Friday, March 3, 2017

Logan: Beneath contempt

Logan (2017) • View trailer 
No stars (turkey). Rated R, and generously, for relentless profanity and strong, brutal violence

By Derrick Bang

Discussing the big-screen adaptation of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, back in late 2014, gave me the excuse to indict Suzanne Collins’ reprehensible source novel as a complete betrayal of her characters, and of her readers: a needlessly nasty finale that cruelly (and pointlessly) killed major supporting characters while turning resourceful Katniss Everdeen into a sniveling victim.

When their attempt to enjoy one restful night is interrupted by a squadron of gun-toting
killers, Logan (Hugh Jackman) and Laura (Dafne Keen) do their best to survive.
It was the most senseless, deliberately mean-spirited betrayal of a heroic franchise — by its original author, no less — that I’d ever encountered.

Until now. This film is even worse.

Logan doesn’t merely trash the long-beloved character of Wolverine, played here (for the ninth time!) by Hugh Jackman; director James Mangold and his gaggle of co-writers defecate all over the entire X-Men franchise and, by extension, the broader Marvel superhero universe. All this, with the apparent blessing of the parent company, given the familiar pre-credits Marvel Entertainment logo.

Shame on everybody involved.

Whereas 2014’s exciting X-Men: Days of Future Past cleverly employed backwards time travel as a means of re-booting the franchise — with smiles all around during the unexpectedly happy ending — Logan takes the opposite approach, moving the action forward to 2029. The tidings are grim: All of Logan’s X-Men comrades are dead, via some horrific event that apparently involved both Charles Xavier/Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and an evil scientific genius named Dr. Zander Rice (Richard E. Grant).

I say “apparently,” because while the film repeatedly references this ghastly occurrence, we never get details.

A despondent Logan, his once-invulnerable body being poisoned by the adamantium enhancements to his skeletal frame, is drinking his days away while earning chump change as a limo driver. His lair, across the border in Mexico, also serves as a hideout for Xavier, stricken with Alzheimer’s, senile dementia or some other brain disorder. Their sole companion is the albino mutant Caliban (Stephen Merchant), who fears that he’s doing little but watching his two friends die. Slowly.

Unlike the rival DC universe, which occasionally indulges in such canonical mischief by branding the results “imaginary stories” or “elseworlds tales,” Mangold makes no such reassurances here. This is the way things are ... and they’re about to get worse.

To a very small degree, this film’s misbegotten script borrows the established comic book origin story of Laura Kinney, better known as “X-23”: a laboratory-bred young girl created in the mold of Wolverine/Logan, with both his healing factor and razor-sharp adamantium claws. Logan learns of the girl’s existence after a threatening visit from Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook), a cybernetically enhanced “emissary” from the Alkali Corporation, which — we eventually deduce, through vague inference — was behind the extermination of all the other X-Men.

Logan wants no part of any of this, but he loathes Pierce and Alkali enough to overcome such reluctance, when fate brings Laura to his front door (literally). Pierce and his squadron of gun-toting thugs aren’t far behind, at which point Logan sees — in gory, blood-splattering, decapitating glory — that young Laura possesses both his berserker rages, and his athletic ability to turn opponents into deli slices.

None of the hundreds of Pierce’s doomed associates, as this wretched film progresses, has the slightest trace of individuality or personality; they’re all just meat-bags waiting to be peeled.

At which point I should emphasize that this ain’t no family-friendly comic book movie. Logan is quite appropriately rated R, for both graphic and unrelenting violence, and the liberal application of profanity. The title character drops F-bombs like raindrops, although Jackman’s heart doesn’t seem to be in so much swearing. Perhaps he, too, sensed the wrongness of this film’s approach.

Granted, there’s definitely a vicarious thrill to be had, the first time Logan really goes to town — dealing with some gang-bangers trying to steal the hubcaps off his limo — but the bloom quickly fades from that brutal rose. Mangold subsequently indulges in nonstop mayhem, turning the film into an abattoir of flayed flesh, punctured eyeballs, impalements, gaping wounds, hacked-off limbs and any other means of evisceration that come to mind: a level of tasteless carnage usually associated only with grody horror flicks.

And while some eyebrows are certain to be raised, by the fact that much of this butchery comes at the hands — or, rather, claws — of a child, I’m afraid that ship sailed several years ago, with the big-screen introduction of Chloë Grace Moretz’s Hit-Girl, in Kick-Ass. Which, to its credit, had the good sense to leaven its carnage with dollops of dark comedy.

You’ll find not a trace of humor here; the result is likely to be embraced only by gore-hounds who thrive on this sort of swill. Mainstream viewers — parents who indulgently take their comic book-weaned kids to all Marvel movies — are hereby warned.

But that’s not the extent of Mangold’s grisly, wretched excess; he also indulges in the casual sadism of introducing kind-hearted sidebar characters, for the sole purpose of slaughtering them 10 minutes later. That sort of contrived, manipulative scripting is beneath contempt.

I can’t imagine what prompted Mangold to wallow in such revolting rubbish; he’s much better than this, having previously helmed 2007’s terrific remake of 3:10 to Yuma, and directed both Angelina Jolie and Reese Witherspoon to Academy Awards, in (respectively) Girl, Interrupted and Walk the Line. Did he derive some sort of sick pleasure from befouling such a successful franchise?

Jackman’s occasionally awkward line readings aside, he’s quite convincing as a dispirited warrior drowning beneath too many awful memories. Unfortunately, for all of Mangold’s aforementioned skill in earlier films, with other actors, he fails to draw the necessary transformation from Jackman. This story demands that Logan soften, at least to some degree, but it never happens; he’s angrily bitter from start to finish. The monotony becomes tedious.

Young Dafne Keen is more successful as Laura, who displays an impressively wide range of emotions while remaining mute for most of the film. (She can talk; she simply chooses not to, for the most part.) Her wary gaze bespeaks too much treachery by previously encountered adults, and she’s certainly believable when out-of-control enraged. At the same time, she occasionally displays the playful curiosity of a child, particularly when confronted with everyday wonders — stores, horses — that she never experienced in her laboratory-raised environment.

Stewart’s portrayal of Xavier is heartbreaking; he persuasively depicts a level of senility that has shattered this once-heroic, rigorously moral paterfamilias. The strength of Stewart’s performance merely enhances this film’s overarching sense of perfidy: It’s like watching James Bond as a clumsy, doddering octogenarian who shoots himself in the foot. It’s not something we ever should allow, let alone witness.

Holbrook makes Pierce a standard-issue giggling psychopath who indulges in faux politeness: a tiresome, oft-repeated stereotype that should have been retired years ago. Holbrook brings nothing new to the table; Grant, similarly, merely repeats his frequent shtick as an oily, condescending baddie.

But the entire cast could have been terrific, and the result wouldn’t have changed: Logan is an abomination. God forbid it should make enough money to persuade Marvel Entertainment to indulge in further franchise anarchy.

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