Review of “Logan”

The X-Men movie franchise is one of the longest running and consistent superhero movie franchises. While there have been large gaps of time between films, they are all connected within the same universe. Batman and Superman have been rebooted several times with different actors and with each reboot, a new reality for the characters is created. X-Men have kept all their films within the same continuity even with the soft reboot “X-Men: Days of Future Past” that blew up the timeline. Now with “Logan,” the X-Men opens a doorway into the next generation of mutants and gives us an appealing new claw-wielding anger machine while giving Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart a loving and tender send off as both actors are adamant that this is their final appearance in the series.

Logan (Hugh Jackman) is trying to live a quiet life as a limo driver under an assumed name. His healing factor is fading, he’s in constant pain and he’s looking old. Logan is taking care of Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) who is suffering from dementia and is classified as a weapon of mass destruction by the government after an incident that occurred in the past. Logan gives Xavier medicines to keep his condition manageable. Helping Logan is the mutant Caliban (Stephen Merchant). Times have changed and there hasn’t been a mutant born in 25 years. Most of the other X-Men are dead but Logan is approached by a woman named Gabriella (Elizabeth Rodriguez) with a young girl named Laura (Dafne Keen) she says is a mutant and on the run from the company Transigen that created her. Logan has already run into a member of their security team, Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) who is looking for Gabriella and Laura. Despite his illness, Xavier has known another mutant was out in the world and urges Logan to help. Fighting it all the way, Logan still feels compelled to help Laura and try to get her, Xavier, Caliban and himself to safety. Gabriella tells Logan they are on their way to a set of coordinates on a map she refers to as Eden. Logan and Xavier embark on a cross-country trek, trying to stay one step ahead of Pierce, keep Xavier’s condition under control and get Laura to safety. But sinister forces are lurking and every step of the way is filled with danger and an unstoppable killing machine.

After playing Wolverine in nine of the X-Men films over 17 years, Hugh Jackman has said unequivocally this is his last appearance as the character. No matter how much Ryan Reynolds begs or offers him sexual favors for a Deadpool/Wolverine team-up, “Logan” is the last time we’ll see Jackman sprout the claws…unless Fox allows Marvel Studios to use the character in a crossover with the Avengers. Since that will never happen, despite it guaranteeing a billion dollar-plus box office return, “Logan” is Jackman’s swan song as the mutant from Canada with an adamantium-enhanced skeleton and claws. Knowing that, I believe director and co-writer James Mangold took extra care and crafted a finale story that tries to touch all the bases with fans of the character and the entire X-Men universe and he largely succeeds.

Jackman inhabits the well-worn and heavily scarred skin of Logan like no one else possibly could. Logan is tired and so is Jackman. In his late 40’s, it can’t be easy for Jackman to get into the kind of shape playing Wolverine requires. That weariness is a tool Jackman uses to round out and ground the character. Crankier than ever and tired of fighting, Logan just wants to be left alone. What he really wants is to be allowed to die. He even carries around an adamantium bullet he one day plans on using to kill himself. Events in the story intervene and force him to keep on fighting, but this time he has something to fight for that may be bigger than any other battle: Laura.

Dafne Keen is a scene stealer. Laura, also referred to as X-23 in her medical file, is a child that doesn’t know what family or compassion is until she is shown it as the trio travels along their path. The three misfits form an uneasy alliance with Xavier being the kindly grandpa and Logan the grumpy dad. Keen, who is largely without dialog for the majority of the film, is able to emote in a way that leaves no doubt what she is feeling. This is especially true when she becomes enraged and her own claws come out. While I’m sure most of the stunt work was done by either small women or is CGI enhanced, Keen must have done some of it herself. Her performance is as fearless as Laura’s fighting. With the early success of the film, I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of Keen in the role.

Patrick Stewart has always been a favorite actor of mine. From his performance in “Dune” to his time on the bridge of the Enterprise in “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” Stewart has delivered some great performances in genre films and TV. While most of his work in the X-Men franchise has been a bit on the reserved side, his last go round as Charles Xavier frees him with a performance that could garner him a best supporting actor Oscar nomination. From frenzied mental confusion to warm and comforting compassion, Stewart gives one hell of a performance. His work here is stellar and, if he’s true to his word about this being the last time, he sends the character out on a masterful note.

Much has been made of the violence and language that has given “Logan” an R rating. The violence is bloody and brutal and the language is coarse. Some might argue films about superheroes should mostly be family friendly. Most of the time I agree; however, this film and this character deserve a chance to be grown up and be a film for grown-ups. In the comic books the violence is frozen in primary colors and we can’t really get a sense of the brutality being inflicted. With “Logan,” there is no doubt just how much pain injuries like this would cause and that many characters, without a doubt, die on screen. Wolverine was always known for her berserker rage and how deadly he was with his claws. “Logan” is true to the character in all his graphic glory.

The middle of the film may run a bit too long. We spend a great deal of time on the road getting to the explosive conclusion and at least one of the stops along the way could have been cut. Still, the film rarely makes that mistake or any other as we travel across a slightly different future America with our unusual and dysfunctional family.

“Logan” is rated R for language throughout, brief nudity and strong brutal violence. There are bloody shootings, stabbings, limb amputations and decapitations. We also see a mutant that is allergic to sunlight tortured by being exposed to daylight. The brief nudity is a girl showing Logan her breasts as he is driving her and friends to a party. Foul language is common throughout the film.

