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

Review: X-Men: Apocalypse

As a long-time fan of the X-Men movies, I had hoped to see Apocalypse before now, but, well, life.

Apocalypse, Psylocke, and Magneto in X-Men: ApocalypseAlso as a long-time fan of the series, I had kind of mixed feelings going into the movie. On the one hand, yay, new X-Men. On the other, Apocalypse honestly didn’t look all that interesting compared to most of the past movies.

I was right to be concerned, but the good news is it’s still a decent movie all told.

In case you’re somehow unfamiliar with the story, X-Men: Apocalypse deals mainly with the titular character, the first and most powerful mutant. Apocalypse is an immortal being who has achieved nearly limitless power by absorbing the abilities of dozens of other mutants over many centuries. Entombed beneath the earth for thousands of years, Apocalypse has now been unleashed, and he plans to destroy human civilization as we know it and rule over what remains as a god.

Apocalypse is one of the main problems with the movie. Despite his vast power, he is ultimately an incredibly dull villain. He has no nuance, no motivation the viewer can sympathize with.

And honestly he’s just not that crucial to the story, strange as that may sound. If you removed Apocalypse from the movie that bears his name, not all that much would change.

Really the story is about Magneto. Again. It’s pretty much a retread of Magneto’s story to date, especially his arc in Days of Future Past. He’s angry at humans and wants to destroy the world, but Charles and the X-Men still believe he can be redeemed.

Jean Grey, Nightcrawler, and Cyclops in X-Men: ApocalypseIt’s a powerful story, and Michael Fassbender is a fantastic actor, so if you’re going to retread a story, you could do a lot worse than this one. I feel very torn because we have seen all this before, but it’s still such a compelling story.

The other big problem with Apocalypse (the movie, not the character) is that it spreads itself incredibly thin. It introduces over half a dozen new mutants, and also reintroduces Moira McTaggert… for some reason. Seriously, Moira spends the entire movie just standing in the background and looking shocked. She does nothing.

Moira is the most egregious example of a character included just for the sake of saying they’re present, but she’s far from the only one. Other than Magneto, none of Apocalypse’s “horsemen” (half of which are actually more horsewomen) get any real development, and a lot of the good-side mutants are about as undercooked.

I think a particular missed opportunity was not delving more into Nightcrawler’s spirituality. His faith is so important to him, and Apocalypse is pretty much the definition of a false idol. You’d think they could have made something out of that. But no, he’s another character who’s just kind of there.

Also, did anyone really want to see a young Cyclops? Does anyone actually like him at all, come to think of it? I think we pretty much all agree he’s the lamest of the X-Men by far.

Quicksilver saves the day in X-Men: ApocalypseOn the other hand, there are some pleasant surprises here. Quicksilver has gone from a character I usually remember exists to possibly one of my favourite mutants. He’s basically just nothing but awesome and ass-kicking through the whole movie.

There are also some surprise cameos by a couple of old favourites that add some real spice to the movie.

While they don’t get as much attention as they should due to the bloated cast, the core X-Men cast members — Xavier, Beast, Mystique — all put on strong performances again. Xavier, in particular, has some truly spectacular scenes this time around. I’ve never seen that character properly angry before. It’s terrifying.

Finally, something else that impressed me about Apocalypse was its special effects and cinematography. Not just the technical quality of the effects, but the creativity and artistry with which they’re used. This is a beautiful movie to look at.

So Apocalypse is one of those weird movies that’s kind of crappy in some ways but also really good in others. It’s all over the map, but on balance, I’d say it’s more good than bad.

It’s definitely not on par with the last couple of X-Men films, though.

Overall rating: 7.4/10