Review: Logan

I went into Logan with very high expectations. I’ve enjoyed every X-Men movie to date, Wolverine is one of my favourite characters from the franchise, and the buzz around this film has been very good.

Hugh Jackman as Wolverine in LoganSo perhaps my sky-high expectations are causing me to judge Logan with an unfairly critical eye, but for the first time, I’m leaving an X-Men movie feeling more disappointment than anything.

Logan depicts a grim future where mutants are dying off. An aging, sickly Logan is working as a limo driver while caring for the decrepit Professor Xavier. Well, “caring for” is probably the wrong term. Xavier is more of a prisoner. His mind is failing, and he needs to be kept under lock and key for the safety of all, lest his telepathic powers run out of control with deadly consequences.

Into this wretched purgatory of a life comes Laura, a mutant child with powers eerily reminiscent of Logan’s own. Laura is the product of horrific corporate experiments to create mutant super-soldiers, and the nurse who raised her is desperate to see her to safety. She believes Logan is the only one who can save young Laura.

Unsurprisingly, Logan isn’t eager to take responsibility for the girl, but in the end he doesn’t have much choice, and he, Laura, and Xavier find themselves in a desperate flight from the ruthless forces pursuing her.

I knew going in this was going to be a very dark movie. That much was clear from the trailers. If you’ve ever read any of my fiction, you know I’m down with grim stories.

But in the case of Logan, it just doesn’t quite work.

Laura and Wolverine in LoganYou see, there is a difference between trying to be something and actually being something. You’ve probably heard it said that the harder you try to be cool, the less cool you actually are, and the same is true of most of anything.

Logan is trying very, very hard to be a powerful movie, but that’s exactly why it isn’t. It’s such an unrelentingly bleak and brutal story that it just ends up feeling bland and tasteless. You need some light to contrast the darkness, or else you’re just fumbling blind.

It works so hard to be tragic that it misses opportunities to be genuinely impactful. Xavier has degenerated so much that I no longer see anything of Professor X in him. If there had been more flashes of his old self, if I could have seen something of the character I know in him, his issues would have been heart-wrenching, but instead he’s just this incoherent, foul-mouthed old man who isn’t a shell of his old self so much as he’s a different character entirely.

I very much like the idea of superhero movies being a little more serious, a little more about character and less about spectacle. Part of the reason I’m such a fan of the X-Men movies is that they’re already doing a pretty good job of that.

But Logan has gone to the opposite extreme. It wants so desperately to prove its emotional weight and artistic prowess that loses sight of the forest for the trees and fails to actually tell an interesting story.

Hugh Jackman as Wolverine in LoganThat’s not to say that there aren’t positives to the movie. Indeed, there are a lot of individual parts of Logan that I enjoyed quite a lot, even if they don’t fit together very well as a whole.

By far and away the best part of the film is Dafne Keen’s performance as Laura.

This kid is going places.

Despite the fact that she doesn’t speak any coherent words for roughly the first three quarters of the movie, she manages to communicate an incredible amount of personality and emotion. You can see a clear resemblance between her and Wolverine, yet she’s also clearly her own person.

And the sheer intensity of her performance is staggering. When danger comes, she morphs into this shrieking avatar of bestial fury, and yet her quieter moments are no less powerful. She’s as convincing as a vulnerable, innocent child as she is as a cold-blooded killer.

The villains of the story also put on excellent performances. They’re skin-crawling, blood-boilingly, disgustingly and utterly vile, and I mean that in the best way possible. Villains should make you hate them with every fiber of your being, and these guys accomplished that with flying colours.

But still, Logan is a movie that ends up feeling like less than the sum of its parts.

Dafne Keen as Laura in LoganThere’s one other thing that bothers me, but it’s a spoiler, so if you haven’t seen the movie yet and want to go in fresh, I’d advise leaving now. For the record, I’m giving this 6.9. You can leave now and not miss anything non-spoilery.

Everyone ready for the spoiler? Good.

I don’t like that Logan died. Now, I want to be clear that I’m not being sentimental here (see my Dark Knight Rises review for proof I’m willing to kill my darlings). This was always going to be Hugh Jackman’s last movie as Wolverine anyway, and Logan has got to be pushing his second century at this point. We all have to go sometime. I’m not upset by the death of the character.

What bothers me is it sabotages the whole theme of the movie. The core thread running through the movie is Logan’s struggle to cope with the pain and horror of his long and violent life. He’s outlived everyone he ever cared about, and he just doesn’t have the strength to go on anymore.

What a powerful moment it would have been if Logan could overcome that in the end. How meaningful it would have been for him to find the strength to continue on, to escape with Laura and finally have the peace he long ago gave up hope of ever finding.

But instead he’s just killed off. It’s not even his choice; it’s just something bad that happened. Again, they were so desperate to make this movie a tearjerker that they ignored their best chance to tell a truly powerful story and just went for the most blunt, contrived, obvious solution possible.

