[Screen It]

"LOGAN"
(2017) (Hugh Jackman, Dafne Keen) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Action: An ailing, middle-aged mutant reluctantly agrees to transport a young mutant -- who's being pursued by those who wish to do her harm -- across the country to a sanctuary he doesn't believe exists.
PLOT:
It's been twenty-five years since the last natural-born mutant came into the world and the once mighty X-Men are a mere shadow of their former selves. In particular, Logan (HUGH JACKMAN), a.k.a. Wolverine, is seemingly being poisoned by the Adamantium placed long ago in his body and his self-healing powers are waning. He makes ends meet in Texas near the Mexican border as a limo driver, all while caring for his former mentor and X-Men leader, Charles Xavier (PATRICK STEWART), a.k.a. Professor X, who's suffering from old age and some degree of senility. With the help of former mutant tracker Caliban (STEPHEN MERCHANT), Logan has Charles hidden away on a remote farm where he's heavily medicated to prevent his powerful telepathy, that he can no longer control, from wreaking havoc on the world.

In doing so, Logan wants to keep a low profile and thus wants no part of a former nurse, Gabriella (ELIZABETH RODRIGUEZ), asking him to help transport a young girl, Laura (DAFNE KEEN), out of harm's way to someplace called Eden located in North Dakota. It turns out the nurse worked at the biotech company Transigen that was breeding children -- including Laura -- from DNA taken from various mutants to create powerful soldiers. Now that the program is completed, the children were to be put to death, but Gabriella and others smuggled some of them out. When Logan realizes part of him is in Laura -- in that she also possesses retractable metal claws and the ability to heal abnormally fast just like him -- and that Gabriella has been murdered, he reluctantly agrees to transport the girl.

But he must contend with his own ailing body, Charles not being much better, and a Transigen goon, Pierce (BOYD HOLBROOK), who wants to find Laura and exterminate her and the other mutant kids created by Transigen and their lead director, Dr. Zander Rice (RICHARD E. GRANT).

OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10
Despite being a theater minor in college, I've often wondered how theater performers can play the same character in the same play week after week, month after month and year after year. Granted, work in general is hard to come by for the vast majority of actors and actress and thus a steady gig is, well, a steady gig with a steady paycheck.

Of course, there are performers who play the same character in TV episodes for years (IMDB lists hundreds for James Arness playing Matt Dillon in "Gunsmoke"), but at least there's some variety in terms of the story and dialogue being different each or at least most times.

Since movie installments obviously can't be as numerous as their TV show counterparts, you're never going to get a performer anywhere near the Arness count of playing the same character. But some have racked up decent numbers, nonetheless, including Desmond Llewelyn as the gadget-happy Q in plenty of James Bond films.

The worry, however, is that by the time performers have played the same character above a certain number of times, they and most everyone else involved in such later installments will just be phoning it in. That would certainly be a justifiable concern for studios and moviegoers alike, and I sort of thought about that when sitting down for our press screening of "Logan."

After all, Hugh Jackman has played that character, a.k.a. Wolverine," now nine times over the years as part of the ensemble in the "X-Men" movies, a few cameos in others, and even his own standalone flicks.

The fact that the latter of those two -- 2009's "X-Men Origins - Wolverine" -- wasn't anything special would likewise seemingly have some worried even more about what might unfold over the two-plus hour runtime (notwithstanding the somewhat unusual R rather than more family-friendly PG-13 rating).

I'm happy to report that any such concerns are squashed by this offering -- and then some -- that might not quite be up to "The Dark Knight's" lofty artistic standards in terms of comic book/superhero offerings, but isn't far off. Yes, it's good, quite so in fact, and sometimes spectacularly so. And some of that stems from the fact that notwithstanding the inherent supernatural abilities at play, it feels more like a "real" movie rather than a comic book flick.

In fact, I'd argue that it has more in common with an old-fashioned Western than a superhero movie, what with its world-weary and damaged anti-hero reluctantly setting out on a journey to protect a young girl and his old friend/mentor from the bad guys.

The story is pretty straightforward, although it's initially unclear what's happened -- in the near future -- to make our title character end up as a washed up, ailing and boozing limo driver somewhere in Texas near the southern border. He and a particularly light-sensitive mutant (played by Stephen Merchant) are caring for Logan's former mentor and head of the X-Men, Charles "Professor X" Xavier (a returning Patrick Stewart). And time has taken its toll on the latter as well, with him likewise appearing ill and somewhat senile, cursing like a sailor and needing medication to keep his telepathic seizures from damaging surrounding environs and people.

Logan wants to keep to himself, but a nurse (Elizabeth Rodriguez) wants to pay him to transport a young girl (Dafne Keen, who's amazing) to a safe haven around America's northern border. Needing the money, he reluctantly agrees, only to find the nurse dead and a goon with a mechanical arm (Boyd Holbrook) wanting the girl. With no particular paternal instincts, Logan just wants to get out of Dodge, so to speak, with Charles, but then realizes what's at stake when the girl springs into action and literally sinks her claws into expressing her violent tendencies.

From that point on, we learn the secret behind young Laura and why Pierce wants her dead, all while the contact with the girl starts to make the reluctant hero get a bit fatherly, somewhat like the unexpected change in Schwarzenegger's android character in relation to Edward Furlong's teen-in-need in "Terminator 2."

Yes, some of the drama takes on touchy-feeling and poignant aspects, but writer/director James Mangold -- who works from the screenplay he penned with Scott Frank and Michael Green -- prevents any of that from feeling forced or treacly. Instead, it's just a natural progression and something that serves as far more than simple filler in between the action moments. In fact, and if anything, they show the long-term effects of both dishing out violence and trying to protect the innocent from that.

In terms of the action scenes, they're not as numerous as in most superhero movies nowadays, but they certainly feel more realistic and when they do show up, they do so spectacularly and with plenty of directorial, special effects, cinematography and stunt-related aplomb.

Simply put, "Logan" is arguably the best "X-Men" movie of the bunch (in terms of artistry rather than simply featuring lots of superhero characters doing superhero things). It's not for younger kids (it earns its R rating and then some), but if you're looking for a comic book movie with plenty of depth, emotion and action, this is the one for you. The movie rates as a 7 out of 10.




Reviewed February 16, 2017 / Posted March 3, 2017


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