An Earnest Attempt at Re-Writing the Superhero Genre
James Mangold has taken a distinctive approach with his crafting of 2017’s Logan; a continuation of the strides made with his first foray into comic book films with The Wolverine in 2013. Joining Mangold is Hugh Jackman, starring as a markedly different ‘Logan’ than what he has brought to the silver screen in previous outings. This is in large part to writer/director Mangold’s deconstruction of the superhero film genre. Mangold spoke of wanting to turn away from the ‘Will the world survive?’ storylines that often overshadow X-Men films, and focus a more narrow worldview from the eyes of Wolverine.
Setting his sights in a character-driver film allowed Mangold to not have to attempt to answer the unanswerable comic book ‘arms race’ of bigger and bigger and BIGGER action sequences; and in doing so, may have found a middle ground in pleasing casual film-goers and comic book fan-boys alike.
While better than most of its predecessors, Logan‘s script is good; not great. Logan is elevated less by an outstanding screenplay (which it doesn’t have); and more with the overall approach screenwriters Mangold, Scott Frank, and Michael Green took with the film’s concept. Having studio support to write their story (regardless of MPAA rating); they focused on a grounded concept that takes place in a vaguely similar universe to previous X-Men films, albeit less ostentatiously.
Logan writers introduced some interesting concepts into the X-Men film universe with ‘Logan’ and his colleague, Professor Charles Xavier, living in anonymity in Mexico. No new mutants have been born into the world in a generation, but Logan and Professor ‘X’ aren’t bent on solving the mysterious decline in mutants. Instead, they try to live there life quiet obscurity, away from the exploits of their shared past; all while struggling with old age, weakened powers, and dangerous telekinetic alzheimer-induced seizures.
With so many great starting points for viewers, it must be said that the second and third acts stray from the approach that set Logan on the right path initially. A side story finds Wolverine, Professor X, and their mute companion Laura having dinner with a farmer’s family. Meant to be a brief respite from the on-going trials, it veers to far from the central plot. It felt much like those television episodes where the writers need to slow down plot development in order to meet an episode quota, and therefore has no bearing on the story.
The third act of Logan was continued the crude execution of the originally novel film concept – with an amateur clan of mutant children fighting off a mercenary army as they try to escape across the Canadian border to safety. Why making it to Canada will keep them safe from mercenaries that had no issue crossing into Mexico early in the film is left unanswered. The ‘final battle’ pits Wolverine and the young mutants against the shadow government’s mercenary soldiers, and feels too much like previous (lesser) X-Men films. The trite ‘final battle’ concept isn’t needed; but leaving it out may have ostracized comic book fans looking for spectacle.
In regards to the talent in Logan, there is much good to be found; with the occasional misstep. After having been so defined by the character throughout his career; Hugh Jackman plays the gruff, weary Wolverine with naturalism and comfortable familiarity. Jackman has a lot to play with here, as he grapples with the inevitabilities that come with age – that not even his mutant powers can stall forever.
Patrick Stewart is alright as Professor Xavier at the end of the road, but some scenes come off as kitschy – such as when he has a hysterical episode of senility, shouting into the void. Stephen Merchant is a scene stealer as the cynical caretaker of Xavier, and should have been used more.
Villain Donald Pierce, played by Boyd Holbrook, has a great introduction scene as an arrogant, but clearly dangerous equal to Wolverine; and he could have gone on to be a great character but that plot point is never backed up. Instead, Holbrook’s Pierce is all talk; and by the end, is a whimpering coward, while the mercenary army (an a familiar mutant clone) becomes the preeminent adversary. Donald Pierce brought more intrigue before we knew he was all show. If only writers knew how to execute it fully, that could have been a satisfying ‘bad guy’.
Logan is about as close as you will get to an ‘indie’ for a Marvel film; and while an earnest approach is taken, by the end, Logan descends into familiar genre tropes.
- Acting: 7/10 – Jackman and Stewart explore new aspects of Wolverine and Professor X
- Story Concept: 9/10 – An invigorated approach to Logan can be felt most in the first act
- Screenwriting: 6/10 – As much as they try to separate themselves, Logan has more in common with predecessors than was intended
6/10, Logan is a suitable goodbye for Hugh Jackman to the character that has defined his career; and while on the surface is a re-imagining of the Superhero genre, relies too heavily on established practices.