"Logan" Drenches Formula In Blood And Guts To Little Effect

Shame on the procession of parents that shepherded their 6 and 7-year-olds into this writer’s IMAX showing of “Logan.” Shame on them for subjecting their young ones to such an unnecessarily cruel bloodbath of a movie. But, also, shame on those parents for not taking their children to a better bloodbath. “John Wick: Chapter 2” was playing right next door.

Writer-director James Mangold’s second Wolverine movie is both a conspicuous baton-taking from last year’s adult-oriented megahit “Deadpool” (also a 20th Century Fox production) and a calculated mea culpa for 2013’s dishwater-dull “The Wolverine.” The result is a vortex of f-words and severed limbs and oh-so-weighty dramaturgy that isn’t just a disingenuous mutation for a once family-friendly franchise. It’s also a crummy way to crown Hugh Jackman’s seventeen mostly thankless years playing the most easily identifiable, crowd-pleasing X-Man.

The film is, above all, a love letter to Jackman. Often laboriously so. It assumes bottomless emotional attachment to both James “Logan” Howlett and Patrick Stewart’s Charles Xavier (Professor X) on the part of us viewers – a not unreasonable ask considering how many bad X-Men movies we’ve suffered through together – and proceeds to loop us through the emotional wringer. The movie is nothing if not committed to swinging out of its shoes in procurement of twinged heartstrings and many man tears.

And yet, the movie brings with it an enormously bleak story whose efficacy requires a storyteller – not to mention an audience – not too fond of its characters. Thusly, such pervasive, grisly violence carried out by a hero who toes the line of serial murderer is a mighty awkward fit for what ultimately amounts to a Hallmark greeting card to its leading man, signed everyone.

Things start out promisingly enough.

It’s 2029 and mutants are more personae non gratae than ever. Logan resides in a dusty, dystopian version of the American Southwest. His indestructability has begun to betray him. The metal alloy (Adamantium) inside his body – the same compound responsible for his claw-wielding, regenerative superpowers – is eating him alive, reducing the once unbreakable “Weapon X” to a graying, depressive shell. His nights are spent chauffeuring people around El Paso, his days across the Mexican border tending to a similarly deteriorating Charles Xavier. Xavier’s particular neurodegenerative disorder results in catastrophic, Earth-shaking seizures if not properly medicated.

In a shrewd bit of casting, British comedian Stephen Merchant plays Xavier’s albino mutant caregiver Caliban. The actor lends a sense of volatility and at least the possibility of levity to early scenes. As the action begins to ramp up, we can’t help but be invested in this oddball trio; not necessarily out of deep-seated affection, but because the odds seem so stacked against them.

The first few action beats are pleasantly intense, significantly but not egregiously upping the series’ ante. But soon the magnitude of the bloodshed sets in. That a child is at the center of it. That Mangold and his co-writers have barely nicked the surface.

From here on in, the broad strokes of “Logan” follow those of last year’s sci-fi drama “Midnight Special” (itself not an especially innovative film), centered on a few adults on the run with a supernaturally gifted youngster. Here, those adults are Logan and Charles, the child a pre-teen Mexican orphan named Laura (Dafne Keen), code name X-23. She is the result of especially cruel multinational genetic experimentation. She is also a clone daughter of Logan, every bit as mistreated by the world, every bit as capable of decapitating bad guys with her retractable claws.

Boyd Holbrook (“A Walk Among The Tombstones”) co-stars as the leader of the beheaded-to-be. He delivers his dialogue with a southern drawl as to underline the movie’s pained, self-made parallels to 1953 western “Shane,” his character never rising above generic mercenary. The screenplay’s real conflict is, after all, inside of Logan, with our protagonist battling old age and mortality and thoughts of suicide. For one last act of act of relative heroism, he’ll attempt to save a sliver of himself (X-23) by transporting her to a mutant safe haven that may or may not exist.

You might be thinking, “Inner conflict sounds terribly low key for a superhero movie,” and you would be right. At a loss for how to string out Logan’s internal torment to feature length, Mangold’s creative team seemingly asked themselves, “What’s the most senseless way to translate internal conflict to the external world?” They find their answer in a literal copy of Wolverine, slightly de-aged, dropping him into their story to murder hordes of innocents and then fight Logan to the death.

The picture’s final stretch makes a dedicated crack at topping the stupidity of the climax of “The Wolverine.” Mutant children run feebly through a forest doing magical computer-generated things (like using their super-powered breath on heavily-armed thugs) that animators have made only slightly more convincing. Meanwhile, Logan fights the aforementioned copy of himself, grunting and slashing his way to a denouement so darkly sentimental as to ensure theaters full of tear-streaked beards.

All of this gloom and doom makes the universally mocked “Batman V Superman” seem absolutely rosy by comparison. For so much deadly serious bloodletting, there is strikingly little talk of what it means. Logan tells X-23 she must learn to live with the killing, but leaves it there, as if his mid-movie slaughtering of incapacitated thugs was justified by saving an old man on the verge of death.

As the author of conventional genre fare like “Walk The Line” and “3:10 To Yuma,” James Mangold has made his living in the middle of the road. As such, the one-noted-ness of “Logan” should come as no surprise. What comes as an enormous surprise is how highly a second-rate road movie and slasher hybrid seems to regard itself. The same thing was efforted ten times more effectively by video game developer Naughty Dog just four years ago. Their masterpiece “The Last Of Us” (yet another better thing that “Logan” cribs from) stands tall above everything else in the subgenre, no matter the medium. Over “Logan,” it towers.

This particular iteration of Marvel Comics’ Wolverine and his movie exist purely to engage in masturbatory violence and then make viewers weepy – and not even through any invention of Mangold and his writers. There is nothing noteworthy about anyone’s work here, except for the geysers of crimson and four-letter words, each hastily ladled on as transparent fan wish fulfillment.

Marvel fans that moonlight as undiscerning gorehounds just might find Valhalla in “Logan,” but the project goes out of its way to give everyone else the cold, dead shoulder.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★ out of ★★★★★ (Not So Good)

Release Date: March 3, 2017
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Director: James Mangold
Screenwriter: James Mangold, Scott Frank, Michael Green
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Stephen Merchant, Boyd Holbrook, Dafne Keen
MPAA Rating: R (for strong brutal violence and language throughout, and for brief nudity)