps as a caretaker for Charles while Logan is away.

While on the job Logan is approached by a woman beseeching him to take 11 year-old Laura (a fabulous Dafne Keen) away. She tells him of Transigen, an illegal bioengineering lab doing mutant experiments on children. Laura is one of many children set free by nurses but now being tracked for extermination by Transigen. Logan wants no part of it but when events bring Laura and her trackers to his hideout in Mexico a violent exchange ensues and he sees first-hand why Laura is so ‘special’. With Xavier’s prodding they take off with Laura, Transigen not far behind.

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“Logan” is an interesting stew. Fans of the character will find plenty to like as he is let off the proverbial leash in terms of violence. The feral nature of it is fitting in most cases, but there are times when the movie seems to be saying “Look, we’re doing an R-Rated Wolverine picture.” And I would be lying if I didn’t mention a conflict in the handling of the violence. There is an interesting theme on the nature of violence that runs throughout the film. Logan wants no part of it. He tries to abstain from it. His body is breaking down because of it. He’s shown to be mentally scarred from it. He warns Laura away from it even saying “Don’t be what they made you to be.” But while offering this compelling angle on violence, the movie sometimes relishes in its depiction of it. It’s not a big problem but it does mute the film’s message a bit.

You could say “Logan” becomes a road trip movie and along the way we learn that this isn’t a traditional superhero tale. It isn’t as profoundly fresh as its press would lead you to believe, but it does tell a good story. There are no punchy jokes or one-liners. There are no colorful, larger than life characters. Mangold’s tone remains intensely serious and his characters are broken and struggling. Laura represents a glimmer of life – a reminder to Logan and Charles of what they once fought for. It’s an interesting take on the genre. And then there is Jackman who has played Wolverine for 17 years. His passion for the character is undeniable and he ends his run in a fitting and satisfying way. And Mangold’s final shot – it couldn’t be a more perfect ending.

VERDICT – 3.5 STARS

3-5-stars

REVIEW: “X-MEN: Days of Future Past”

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The X-Men franchise (and I’m including the Wolverine films) has been filled with great movies and great disappointments. It was only two years ago that we saw a reboot of sorts and a new direction for these cinematic superhumans. Now they are back in a film that at first sounded risky and potentially disastrous. Instead of continuing with a storyline strictly focused on these rebooted characters, “X-Men: Days of Future Past” mixes them with the characters (and the performers who played them) from the past series. So my first question was is this “X-Men 4″ or X-Men: First Class 2”?

This huge mash up could have went terribly bad. I’m so happy to say that the opposite is true. In fact, after a somewhat disorienting start, the movie turns into what is easily one of the best movies of the entire franchise. Bryan Singer, the architect of the original X-Men films returns to direct this ambitious and large-scale blockbuster which gets its title from the classic comic book storyline from Chris Claremont and John Byrne.

 

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The future world is a dark place especially for mutantkind. Giant robot mutant hunters known as Sentinels have chased mutants to the edge of extinction. The X-Men of the future (played by the original cast members from the first films) have traced the origins of the Sentinels back to 1973 and a man named Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage). Led by Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen), they devise a plan to send the never-aging Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back in time to influence the situations that lead to the Sentinels’ creation. You with me so far?

When arriving in 1973, Wolverine is tasked with enlisting the help of the younger Xavier (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender). The problem is a lot has changed since the final credits scrolled in “X-Men: First Class”. It’s this landscape, filled with political tensions, shattered relationships, and fragile psyches, that Wolverine must navigate if there is any hope of averting their future extinction. Obviously several major threats are at work both in the past and in the future. The movie hops back-and-forth throughout but the main focus of the film is Wolverine’s mission in 1973.

The movie literally plunges into its bleak future setting with practically no buildup whatsoever. We do get some exposition that sets the table, but it took me a few moments to get my feet planted and, aside from the familiar faces, it took some time to connect this movie to any of the earlier films. But once the story begins to take form it is an exhilarating and captivating experience. In fact, the story is the movie’s greatest strength. “X-Men: DOFP” features one of the smartest and most layered stories that you’ll find in a superhero picture. Even more, the story never becomes convoluted or confusing. I loved how everything unfolded and numerous connections to other X-Men films are sprinkled everywhere.

Another thing I appreciated is how everything had importance and carried weight. Every decision had to be made with careful thought given to their consequences. Convictions had to be questioned and actions had to be scrutinized. There are very few wasted scenes in this movie (there are a couple – for example the Wolverine butt shot? Seriously Bryan Singer?). I also think the way they joined the old with the new was smart, effective, and It avoided all of the traps that it easily could have steppedl in. Narratively this was a huge treat right up to its very satisfying payoff.

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As for the performances, can we just go ahead say without question that Hugh Jackman IS Wolverine? Once again he is very good, but he was not his normal action-fueled centerpiece and I’m fine with that. The real highlights for me were Fassbender and McAvoy. Fassbender is one of our best working actors today and his Magneto is menacing and unpredictable. He’s a man of conviction and unharnessed anger and Fassbender paints him perfectly. But the best performance may be from McAvoy. He’s tasked with conveying a huge range of emotions and I never questioned the authenticity of what he was doing. It truly is brilliant work that sets itself apart in a profound way.

