Thursday, March 9, 2017

Logan (2017) and the Value of Quitting While Ahead

Here's the Cinema Freaks podcast (featuring myself and Tony) for the new movie Logan, in theaters now:

(SPOILERS in the video!)

By now you've likely seen Logan or at least heard about it and have plans to see it, so here's my take. This is one of the greatest superhero movies ever made. I don't think that's too hard a bar to clear – what else would make the cut? Superman from the 70s. The 1989 Burton Batman. The Dark Knight. Maybe a few others based on your personal taste, but I think this is pretty close to a prime cut for the genre that has grown out of being a niche and into a full-blown phenomenon as you can get.

People love superheroes, and this movie is basically for the people who were kids in the 80s and 90s and have now grown up – but still love their old favorite characters. Superheroes, like it or not, aren't just for kids anymore – geek culture has gone mainstream and those who liked this stuff when they were younger aren't letting it go, entranced as they are by the timeless stories and the iconoclastic characters. Logan the film is a dark, gritty, brutal and ultimately emotional and somber picture, and it's made from something that, in the 90s, was marked by pastel colored cartoon characters and colorful costumes fighting giant robots.

And yeah, I know that old show and the X-Men as a whole could be quite great at times before – I'm not saying it was just kiddie stuff. But Logan is another level – it's a superhero action film made with the class, artistry and style of an A-list drama. While it hits all the tropes you're familiar with, from a cross-country road trip chased by bad guys to a superpowered little girl and a reluctant hero, plus boatloads of cool action sequences fueled by superpowers, it does these things with a very serious temperament and a care for great cinematography and atmosphere more befitting of a No Country for Old Men-style dirge.

It's just really well done from a directing point of view, made whole by powerful performances from leads Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart. We've seen this kind of stuff before – old men reckoning the ends of their lives, regrets buried deep coming to the surface, an obligation to do what's right even in the face of the desire to just crawl into a dark bar and stay there. But Jackman and Stewart, framed by a vague story of horrible happenings years ago in which most other mutants like them died apparently, make the story visceral and intense. The story is tried and true, but what's new about it is how well it is done.

I like that you get so little of the backstory behind this – the film takes place in 2029 and follows, as I said, an apparent tragedy that killed off most of the other mutants in the world. I like how vague that all is. Please, filmmakers, if you read my blog – don't make any prequels to this, nothing explaining how this came to pass. Also, if you read my blog, I'm sorry if I bashed any movie you made and you're now considering making prequels to Logan in spite of that.

But seriously – that also goes for the fact that Stewart and Jackman will reportedly not return for any more X-Men movies after this. I hope they stick to that as close as they can. I think there is a virtue in going out on top and not over-extending your welcome. Personally, I hate it when a series just drags on forever and loses the quality it once had, and I usually value a concise, beginning-and-ending story contained in one film over a never-ending sprawl of them. The story should end whenever it needs to, and if that takes three good films or only one, I personally like to see it end at that point – not just milked afterwards for money.

In this case, both Stewart and Jackman are going out on fucking top. There's nowhere else to really go from here. Logan is a wonderfully made, dark, harrowing and sad epic, but it's also a testament to the power of quitting while you're ahead. Here's to that.