Logan (2017, James Mangold)


Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

In the near-future, Logan is struggling to protect an ailing Charles Xavier, and then encounters a young girl with Wolverine-like powers…

Get used to multiples names (well, actually, not really: this ‘X-Men’ film mostly ignores aliases and codenames)…
* Logan (Hugh Jackman) is in a bad way. It’s been several years since the X-Men were a crime-fighting team of superheroes, and he’s now carving out a meagre living as an Uber driver. He’s also feeling old, has grown a beard, needs reading glasses, and has been considering suicide. Logan – who doesn’t use the name Wolverine any more – has his former mentor Charles stashed in Mexico, hidden away from the world because Charles has dementia and his psychic powers are endangering innocent people. But they must go on the run when they encounter a young girl who’s being chased by bad guys. The girl, Laura, was cloned from Logan’s DNA, making her his sorta daughter… It’s a fantastically cynical and pissed-off performance from Jackman, with depth and heart and a journey. It’s also his final time playing the character: Logan dies during the climactic chase/fight sequence.
* Gabriela Lopez (Elizabeth Rodriguez) is a nurse who comes asking for Logan’s help. She works at a facility that’s been experimenting on mutant children and she’s smuggled one of them out. The backstory of the experiments is told in a video Gabriela shot on her iPhone. It’s *ridiculously* over-edited and elaborately filmed for something made quickly and in secret.
* Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) is the story’s main heavy. He’s a loquacious Southerner with a Terminator-style robotic hand who’s chasing down Laura. (On the topic of his hand, the film presents an admirably understated vision of the near future. As well as Pierce’s hand, there are also driverless lorries roaming the highways. But it’s only 2029 so the world basically looks like today.)
* Caliban (Stephen Merchant) looks after Charles while Logan earns them some cash. He’s a mutant who can’t stand being in sunlight. He’s also English and mentions both underpants and spotted dick. Played with deadpan sincerity by Merchant, the character acts like a concerned partner, worried for Logan’s well-being.
* Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) is now in his 90s and must take medication to keep damaging seizures in check. Also, his memory is failing and he goes in and out of lucidity. Stewart, of course, is brilliant. Charles is in turn sweet and grumpy, innocent and piercing. About halfway through the story he’s killed by a soldier who’s been cloned from Logan’s DNA (and therefore also played by Hugh Jackman).
* Laura aka X-23 (Dafne Keen) is a 10-year-old girl who’s been smuggled out of the experimental clinic, so the evil company are now hunting her down. She was bred using Logan’s genetic material and shares his super-healing powers; also, like her ‘dad’, she has claws and can cut grown men to ribbons in savage attacks. She’s mute for well over half the film, then gets a laugh from the audience by nonchalantly saying ‘De nada’ when Logan thanks her for saving his life. He’s stunned that she can speak, but soon tells her to shut the fuck up after she launches into a relentless volley of angry Spanish. Actress Keen is refreshingly downbeat and avoids adding any cuteness to the performance. By the time she was born, Hugh Jackman had played Wolverine three times.
* Zander Rice (Richard E Grant) is the head of Transigen, the shady company who have been experimenting on young mutants. In an otherwise very textured film, Rice is a bit of a stock ‘bad guy’.
* The Munsons (Eriq La Salle, Elise Neal and Quincy Fouse) are a sweet, homely family who take Logan and co in for the night. It doesn’t end well for them when Pierce and Rice track Laura to their house…
* Logan and Laura’s journey takes them to ‘Eden’, a meeting point for young mutants on the run. We meet several of the youngsters, who each has a different power. They plan to cross the border into Canada, but before they leave, Rice, Pierce and their goons show up.

Crossovers and continuity: There are a few elements that are contradicted or expanded in other X-Men movies.
* Although never spelt out, this film presumably takes place in the alternative timeline created during X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014). Notwithstanding that, the events of The Wolverine (2013) still seem to have happened: Logan has a samurai sword mounted on his wall.
* The character of Caliban also appeared in X-Men: Apocalypse (2016), played by Tómas Lemarquis, where he was a black-market trader. That film is set 46 years prior to this one, but Caliban’s a mutant so presumably has a longer lifespan than most people.
* The exploits of the X-Men have been turned into a series of comic books, which is a nice meta gag as well as a way of dramatising Logan’s disdain for his own celebrity.
* Part of Zander Rice’s motivation comes from the fact his father was killed by Wolverine during the latter’s cameo in the 1983-set X-Men: Apocalypse. 

