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Logan: The X-Men Go Dark

I saw Logan over the weekend and I was thoroughly impressed. I should start of by saying that I am not a huge fan of the X-Men movies. I loved the animated series in the 90’s and I was also a fan of the comic books, but I found the films to be overly polished and generic. The first X-Men movie came out all the way back in 2000, so the series actually predates the glut of super hero movies that have been awash over us over the past decade and a half. You could argue that the X-Men series started the craze of super hero movies, and specifically the Marvel franchises that have grossed billions of dollars for three different studios.

But Logan is different. After watching it last weekend, I don’t feel like I watched a typical super hero movie. It certainly didn’t feel like a typical X-Men movie. This movie was gritty, it was dark, it was intensely violent. And I’m not talking the typical comic book movie/adventure movie violence with lots of explosions and deaths of faceless and nameless characters. This was a graphically violent film complete with decapitations, engorging and hand-to-hand combat, close up, look you in the eye killing with enough blood to sink a ship. While it pushed the boundary to feeling gratuitous, it never quite got there, but it was close.

Also, Logan gave us the character of Wolverine the way he was meant to be. We never see him in his X-Men leotard, er, uniform,  and I think losing that motif helps take this movie away from the super hero genre and makes it a straight action movie. He is also constantly dropping F-bombs and he has a lot more attitude. Now, the character of Logan/Wolverine always had a lot of attitude in the previous X-Men films and he always walked a very precarious line, and it’s clear that the figurative shackles were off in this film and director James Mangold had the freedom to give us the cold-blooded loner that Logan always should have been, despite the R-rating that it generated. To be honest, in order to do the X-Men right, it needs to be an R-rated property, and Wolverine is the most R-rated of them all. In fact, the reason that The Wolverine failed, in my opinion, is because they had to keep it PG-13 and couldn’t properly unleash the character to be all it needed to be. That was not an issue in Logan.

In a lot of ways Logan feels like The Terminator meets The Hunger Games. It’s essentially a chase movie, and the forces chasing Logan, Charles and the young girl Laura are persistent, powerful and will not stop until they have Laura in their clutches. We also see that they have no qualms about killing people that get in their way, and no amount of collateral damage is too much. Laura, however, is a genetically engineered killing machine, even though she’s just a young girl of 8 or 9-years old. Laura is a ferocious fighter and kills her victims brutally and mercilessly, essentially showing them the same kind of treatment that they’d likely show her.

But this movie is more than just about action and near-gratuitous violence. Believe it or not, this is also a movie about family. We learn early in the movie that Laura was created using Logan’s DNA, which is why she has the wolverine claws and an adamantium skeleton. Even though Logan isn’t her father in the truest sense of the word, his character arc takes him from disinterested mercenary to protective father figure. Likewise, Laura goes from being distant and petulant to being loyal and loving. I feel what Mangold and co-writers Scott Frank and Michael Green did really well was taking a character that we’re all familiar with and giving him new limitations to deal with while simultaneously adding a new character that we don’t know and developing her in a way that made us care about her and about the relationship between the two of them.

The story line was also very effectively told. There were definitely three acts in there, and it followed a classic Hero’s Journey. There is a clear Ordinary World that Logan lives in. There is a clear Call to Adventure and Logan Refuses that Call and that is followed by Logan Crossing the Threshold into the Special World. I’m not going to list out all of the Hero’s Journey stages, but suffice it to say that all of the stages are represented in the script. That gives Logan a very engaging story for an action film and Mangold, Frank and Green took some chances and those risks were paid off with a story that has some surprising moments and some surprisingly dramatic moments as well.

When you combine the well-structured story with the depth of the characters and the strength of the development in their relationships, we are left with a very strong script that allowed us to engage with these characters on an emotional level that isn’t common in an action thriller. Logan really is a movie that has it all. It’s a dramatic action film with terrific acting and likable characters that the audience actively roots for. If you’re an aspiring screenwriter who is working on an action script, this is a script that could be instructive for you.

Logan is also a movie that’s worth seeing for its sheer entertainment value. It is a highly entertaining movie that I’ve already heard is getting Oscar love, a la Mad Max: Fury Road. It’s probably worth pumping the breaks on that notion, but I could certainly see this film at least getting some sort of attention, provided people haven’t forgotten about it by the end of the year.

Either way, Logan is a film with great performances by Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart and Dafnee Keen, as well as the supporting cast. Those performances humanize the characters and make them likable. The action is also top-notch, but seeing this film for the surprising quality of the screenplay is what should drive you to see it if you haven’t already. Be warned that it’s one of the most violent films you’ll ever see, but the violence is necessary to the telling of this particular story, and that’s what keeps it from becoming gratuitous.

All in all, this is a film that is worth seeing. You should go and check it out if you haven’t already. You’ll be glad that you did.

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