Logan: Bloody, Brutal and Beautiful

Logan is a beautifully articulated finale to Jackman’s stint in the infamous role of Wolverine. Director James Mangold has breathed life into the aspirations of fans by delivering an unwavering brutal and violent film with deep character moments and a balanced pace. Consequences are fully realised and this darker vision of the X-Men story explores in deep realism the gritty depths to the franchise proving once and for all that superhero films can project moral ambiguities and complexities in a vivid, exciting and creative manner. While not perfect, Logan’s deeply haunting and effecting score, it’s beautiful and intelligent cinematographic approach and it’s magnificent cast chemistry help to deliver something damn close.

From a critics perspective the film Logan was never better than during the smaller more dialogue based scenes in which time we got to truly explore the characteristics of our three protagonists. The warming scene at the dinner table struck a chord with me as Xavier made light-hearted jokes at Logan’s expense and spoke in nuances about the extravagances of their former lives. The sense of humanity during a period of isolated shelter helped to frame the moral argument the film is putting across albeit in a subversive manner. Logan-  the undying man is confronted with what it means to truly live as he finds peace and connection during these small scenes. I find that these scenes worked because of two elements, the bridge between mutant and non-mutant and the deeply realistic dialogue.  The humour is grounded in reality and helps to contrast as a respite with the highly strung antics of the following scenes. Without these scenes the stakes would not feel as elevated. Mangold balances his pace expertly, utilising these smaller scenes to explore the intricacies of the frailty in each character. Xavier’s child-like rebelliousness, guilt and the dredges of his protective instinct for mutant kind are articulated gracefully and at unexpected moments to create a bridge between the most recent Xavier and the one before our eyes.

Jumping forward to the great finale during which (SPOILER) Logan dies the aforementioned small moments piece together in tangent to the previous films expertly. His final word ‘So this is what it feels like’ achieve a sense of duality as the carnage left in the wake of his anger has been channelled from rage to paternal instinct. The simplicity of this line alongside the recognition of his mortality and the emptiness of death he has inflicted upon others comes across as a sense of cathartic release like falling asleep after an exhausting day. Furthermore I find this ending to be perfect as he holds his legacy in his hands, an extension of his genetic makeup whose deep bond demonstrates his connection to mutant kind, his resilience in the face of evil and the struggle between self and others.

Scott Frank created a phenomenal script full of depth, nuance and chaos fully capturing the essence of Wolverine. The gruff introverted cigar chomping Logan feels vulnerable and at the end of his tether as the constant push and pull between selfish ambition and the pressure of fellow mutants demarcates the ageing process. His self deprecation and internal dialogue is reflected in the script intelligently with particular focus on his dynamic with the Professor and the guilt of the admiration of others. From the Professor’s standpoint I find that his burdensome nature is explored creatively as his outbursts of mental seizures and elderly humanity draw out his heart wrenching finale. His babbling, over involved relationship with Laura and guilt seep onto the screen through a variety of structures and hyperbole. This collection of approaches come together during his realisation of his part in the near extinction of mutant kind. All of the confusion comes together in a moment of deep shame contrasted against the admittance of great and rare joy are struck down in a heart wrenching finale in the form of X-24.

Hugh Jackman delivers a tour-de-force performance in his final rendition of this character. Everything from his body language, immersion in character and rebirth of accumulated characteristics unite in an outstanding performance which fully realises the character’s legacy onscreen and as a comic book character.  From my perspective, Jackman’s performance is very precise as his disciplined engrossment in the character is articulated in small movements, emphasis it becomes obvious the depth of thought put into playing this character. The direct simplicity of each emotion adds a new dimension to give a fully embodied onscreen performance in such a way as that each nuance is felt to the finest degree. When his character surprises himself with a smile or articulated emotional strain with physical strain during the farmhouse catastrophe a more personal empathy appears in the audience. Jackman’s performance adds a physicality to the role as the physical and emotional toll of previous encounters leave him worn down and defeated. As he stumbles and falls only to pick himself up we feel that Logan is on his last legs in his performance. There is a resentful strain with touches of good spirit which Jackman owns and works hard not to rely on the first class script in his expert delivery.

Stewart delivers a completely new, never seen before articulation of Charles Xavier in this performance as his descent into mental decay renders him unstable, cantankerous and afloat in the sea of his own mind. Mangold gives Stewart the space to fully flex his acting muscles as the range in this performance demonstrates. The character is always in sway between moments of clarity and compassion to maddened and dementia ridden raves of a failing mind in a performance that demonstrates the sorrow and deep irony of a great mind lost to a deteriorating body. The friendship between Jackman and Stewart diffuses into the film’s character chemistry as Stewart reveals his compassionate edge in this performance. The subtle undertones of humanity and facial dynamics move in a highly responsive and individual manner as each sub-sub-expression has a new and instantly obvious expression throughout this performance. Stewart lives up to the range and emotional tension demanded by the script in this finely drawn picture of a broken shell of a human being.