There is so much I would love to tell you about “Logan” but I don’t want to spoil the surprises scattered through the film. “Logan” not only delivers a strong story about characters we’ve loved for nearly two decades, but also provides fan service for those that are deep into the comic book X-Men lore. It is probably the most well-rounded and grown up comic book movie in film history. It is also a fitting send off for two actors that have devoted a big part of their careers to Wolverine and Charles Xavier. While the Fox Studios X-Men films have been hit-or-miss over their lifetime, “Logan” is undeniably a hit.

“Logan” gets all five stars and more.

The king of all movie monsters (in some people’s opinion) returns with what looks like a summer-worthy blockbuster. Next week, I’ll see “Kong: Skull Island.”

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.

Review of “Morgan”

Lee Weathers (Kate Mara) is a corporate troubleshooter sent to evaluate a unique program. Morgan (Anya Taylor-Joy) is the project. While being only five years old, Morgan is the size of a teenage girl. Her DNA is a mixture of human and synthetic and her brain contains nano-sized robots that have altered its development. She has precognitive abilities and is extremely strong and fast. A team of scientists has been working in secret on the project that led to Morgan for seven years in a house located deep inside a forest. Morgan used to be allowed outside but a behavioral scientist named Dr. Amy Menser (Rose Leslie) took Morgan beyond the boundary of the compound and lead researcher Dr. Lui Cheng (Michelle Yeoh) put an end to her field trips. Morgan is kept in an isolation cell and monitored by a rotating group of researchers. One of those researchers, Dr. Kathy Grieff (Jennifer Jason Leigh), brought Morgan her lunch and decided to eat with her inside the isolation cell but Morgan attacked her, stabbing her several times in the eye. This has led the corporation that is funding the research to send Weathers to oversee an evaluation of the project, including a psychological examination of Morgan by Dr. Alan Shapiro (Paul Giamatti), and determine if it should be terminated.

There’s a good movie to be made out of the ideas in “Morgan.” Sadly, the movie I saw wasn’t it. It’s not terrible and there are good performances from Kate Mara and Anya Taylor-Joy but there are some odd choices made by some of the characters as the story progresses and there were a great deal of unanswered questions that nagged at me while I was watching the film.

“Morgan” takes a familiar concept and explores it fairly well. All the scientists see Morgan as a child trying to figure out her place in the world while Weathers sees Morgan as an “it” and something that can be discarded like a defective piece of plastic. That conflict is central to the plot and kicks off the carnage that makes up the last 30 minutes of the movie. My main problem with this part of the film is the willingness of the scientists to ignore all of Morgan’s past deeds and refuse to do what is necessary. One of the team even has a high-powered rifle pointed at her chest and still delays shooting long enough for Morgan to disarm him.

This is the same problem I have with most horror/thriller movies where characters make decisions that clearly go against their own best interests and what they know to be true. This logical misstep wasn’t in evidence during “Don’t Breathe” as even when the characters made a decision that kept them in peril it made sense and they didn’t hesitate to take action against their enemy although it wasn’t always as effective as they would have wanted.

“Morgan” is a victim of lazy storytelling. We’ve seen many of the ideas in the film in other better movies but here the script seems to be taking a “cafeteria” approach by picking certain elements and ignoring others. The script is trying to make a point about man’s arrogant belief that he can control nature but that gets lost in all the stupidity and carnage.

The movie also isn’t shy about telegraphing a twist that is revealed late in the film. Again, this is lazy storytelling since, in order for it to be a true twist it shouldn’t be painfully obvious early on. One particular shot in the film gives the surprise away with all the subtlety of a high rise building being imploded. It screams, “Hey! Look at this! You think this implies anything important about what’s coming later?!” While the specifics of the twist aren’t given away, the basic idea of what’s going to happen is clear.

There are things to like in “Morgan.” Kate Mara and Anya Taylor-Joy give intense and uncompromising performances. Taylor-Joy is given a particular icy look with her makeup and hair that give her character an otherworldly appearance. She is different on the inside and that is reflected on the outside. Mara is a no-nonsense business woman with a penchant for cutting through the niceties of everyday conversation and not worrying about hurting people’s feelings.

There are, perhaps surprisingly, some very good fight scenes exclusively between female characters. While it is never directly stated, Morgan appears to have been created as a living weapon as she is well versed in hand-to-hand combat and very good at turning everyday items into weapons. She has increased strength and endurance and is usually coldblooded in dealing with an enemy. Weathers is also good with her fists and with a weapon as well. These two duke it out on at least three occasions in the film and each one is intense. The research team’s physician is also good at fisticuffs. This comes from out of nowhere and feels again like lazy storytelling and a way to keep the plot moving forward.

“Morgan” is rated R for some language and brutal violence. When there is violence in the film it is usually bloody, sometimes very bloody. The movie starts with Morgan’s attack on Dr. Grieff and, while not bloody on film, the sound effects used are rather suggestive of gore. Foul language is scattered.

“Morgan” has some very interesting ideas that get bogged down in thriller clichés. It wants to be a creepy look at Man playing God but eventually turns into a predictable and nothing more than average monster movie. It isn’t the worst way to spend 90 minutes in a darkened, air-conditioned theatre with some good performances and fight scenes but it could have been a great deal better.

“Morgan” gets three stars out of five.

There’s a wide variety of movies opening this week. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

The Disappointments Room—

Sully—

When the Bough Breaks—

The Wild Life—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.