03 March 2017

Logan, Logan, Logan, Keep Dem Wagons Logan!

Good Evening folks, and welcome to our sometimes weekly round-up of all the new great films coming to your local cinema! This week there's a whole lot of crappy shit that no one will see like Before I Fall (2017) and some kind of Sam Worthington weather cabin movie, but the only real one worth discussing is of course, Logan (2017). So, let's look at the cultural history of this guy as well as its commercial, critical, and cultural prospects.
Get off my lawn.

This marks supposedly Hugh Jackman's final outing as the mutant Wolverine from the X-Man comic books, which is the most dad sentence I've ever written. Over the past seventeen years he has played this character more than any one else has ever played a comic book character, which is kind of insane considering how this singing and dancing 6'2" Australian was supposed to play the gruff and hard-drinking 5'3" Canadian loner. It worked out, though. Over the course of three X-Men films, all of which primarily centered around Wolverine, the powers that be found it necessary to give him his own spin-off film, X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009), which is possibly one of the worst superhero films of all time. Not to be outdone, the character returned in The Wolverine (2013), which took the character to Japan, was slightly better, but still pretty dumb. Between cameos in the second X-Men trilogy, First Class (2011), and Apocalypse (2016), the character also found his way to be the main starring dude in X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014). In fact, the only X-Men film he has not found himself in is Deadpool, but he still had sort of a cameo.

This brings us to Logan, which looks to be radically different than anything else in the current superhero landscape. It looks, you know, good. Hopes are pretty high for this one. It surely will disappoint. The Wolverine started off as a refreshing introspective look at a hero who didn't want to be one anymore and ended with him fighting a giant Japanese version of Jeff Bridges' Iron Monger. There is not in reality a lot of hope that this will actually meet the hype of its phenomenal trailer, but there's a bit to be excited about:

Any comic fan can discern some of the elements here. The obvious riff is the Old Man Logan one-shot that has turned into a semi-regular recurring character in the current Marvel Universe. The work by Mark Miller and Steve McNiven features a storyline set fifty years in the future where the villains have won, killed all the heroes, and taken over America. They had some help when Mysterio tricked Wolverine into killing the entire X-Men squad. The core of the comic, though, trades on the age-old feud between Wolverine and Hulk, culminating in the Hulk killing Wolvie's family and Logan getting fairly pissed. There's likely a bit of this in Logan. Obviously he won't be fighting Red Skull, but this seems like a largely non-mutant / non-hero society, even leaning towards apocalyptic.

The other major element seems to be the presence of a young girl who is clearly X-23, a gnarly clone of Wolverine from the comic books. Who knows if she's a clone, daughter, or just a random other girl with claws and...uh...ferocity as her mutant powers. Throw in Professor X in what seems to be a more special bond forged during Days of Future Past (particularly the ending), and that's a cool squad to roam around the country fighting Reavers, who are cyborg assholes who have never really been a huge X-villain, but should serve as an interesting parallel, especially if it gives Wolvie an intelligent prick leading a troop of ne'er-do-wells to battle.

Speaking of which, there have been some heavy hints at another big bad who has been conspicuously absent from the X-Men cinematic universe: Nate Essex himself, Mr. Sinister. Richard E. Grant's casting seems to give that up, since he'd be a perfect fucking fit, but that's speculative for now. Sinister has a long history with the Summers family, but since no one cares about a Cyclops movie (Indeed, Scott wouldn't be a great movie title), this is what we get. As far as Wolverine-specific villains go, Omega Red and Cyber are the only real glaring omissions from the X-cinematic universe so far, and with this purportedly being Hughey's final outing as the character (thanks to Jerry Seinfeld), we might never see these spectacular B-listers on the big screen. That's probably okay. Still, a Ryan Reynolds Deadpool 2 (2018) team-up has got to be awfully tempting.