Review: Every so often, a superhero movie comes along that does something so different, so bold, so fresh – or just simply so well – that it recalibrates what the genre can achieve. Superman: The Movie, the 1989 Batman, the original X-Men film, The Dark Knight, Deadpool… Add Logan to that list. Maybe put it at the top. This is a savage, heartfelt and gripping film that pushes boundaries, tests limits and – most importantly – succeeds on every important level of filmmaking. Rather than a superhero blockbuster of huge CGI sequences, fantastical costumes and a $200million gloss, this is essentially a modern Western. It’s mostly set in dusty, sandy, desert locations. The story is simple and stripped-down. We have a smarmy, cocky villain teasing and provoking our aging, damaged, cynical hero who’s been forced by circumstances to reluctantly become a father figure. And James Mangold’s masterful direction always gives the characters plenty of space to breath and brood. (Just in case you’ve missed the idiom, one scene shows Charles watching the 1953 Western Shane in a hotel room.) But there are other influences too. The movie also has the down-and-dirty intensity of The Terminator, while the stunningly visceral action sequences remind you of Terminator 2. There’s also a post-apocalyptic feel that evokes, say, Mad Max 2 (although, Mangold says that’s largely because they didn’t have the budget to ‘Hollywood up’ America and just had to shoot in real, rundown locations). There’s even something of Little Miss Sunshine in the characters’ road trip across the country. Pointedly, of course, it *isn’t* reminding you of previous superhero films. Logan is something very different. Most notably it’s a film for grown-ups. On a surface level, that means we get lots of swearing and graphic violence. But while that’s certainly welcome, the more significant consequences of the 15 certificate are that the story can be about adult concerns – the pain of aging, the worry of watching your parents age, regrets, guilt, parenthood, death – and be paced for an audience with an attention span. Add in a fantastic music score by Marco Beltrami, some discreet CG to enhance action, and some breathtaking cinematography, and you have a very special film indeed.

Ten sunseekers out of 10

The Wolverine (2013, James Mangold)


Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Haunted by the death of his love Jean Grey, Wolverine travels to Japan to say goodbye to a dying friend…

Get used to multiples names…
* Logan aka Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) maintains his record of appearing in every film in this series. At the start he’s mopping around after the events of X-Men: The Last Stand, and has long hair and a beard. Just in case you don’t get the theme, he soon encounters a wounded bear in the woods. He cleans himself up once he arrives in Japan for the film’s main storyline.
* Yashida (played by both Haruhiko Yamanouchi and Ken Yamamura) is the head of a large Japanese technology company. Logan first meets him in a Second World War prisoner-of-war camp, when they in turn save each other’s lives. In the present day, the elderly Yashida dies, which creates a power vacuum in his family. However, during the action climax, we learn that he’s still alive – his death was faked in order to con Wolverine out of his immortal mutation.
* Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) died (for a second time) when Logan was forced to kill her in the last film (well, the last one in terms of the series’s internal chronology), so here appears as a figment of Logan’s imagination. She comes to him in his dreams, dressed in negligee, for some really boring scenes. It’s nice of Logan to imagine his dead love at the age she would have been if she’d lived.
* Yukio (Rila Fukushima) is a Japanese mutant who can predict people’s deaths. She finds Logan in Canada and takes him to Japan. It ain’t the greatest performance you’ll ever see.
* Shingen Yashida (Hiroyuki Sanada, who played a very boring character in Lost) is Yashida’s son. He plots to murder his own daughter so he can control the family business.
* Mariko Yashida (Tao Okamoto) inherits the company when her grandfather ‘dies’ – which immediately puts her life at risk. Logan protects her: they go on the run and fall for each other.
* Dr Green aka Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova) is a mutant with a reptile-like tongue and an ability to shed her skin. She’s doing scientific work with Yashida, then becomes increasingly obvious as a bad sort. Unfortunately, the character is reminiscent of Poison Ivy from Batman & Robin, especially in the final act when she dresses up in a green superhero costume for some reason.
* Noburo Mori (Brian Tee) is a government minister and is engaged to Mariko. He’s a bit of a shit.
* Kenuichio Harada (Will Yun Lee) is a ninja-type who protects the Yashida family’s interests.

Crossovers and continuity: There are a few elements that are contradicted or expanded in other movies.
* We see a photo of Logan and Storm from X-Men: The Last Stand (2006), reinforcing that this film – unlike the first Wolverine solo movie – is set *after* the X-Men trilogy.
* In a mid-credits scene, Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr show up at an airport and ask for Logan’s help. It’s a lead-in to the next X-Men film, which was due out the following year. Logan is stunned to see Charles alive and well: the character had died in X-Men: The Last Stand, after all, though was resurrected in a post-credits Easter egg. Additionally, Erik had lost his mutant powers in that previous movie but has them back now.

Review: This is a simple, solid, enjoyable story – a pleasant change from the crash-bang-wallop of most recent comic-book films. It’s also nice, after five X-Men films heavy of continuity, to have a self-contained adventure. There are far fewer characters than usual and it’s often quite contemplative (well, at least until the CG-heavy finale). The well-staged prologue, which sees Logan imprisoned by the Japanese in the Second World War, throws us straight into story, sets up the main antagonist and shows off Logan’s mutations for newcomers. Then as the plot progresses – built on the nice if obvious parallel of Logan as a rōnin, a samurai without a master – there’s clearly more style and purpose on show than in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. The action sequences, for example, feel like a comic-book come to life. There are dramatic compositions in many frames, arch ‘hero shots’ of characters fighting, even visible whooshes of weapons. But it’s not all good news. The story has too many characters temporarily fingered as the ‘bad guy’ – Shingen, Noburo, Green, Yashida – so when we finally get the reveal of who’s behind it all the tension has fizzled out. The Jean Grey scenes are dull, heavy-handed and unnecessary. The final act gets a bit silly. And the script lacks wit, even if a decent joke about throwing someone into a swimming pool has been stolen from Diamonds Are Forever. A fun couple of hours, if nothing extraordinary.