Dafne Keen as Laura in LoganIt’s a death with no thematic meaning. It doesn’t make any point about the character. It doesn’t have any real emotional payoff. It’s lazy.

Again, if Logan hadn’t been so hyped by both myself and the media as a whole, I might view it less harshly. It’s not that it’s a bad movie, but it could have been so much more than it is. Honestly I liked the previous Wolverine movie much, much better.

To make it official:

Overall rating: 6.9/10

Lord of the Rings Is not “Low Magic”

There is an argument I have often seen bandied about that Lord of the Rings is a “low magic” setting. It probably comes up elsewhere, but I often see it brought up in regards to Lord of the Rings Online. In particular it is at the centre of the unending controversy over the game’s rune-keeper class, which is essentially a mage.

The Fellowship of the RingI am a lifelong Lord of the Rings fan who has read the books and watched the movies more times than I can count, and I am completely baffled by this belief in a non-magical Lord of the Rings.

Lord of the Rings isn’t low magic. Lord of the Rings is dripping in magic.

Magic is everywhere in Middle-Earth. Before the Hobbits even make it to Bree in the Fellowship of the Ring, they encounter evil psychic trees, are saved by an immortal nature spirit, spend the night in his enchanted home, get bewitched by evil ghosts, and steal a bunch of magic blades from them. And all that is just a tangent the movies didn’t even bother to cover.

Also in the Fellowship of the Ring, there’s a scene where Gandalf basically blows up a small hill just to chase off some wolves. Saruman calls forth incredible storms to drive the Fellowship back from Caradhras. Glorfindel (or Arwen in the movie) is able to drive off the Nazgul by unleashing the inherent power of Rivendell.

The Mirror of Galadriel. The Light of Earendil. Sting. Ent-draughts. It just keeps going. The Elves were so suffused with magic that the mere touch of anything wrought by their hands caused Gollum excruciating pain. And did you think that the Lorien cloaks kept their wearers so well hidden just through clever stitching? That a few bites of lembas a day can sustain a person for weeks simply because the Elves are good bakers?

Art of Gandalf battling the Baelrog in Lord of the RingsThe counter to all this might be that these examples all involve very special people. Gandalf, Saruman, and the Elves are immortals with abilities far beyond that of mere humans. Magic is out of reach of the ordinary person in Middle-Earth.

Is it, though?

Aragorn is mortal, yet his mastery of healing quite clearly comes from more than a simple knowledge of herbs and medicine. The Oathbreakers were cursed to undeath by Isildur, then commanded and subsequently released by Aragorn. Most tellingly, the Mouth of Sauron, a mortal man, is said to have learned great sorcery from the Dark Lord himself. This shows magic can be taught in Lord of the Rings.

Now these are Numenoreans and therefore still a bit beyond your garden variety human. But there are other examples.

Even Samwise Gamgee, a simple Hobbit gardener, is able to make hardened Orcs flinch before him simply by shouting a few Elvish phrases. He’s able to regrow the trees of the Shire using naught but a small pouch of soil from Lorien.

Even the humblest resident of Middle-Earth is therefore capable of wielding some degree of supernatural power, and one can imagine someone with more time and inclination to study ancient lore and seek out objects of power could accomplish quite a lot. Perhaps they might not equal Gandalf in power, but still…

The Necromancer reveals himself in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five ArmiesConsider, also, that for a time Sauron masqueraded as “the Necromancer of Mirkwood.” Necromancers had to be a relatively common thing for him to not be immediately identified as his true self.

Although we don’t see a lot of mortal magic-wielders in Lord of the Rings, it is my opinion that they certainly could have existed, and probably did in some number. To get back to LotRO, then, I see nothing wrong with the rune-keeper.

Magic is everywhere in Lord of the Rings, so where did this perception that’s it’s a low magic setting come from?

I don’t know. Fanon is a strange thing at the best of times, and this is definitely one of the weirder examples I’ve seen in my time, all the more so for how widespread the misconception has become.

The one explanation I can come up with is perhaps it has to do with the fact magic in Lord of the Rings tends to be less visually flashy than you see in other settings. Magic in Tolkien’s universe tends to be more often about influencing minds and emotions than about flinging fireballs and lightning bolts. The magic is very common and very powerful, but it is subtle, so maybe that’s how people have come to dismiss it.

The poster for the Fellowship of the Ring movieI can especially see this being the case for people who are more familiar with the movies than the books. The medium of film cannot easily convey things like how the heart is seized with unnatural terror in the presence of the Nazgul, or the serenity that can be bestowed by the Elves and their works.

Even then, though, there are still plenty of more dramatic examples of magic in Lord of the Rings, so it still doesn’t make much sense.

It is a great mystery. How have people convinced themselves the story that created the high fantasy genre is not high fantasy?