X-Men's faults have always been its excess of mutants, which is true for both the cinematic and comic versions (hence, "M-Day"), and the stripped down feel of Logan is also oddly refreshing. It promises to be pretty damn gritty and violent as well, which is also a plus when we look to a world where nine movies with a guy with knives for hands and constant fighting has never really gotten that gruesome. What's better is that this feels the same way Deadpool did in that it strikes against the grain of every contemporary superhero flick. It's the very reason why Apocalypse failed (at least commercially - it's really just fine of a film, even if it's the weakest of the First Class trilogy, but its advertising did nothing to distinguish it from all the other crap out there). Logan visibly and purportedly borrows from Unforgiven (1992), which also suits Hugh Jackman's advancing age. It's not like he's ancient or anything, but 48 years old is probably a bit much to be kicking ass at the rate of a 30-something, while looking visibly older in every prequel movie out there.

So, culturally Logan is in a really good spot and ought to stay there. Positive anticipation is high and as long as it delivers, it'll be just fine. Critically it's gotten some decent reviews with the special notation that it's not just "good for a superhero movie" but "good for a movie." We haven't truly gotten too many of the latter. All of the Nolan Batman films are suitable as are Spider-Man 2 (2004) and Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014), but something always feels held back. Can Logan be the one to break the mold? I don't really think so, but as long as this doesn't get a "sucks" from critics, it'll be in good shape.
Nothing to lose your head about! Oh ho ho

That leaves the most important aspect - the money. That's what we're all in this for, after all. Lots and lots of money. This doesn't feel like it'll be the kind of huge huge blockbuster that we've seen in the past - and X-Men films have a notable ceiling. Obviously the goal here is Deadpool money, but I don't think it fits the kind of demand, anticipation, zeitgeist, or cross appeal that film did. Plus it's got Kong: Skull Island (2017) bumping up against it next week. I don't think it's actually in competition for much else in this crowded March - Beauty and the Beast (2017) is for, I dunno, girls or something, CHiPs (2017) is for bros, and Power Rangers (2017) has really been screaming tween at me lately. If I look to myself, I'm pretty pumped for Logan and completely ambivalent over the rest of this shit. As long as adult action demand wasn't satisfied by John Wick: Chapter Two (2017) - and I'd give that a hard "kind of" - this ought to do well, but I'd be surprised if it goes lights out. After all, it's still pretty specific, and The Wolverine is actually the lowest grossing X-Men movie of all time.

Obviously I'm pretty high on this one. I think it'll be a great experience at the theater and one that I'm looking forward to sharing with my closest family. It looks new, fun (yes, despite the melancholy Johnny Cash, commercials have shown plenty of lightness in the Wolverine / X-23 dynamic), and a lot that just feels right. It's clear that for some reason, Jackman has an extreme fondness for this character and wants to send him off right. James Mangold, who also directed The Wolverine, has oscillated wildly between great films (Walk the Line [2005]) to terrible (Knight & Day [2010], to the impeccably okay (3:10 to Yuma [2007], Identity [2003]). Who knows. You can probably guess that it'll be somewhere in that Wolverine-level of quality, which isn't perhaps a great sign, but we can all hope for the best.

It might also be a fine moment, then, to talk about the future, here. Where can the Wolverine character go after he's "retired" by Jackman? Will another actor pick up the mantle? The whole X-franchise is kind of in limbo right now, and likely a system-wide reboot is in order pretty soon. The series is going nigh on twenty years now, and that's probably fair for everyone. For some reason they've also attempted to have a continuity across far more films, timelines, and characters than any other superhero franchise out there. That's why it's the big original. Would a full reboot be in order or just a continuation using the same characters? I've never thought that we have to necessarily keep telling a linear storyline. Comics don't really care about that. In fact, to enjoy Old Man Logan you might need some knowledge of iconography to understand the full weight of the proceedings, but it certainly doesn't jump off of any particular story. There's no reason why comic book movies can't operate the same way. They ought to trade on the by-now well-established shared nerd knowledge and just throw characters into whatever adventures they feel like. Movies like Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice didn't fail because of lack of background. It failed because it sucked. Good movies don't need lengthy character introductions and backstory - just good everything else.

I still vote for the 80s X-Men movie that would have starred Bob Hoskins as Wolverine and Angela Basset as Storm. Still the most perfect casting ever. Who could take on Hugh's mantle? Who is the 2020s version of Bob Hoskins? Jonah Hill? Alright, Logan better be damned good.

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