Seven Ueno Stations out of 10

X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009, Gavin Hood)


Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Immortal mutant James Logan takes part in a scientific experiment and is injected with a metal called adamantium…

Get used to multiples names…
* James Logan (Hugh Jackman) adopts the name Wolverine in this prequel to the X-Men trilogy. The film is the story of his life up to and including the moment he loses his memory.
* Logan’s childhood friend Victor Creed, who becomes one of the movie’s main villains, is played by Liev Schreiber. Early on we learn that the two share a father. Notwithstanding that, an actor who looks similar to Hugh Jackman has been cast as Logan’s mum’s husband.
* For the second time in three X-Men films, William Stryker features. As this film is set 20 years before X2, he’s been recast: Danny Huston has taken over from Brian Cox.
* In the early 1970s, Logan is seconded into a military squad of mutants. One of the team is played by Ryan Reynolds and is later experimented on by Stryker and becomes a zombie-like creature called Deadpool. Other mutants in the squad include Fred J Dukes, who’s later known as the Blob after putting on a ridiculous amount of weight (Kevin Durand), Chris Bradley (Dominic Monaghan), John Wraith (will.i.am) and Zero (Daniel Henney).
* While hiding out in Canada Logan has a boring girlfriend, Kayla (Lynn Collins). She may as well be called Character Who Gets Killed To Make The Hero Angry. (She later shows up again: it’s revealed she’s a mutant too and her death was staged.)
* On the run, Wolverine is given aid by an elderly couple (Max Cullen and Julia Blake) who may as well be called Mr and Mrs Convenient Characters Who Help The Hero Before Getting Killed.
* When Wolverine needs information about Styker’s base, he asks the only mutant to have ever escaped: Remy LeBeau aka Gambit (Taylor Kitsch).

Crossovers and continuity: There are a few elements that will be contradicted or expanded in future movies.
* William Stryker had featured in X2 (2003) and will also crop up in the First Class trilogy (2011-2016). In this film he mentions having a son, who we then see briefly: the son is also in X2. Stryker’s secret base at Alkali Lake is also seen in X-Men (2000), X2 and X-Men: Apocalypse (2016).
* Deadpool got a whole film to himself in 2016. Although still played by Ryan Reynolds, it’s a different take on the character.
* Both this movie’s Victor and Sabretooth from 2000’s X-Men are based on the same comic-book character, though it’s open to debate whether they’re meant to be the same man in the film series.
* We meet a teenager called Scott Summers (Tim Pocock). The grown-up Scott was one of the good guys in the 2000-2006 X-Men trilogy.
* Although not named, one of the mutants being held prisoner by Stryker is clearly meant to be Emma Frost – a popular character from the comic book. A different version of Emma will be X-Men: First Class (2011).
* Near the end of the film, Charles Xavier shows up to rescue the freed mutants. Patrick Stewart recorded new dialogue, while unsettling CGI has been used to show the character look like he would have done in 1979.

A comic-fan writes… Because I know next to nothing about the source material, I’ve asked my friend the writer Rebecca Levene to talk about this film: “I may be the only human being on the planet who actually likes this movie. Yes, the story’s a convoluted mess, but then so is Wolverine’s backstory in the comics and there are some genuinely inspired moments – particularly the title sequence montage showing Wolverine and Sabretooth’s long and violent history. Most of all, though, the comic geek in me loves the other X-Men cameos. Here at last is Gambit in all his sexy Cajun glory. And Deadpool’s ultimate fate may be a travesty – what lunatic takes away the Merc with a Mouth’s ability to speak? – but before that Ryan Reynolds gives us a glimpse of the star turn he’d later deliver.”

Review: This one doesn’t work. The characters are as thin as the pages of a comic book. Laughs are few and far between. But the biggest issue is simply that there’s no wow factor. The action is computer-game-ish – boring slo-mo violence and laws-of-physics-defying stunts – while there’s a real lack of polish to the filmmaking: exterior scenes are often filmed on a sound stage, while greenscreen shots are sometimes laughable. Also, curse of the prequel has struck again. Because we already know the broad strokes, at times the movie feels like an exercise in box-ticking. There *are* some good ideas, of course. The titles sequence shows us a montage of Logan and Victor fighting side-by-side in the American Civil War, the First World War, the Second World War (very Saving Private Ryan, this) and Vietnam. As the eras progress, Victor gets more and more reckless – smart, economic, fun storytelling. But after that the film gets vague and aimless. The main body of the story is set in 1979, for example, but the production design isn’t especially pushing the period. Instead it’s a bland version of ‘a few years ago’. There are no mobile phones or computers, but the odd old car aside it could be any time. That’s representative of the way the whole film is directed: no focus, no unity of vision, no distinctiveness.

Four ‘Three Mile Islands’ out of 10