I’ve kind of gotten sidetracked away from doing movie reviews for a bit here. Sorry about that. I’m still not quite sure if anyone cares. People say they want my take, but it always feels like there’s far more people interested in my political stuff. Anyway, I’ve been meaning to write one for Split for a while (saw it a few weeks ago) and didn’t get to it. So now I’m not sure if anyone is interested anymore. Let me know.
I’m kind of wondering if the post award season hard-R superhero movie spot is just going to become a thing with Fox. After last year’s Deadpool (which I liked a lot) and this year’s Logan, Fox seems to have something. Certainly something beyond what they did with Fant4stic and X-Men: Apocalypse, both of which pretty much royally sucked. I’m actually quite happy to say that with Logan, they actually had something going here.
I always try to avoid spoilers in these as best I can. Here it’s going to be quite easy because my thoughts on what made Logan work really don’t have much to do with the movie at all. It’s more about what they DIDN’T do that really works for me.
I’m actually kind of starting to hate movie franchises. It’s not just that they’re cash grabs. All movies are cash grabs. All products are cash grabs. That’s just how it works. Everyone wants to make money. And I understand that you need big tentpole films in order to make Hollywood work. And that’s the honest truth of it. For anyone who likes to say that they don’t care about these big budget extravaganzas, you need to understand that they keep Hollywood running. Without big budget superhero films, there is no La La Land or Moonlight. It’s a sharing of the wealth. That’s just the business. And movie franchises have always been a big part of that. I mean literally always. Go all the way back to the Golden Age of Hollywood. We have Casablanca, Citizen Kane and Singing in the Rain because your great grandparents sat through a shit ton of really godawful Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan movies and that’s not to mention Ma and Pa Kettle or Andy Hardy. Because no matter what you like to remember about the Golden Age of cinema… no matter what La La Land and Hollywood want you to believe… most of it was basically a big shit show. Just like now. In fact, in those days — Code Era Hollywood — it was even worse.
But one of the things that the franchises understood back in those days was that they weren’t TV (or maybe more accurately they weren’t radio). The Tarzan films are not high art, but they all stand alone. They are related, but only nebulously. The order of them doesn’t even really make all that much difference. So long as you saw the first one and know the origin story, you’re good to go with any of the. Frankly, if you missed the first one, you’ll basically figure shit out. White dude with the accent of a caveman, swings from vines and yells a lot. Hell, if for some reason you want to make a Tarzan movie without Johnny Weissmüller, just throw in Buster Crabbe. Who the fuck will know the difference?
And this is how franchises have always worked. After the days of movie serials (which were weekly, like TV shows), Hollywood learned that you couldn’t expect everyone to see every film in the franchise and certainly not to wait a year or two for the next installment of a story. This has been the way of franchises for movie history. Even serialized films like Star Wars didn’t require all the parts to tell the story. That’s why they were able to start with EPISODE FUCKING FOUR and most people never even noticed. James Bond is theoretically one ongoing franchise, but it doesn’t make sense in the slightest. Actors change. Events contradict each other. There’s a soft reboot for the most recent Daniel Craig films which takes them back into being prequels to most of the other ones (or a replacement in the case of the Casino Royales) but even those don’t make sense, because they retain the M (Judi Dench) that was hired in the final Pierce Bronson pictures. But it all just kind of works. Because there’s just an understanding by the viewer that continuity in the Bond Universe only matters when it does. The individual films are consistent in themselves and that is is enough. You can watch any Bond film and its fine. The others may or may not have canon that happened. It doesn’t matter. No one cares. If you’re doing a Bond marathon and you happen o hate Octopussy. Just skip it. I doesn’t matter. The same is true of Tarzan, Andy Hardy or (to a lesser extent) even Star Wars.
But somewhere along the way, this broke. Maybe it was Empire Strikes Back that broke it. Even though i remains the best Star Wars movie, it really doesn’t have a beginning or an end. It’s all middle. But it was certainly broken by he time we got to Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter. Hollywood figured out that they could make us pay to see episodic TV in theaters. And frankly it kind of sucks.
Not all franchises are like that. The success of the Marvel films is that even though they’re sort of episodic, they don’t really rely on each other much. At least not really Avengers: Age of Ultron kind of did, and it’s one of the things that I really don’t like about that movie. It’s one of the big problems with Batman v. Superman. That’s not really even a movie. It’s a lot of set up for other movies that hasn’t been earned yet. What makes the Marvel films work is that when I walk out of the theater, I (usually) feel like I’ve seen a complete and conclusive story — even if it is a story that is part of a larger one. What makes a franchise not work is when each installment is more concerned with locking the viewer in for the next installment OR PREVIOUS ONES than it is with telling it’s own story.