I can’t believe I’m saying this again, but here we have yet another really strong 2014 blockbuster. On an almost unprecedented level, this year’s big budget movies have really taken steps up (minus a couple of disappointments). “X-Men: DOFP” is really good. It’s start is a bit jarring, the future Sentinels look pretty generic, and I could list a few other nitpicks. But in terms of story, storytelling, and sheer entertainment, the movie scores where it counts. Now the big question is where does it go from here? Have we seen the last of the “First Class” X-Men? Will the old timers take back the reins? I don’t know but after seeing this movie I am really intrigued.

VERDICT – 4 STARS

5 PHENOMENALLY AWFUL SUPERHERO MOVIES

In honor of this Friday’s release of “The Avengers”, I’m spending the week looking at comic book/ superhero movies. Yesterday we listed 5 Phenomenal Superhero Movies. Well, just like every other genre, you have good movies and you have some real stinkers. Today I’m listing 5 Phenomenally Awful Superhero Movies. As with yesterday’s list, this one stays within the comic book arena. The main difference is that these films simply got it all wrong. Unfortunately there were plenty to pick between and I found it a little difficult narrowing it down to five. Nonetheless here they are. As always I wouldn’t call this the definitive list, but there’s no denying that these 5 superhero movies are most certainly not phenomenal!

#5 – “X-MEN: THE LAST STAND” (2006)

It’s a shame that a franchise that started so good could fall so far in such a short time. “X-Men: The Last Stand” was the third X-Men movie and by far the worst. Bryan Singer, the director of the first two films, left and Brent Ratner took over. But the biggest problem was with the story. The ridiculous liberties that were taken with the team were simply unforgivable. The series went from being about a superhero team to being a Wolverine and Jean Grey love story. The special effects are really good and the production value is fine. But X3 turned the series on its head. “X-Men: The Last Stand” severed its ties to its comic book roots and proved to be a franchise killer.

#4 – “JONAH HEX” (2010)

Talk about a great example of a missed opportunity. Jonah Hex has more than enough wonderful source material to make a great movie. Why on earth did the movie stray so far off course? “Jonah Hex” is an absurd and often times incoherent mess than only gives the audience brief glimpses into what makes the character great. What’s even worse is that Josh Brolin is perfect as Jonah Hex. The makeup combined with Brolin’s portrayal is right on target. Unfortunately the material is so ridiculous and lame that it’s impossible to enjoy what he’s doing on-screen. Then you have the casting of Megan Fox who offers up one cringe-worthy line after another. Even the often times reliable John Malkovich is like fingernails on a chalk board. “Jonah Hex” is one of the most poorly written movies I have ever seen and even at only 81 minutes, it drags on forever.

#3- “THE SPIRIT” (2008)

Acclaimed comic book and graphic novel writer Frank Miller wrote and directed “The Spirit” and I have to say he should stick to books. “The Spirit” is an absolute mess right from the start. The movie is a lifeless and emotionless film that is a good example of style over substance. Miller’s over-the-top style works visually but the material is so flat and grating. Miller’s self-indulgence make some scenes seem to go on forever and it’s truly a laborious task to make it through the picture. The actors drudge along never developing a single character worth caring about. It’s almost as if Miller simply forgot the difference between print media and cinema. Whatever the reason, “The Spirit” is a movie that I pray I never have to see again.

#2- “CATWOMAN” (2004)

I’m not alone in calling “Catwoman” a terrible movie. It’s one of those rare movies that I honestly wasn’t able to make it through. I struggled with leaving it off this list simply because I never finished it. But then I asked myself WHY I never finished it? Oh yes, because it was absolutely horrible. Loaded with ludicrous and cheesy dialogue and a paper-thin story, “Catwoman” takes a great DC Comics character and butchers her all for the sake of putting Halle Berry in a cat suit. Both Berry and Sharon Stone are laughably bad and the material is no better. The direction, the special effects, the character development, all of it is subpar and the result is a disaster that some have said derailed Berry’s once promising career. If you’ve seen “Catwoman” (or if you’ve tried to see it), you know exactly why it’s on this list.

#1- “BATMAN AND ROBIN” (1997)

The first Batman movie franchise wasn’t the best. The first film starring Michael Keeton and Jack Nicholson was a lot of fun but after that it slowly started going downhill. The series hit rock bottom with Joel Schumacher’s abhorrent “Batman and Robin”. Schumacher’s film was a catastrophe and was the ultimate death knell for the franchise. Nothing in “Batman and Robin” works. It takes such a flippant and arrogant approach to Batman and his universe. It’s never as funny or as clever as it thinks it is and Schumacher seems more interested in clowning around than making a quality film. George Clooney is a fine actor but he was a terrible Batman and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze is one of the worst characters in film history. I have a laundry list of faults associated with “Batman and Robin”. Maybe it’s my affection for the source material, but it doesn’t take much to see that this is a poorly made movie on almost every level. It’s absurdity is off the charts and it’s lazy, unfunny attempts at humor never let up. I hate “Batman and Robin” and there is a reason why it’s accused of killing the Batman series.

So there they are. Do you agree or disagree with my list. See something I may have left off? Please share you comments below.