This image released by Twentieth Century Fox shows Hugh Jackman from the film, “Logan.” (Ben Rothstein/Twentieth Century Fox via AP)

Reeling It In: ‘Logan’ takes a hard, gritty edge

“Logan”

Twentieth Century Fox

2 hours, 17 minutes

There’s no question that this week’s “Logan” sets a new high standard for super-hero movies in general and for the “X-Men” franchise in particular.

Better shot and scripted than most films in the genre, “Logan” takes a hard look at the unforgiving life of a hero and paints a completely unglamorous portrait of a man whose most distinctive feature is that he has knives protruding from his fists. This film does not flinch in the face of harsh realities. Whether or not that’s the kind of superhero movie you want to see is another story entirely.

“Logan” finds our titular hero, aka Wolverine, aka James Howlett, in the year 2029, living outside of El Paso, Texas, eking out a living as a limo driver. The world is a bleak place and Logan is sick. But his aching bones and empty wallet are not the worst of it. Logan is squatting in an abandoned oil facility and on the property, in a defunct oil tank, is his real burden. Charles Xavier, world-renowned telepath and leader of the X-Men is languishing in a fog of dementia, suffering from seizures that can, and have, proved devastating to the people around him.

Here Logan, along with an aged Caliban, the albino mutant tracker, cares for Charles, keeping him medicated and, more important, hidden. As far as he knows, there are no more mutants – their appearance upon the earth apparently a momentary fluke. This sad little family may be all that’s left of their kind.

Or so he thinks. Apparently, in his more lucid moments, Charles in communicating with someone – someone lost and in need of help. Enter Laura, a wild young girl with terrifying abilities who will change things irrevocably.

Laura is on the run from the same kind of shadowy military/medical cabal that form all the X-villains. Her arrival brings the Reavers, a cybernetic death-squad, and sends Logan and his charges on the run. Where they can go is less certain. A mysterious note gives coordinates to Eden, a supposed mutant safe-haven, but in “Logan,” very little is safe.

I suppose the question of the hour is whether or not I enjoyed “Logan.” That’s not as easy to answer as you might think. The world it exists in is oppressive, the violence it portrays is disturbing and off-putting, and the story is unrelentingly bleak. So, enjoy? I don’t know. There were moments when I whooped in triumph. There were moments when I wanted to look away. I’ll probably watch it again, and I think I’ll enjoy it more, being able to appreciate the lighter moments and the small victories. Enjoy is different than appreciate, however.

“Logan” is a masterfully made film. The cinematography, the soundtrack, and the story all play together extremely well. This is a movie where the action sequences are thrilling, if not exactly fun, but the small character moments are stellar. Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart, perhaps emboldened by the finality of this project, bring their all. Seriously, amid all the head-stabbing and car chases, there are beautiful, heartbreaking moments of interaction between these two characters that not only enrich this film, but speak to an entire series of films, most of which have little connection to each other.

Also giving stellar performances are Stephen Merchant as Caliban, a thankless mother figure in Wolverine’s sad little family. Caliban has always had a kind of sinister look in the comics, but here he is more tragic than anything, tired and hopeless, but still trying regardless.

Rounding out the quartet is newcomer Dafne Keen as Laura. Her performance is mostly wordless and contains the energy of Hit Girl from the “Kick Ass” series while maintaining the pathos of a child forced to violently kill people trying to kill her.

Pathos is a good all-around descriptor for this film. It’s hard, because this is still a superhero movie, still a comic book movie, but it’s not middle of the road entertaining in any way. It’s mean. It’s cruel. And while this makes sense to the story and can be argued to dig into a fundamental truth of the character, is not necessarily enjoyable.

There were a couple of moments when the movie almost lost me entirely – unnecessary moments of cruelty to the characters where the film feels like it loses its way for a moment. I won’t spoil them and director James Mangold, who brought us “The Wolverine” and “3:10 to Yuma” is able to course-correct, but I was still thrown off.

The problem is, when you go to see a movie like this, you want to like it. Other dark films don’t ask that – grim spectacles by Lars Von Trier or David Lynch don’t necessarily ask you to like the characters or enjoy the plot, but a superhero film, by its very nature, does.

“Logan” kind of throws that whole system off, however. I think maybe, at the heart of it all, is that I really like the people involved, and I just don’t want them to have to go through this, to be in this world. In some ways it’s like reading a Garfield comic where he learns the harsh realities of living life on the street as a starving alley cat. Interesting. Potentially beautiful and tragic. But not fun. Be prepared.

Grade: A-

“Logan” is rated R for continuous and often gruesome violence, pervasive language, and adult situations.

Chris Jenness is an art teacher, freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

More in Life

Butternut squash soup picnic is enjoyed on the rocky beach at Eklutna Lake, on Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020 in Anchorage, Alaska. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)
Kalifornsky Kitchen: A soup to match the color of the leaves

Getting outside can be a balm to that isolation and grief many of us are experiencing.

File
Minister’s Message: Are we seeing flowers or weeds?

In diffiult times, we need to watch what we watch

A plate of fried fish is photographed in this undated photo. Frying up cod or halibut in a beer batter is a delicious way to enjoy Alaska’s catch. (Courtesy Victoria Petersen)
Kalifornsky Kitchen: A secret ingredient for fried fish

Victoria Petersen serves up beer-battered halibut with a not-so-secret ingredient.

Nick Varney
Unhinged Alaska: So sayeth the almanac 2020

Once again, the summer has rocketed by and we find ourselves on the precipice of the autumn equinox.

Photo from the Anchorage Museum of History and Art 
                                Dr. David Hassan Sleem stands on the front porch of his large Seward home in 1906.
The multitalented D.H. Sleem, Part two

Syrian-born David Hassan Sleem settled in Seward in 1903.

File
Minister’s Message: Being trustworthy in troubled times

Many people have forgotten that the source of our American values and virtues is the Bible.

The cast and crew of “Knife Skills” poses for a photo at Pier One Theatre during a recording session in August in Homer, Alaska. From left to right are Peter Sheppard, Theodore Castellani, Chloë Pleznac, Joshua Krohn (sitting, at sound board), Darrel Oliver, Helen-Thea Marcus and Ingrid Harrald. (Photo courtesy of Lindsey Schneider)
KBBI broadcasts new radio play on Friday

‘Knife Skills’ was written and directed by Homer playwright Lindsey Schneider

Squash from my neighborhood farmers market will be roasted into a sheet pan dinner, on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020 in Anchorage, Alaska. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)
Kalifornsky Kitchen: Lazy fall days

Farmers markets keep your hard-earned dollars within your community.

Anchorage Museum of History and Art
                                Dr. David Hassan Sleem stands on the front porch of his large Seward home in 1906.
The multitalented D.H. Sleem, Part one

Most people, if they have heard of D.H. Sleem at all, know the name because of his Alaska maps.

The Bayside Buskers perform from noon-1 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020, at Land’s End Resort in Homer, Alaska, as part of the Alaska World Arts Festival. (Photo by Aaron Christ)
Alaska World Arts Festival returns

For 2020, most of the festival will be virtual — and sometimes live

Low-bush cranberries are gathered in Anchorage, Alaska, on Monday, Sept. 7, 2020. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)
                                Low-bush cranberries are gathered in Anchorage, Alaska, on Monday, Sept. 7, 2020. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)
Kalifornsky Kitchen: Cranberry conundrum

I have enough cranberries to try multiple recipes. So I will.