What made Logan work is that it just didn’t give a fuck.
And it was great because of it. Like Deadpool, this is a movie that exists within the X-men universe. But only in the most superficial of ways. It matters in the same way that it matters that any Bond films related or any Tarzan films. Instead of trying to tell an X-men franchise story, James Mangold directed a simple and compelling action movie that happens to be set in the X-men world. In effect it isn’t really an X-men movie at all. It’s a Jason Bourne movie. It’s a John Wick movie. It’s Léon, The Professional, where the part of Léon will now be played by Wolverine.
And it was fucking awesome.
Ot at least it was awesome for what it was. If you like Jason Bourne style action movies, you should love this. It is the story of a reluctant hero, put into a situation which he didn’t choose, where his only way out is to kill a lot of people. REALLY a lot of people. And kill them… like a bunch. Like so much killing. Like if you’re into a movie where dead fuckers are stacking up left and right. This is the movie for you. If you don’t want to see that, you will not enjoy this. Because there is so so so so so so very much killing going on.
And I’m trying to review this for what it is. This is a franchise movie. It is not high art (which The Professional inexplicably is). It doesn’t want to be. It is trying to be the best franchise movie it can be and the best killing spree movie it can be. I am judging it on that merit. The action was fun. The killing was gory. It gives movies like Bourne and Wick a serious run for their money. At the same time, there is enough of a compelling story to gesture towards something like The Professional to make it something more than a mindless action spree. It has heart and soul in a way that most movies in this genre really don’t. There are real stakes for the character and between the killing… oh so very much killing… the film gives you a reason to care for the characters and want them to succeed. I mean, a reason beyond wanting to see them survive to kill some more.
But it didn’t rely too heavily on it’s franchiseness. What you need to know about the other X-men/Wolverine movies. Logan is a guy with claws and a healing factor. Professor Xavier is a guy with mental powers. They’re mutants. Nothing else matters. These things aren’t explained. Much like it’s never explained why Tarzan is in the jungle or talks funny after the first movie. Why does John Wick have a gun? Cuz he’s a dude with a gun. That’s who he is. Let’s move along.
Beyond that, the other movies don’t matter. Frankly, a lot of the events of the other movies are kind of contradicted by this one. And that’s fine. It just doesn’t matter. Like Bond, continuity only matters in this film when it does. And when it doesn’t, Mangold just doesn’t give a fuck. In fact, probably my least favorite part of the film are the time (relatively few times) that Mangold tries to address the ongoing X-men continuity just to keep the geeks off his back. It’s done with a bit of a wink. He lets you know that the film doesn’t really “fit” and he doesn’t care. The Wolverine character pretty much tells you that directly. It’s too much. I don’t need it and it took me out of the movie. It’s a double edged sword I guess. If he didn’t do it, there’d be a bunch of assholes on Twitter saying “but this doesn’t work, because the events of X-men: The Last Stand say this other thing. Mangold is explicitly saying “I know. I don’t care. That movie fucking sucked and this one is better. Deal with it!” And he’s right. He did make a better movie. But it would be even better still if he didn’t have to say that in the film itself. Bond films never apologize for being Bond films.
The particulars of the film are pretty good. Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart are excellent in their characters… and they should be since they’ve had 17 years of practice. Dafne Keen is also very good in the role of Laura. She’s not going to be getting Natalie Portman/Mathilda style accolades… but she was good and I hope she has a future in it. Seeing her fight as an 11 year old girl was cool, though there were some points where it was kind of obvious that she was stunt doubled or CGI’d out in a way that it isn’t as much so with Jackman and that makes her seem a little more artificial in an otherwise very gritty film. The rest of the cast is basically “okay.” I don’t feel like there is anyone else I can really rave about, but no one is offensively bad (and that’s a positive in a movie like this).
So I recommend seeing it. Especially if you’re a fan of Bourne style movies. It is an excellent entry into that genre (generally not one of my favorites) and, assuming this really is Jackman’s final time in the role as he has said, a great send off to his version of the Wolverine character. Just don’t look for much else out of the film than that. Instead, appreciate it for all he things that it doesn’t do.
And it is the best there is at what it doesn’t do… well… maybe not the best… but pretty damn good.
★★★★☆ (4 out of five stars)