Casting Daphne Keen can be compared to finding a diamond in the ruff. Without speaking a word for the first half of the film Keen expresses the trauma of a child born into and grown up in a closed off and highly violent environment. The seclusion of this character and feral rage appear without a beat and leave the audience in awe of this convincing portrayal of such an obscure backstory. Keen infuses the aggression, rage and quippy looks of an isolated, tortured but blossoming soul with the sass and rebelliousness of a young child while also advancing on her dynamic of fillal instinct. The dynamic utilised by Keen to elevate her performance most is entrenched in her chemistry with Jackman’s character and her exploration of the father/daughter relationship as she follows the approaches of a need child ranging from outbursts of defiance to demands for help to a protective and compassionate instinct to underhand subversive attention grabs. Despite the limited dialogue, Daphne Keen delivers a layered and playfully emotive performance as her performance blossoms into a character more reliant on the connection and support of others.

Despite it’s major successes the film is not without some significant faults. In particular, I find that the film’s central antagonist is poorly constructed. Unfortunately this character does not seem to have an imperative or motive apart from orders from above to fulfil this function. I believe that one to two five minute scenes could have elevated this into a more complex dialogue reflecting the political dynamic of fearing and blaming the minorities or disadvantaged in a clever and reflective. Dr. Rice has a sociopathic and almost religious devotion to his aims and his obsession with X-24 mirrors an almost Frankenstein-esque character unhinged by the disarray of the events that surround him in a role that edges on brilliant but falls considerably short. Nobody can claim I am not a fan of R Rated violence to heighten the gritty and adrenaline filled rush of a film of this genre however I believe their is a mismatch in the film’s finale as the consistent gory violence reduces the excitement and impact of the finale as the audience feels numbed and desensitised by the perfectly bloody and brutal encounters beforehand. Something needed to shift here. My final and greatest criticism centres around Jackman’s second performance as X-24 . The direction in these set pieces was poor and required an additional element to breathe life and purpose into this character. It felt too functional and single minded. A personal suggestion would be for the director to input  a hesitancy to this character whether it is towards fighting his own or a generic pain triggered trauma. Every great hero deserves a better villain.

From a visual standpoint one of my favourite scenes of this feature was the casino seizure scene in the film’s second act. The physical communication of this action is potent and comes across with remarkable clarity through the camera work as well as the equilibrium of force imposed on every character. Furthermore, the pacing of this scene could easily be too slow or fast but instead McCusker edits this scene perfectly and the cinematography expresses the overwhelming claustrophobia and force through the scene. Furthermore, the violence approaches the line of gratuity but does not pass it as the henchmen get slowly cut down paralysed in their current state. The scene constructs itself around being an outburst by Xavier with a verbal and visual focus on Charles and his fight or flight survival instinct in a way that humanises him and adds gusto to the reasoning behind an anti-mutant movement in 2029 America.

From the opening shot I fell in love with Bruce Logan’s cinematographic approach and use of lighting to create mood. Logan switches expertly from small, closer aspect shots to facial close-ups and wide swinging shots to assert purpose relevant to the purpose of every visual beat. The neon lighting of the urban scenes and the dark griminess of the foreground has a suffocating beauty and darkness to them. In more personal scenes Logan defies the 180 rule switching from perspective to perspective to give a more insightful appeal. He draws the viewer out by creating strain and ease through a deeper understanding of the script beat for beat. In the action set pieces Logan uses wider sweeping mobile shots which demonstrate with clarity the character’s decisions switching between the wider cause and effect of each decision to closer and more intimate small conflicts of thought. Hiring such a DP meant that the studio could fully realise the explicit gritty violence throughout the film without conforming to the superhero vices or the gratuity of otherwise violent films. The lighting used in this film focused on how to use the absence of light to demonstrate to the viewer what was being seen and reflected the environment using a great deal of practicals so that natural light in outdoors scenes was diffused and indoor scenes had an enclosed and simple warmth and isolation to them.

Aside from the brilliant character chemistry between Keen and Jackman the smaller characters in this film are insightfully cast. Stephen Merchant as Caliban seemed at first a strange choice but in the end resulted in a perfect balance of vulnerability, servility, the victim role and self sacrifice. Merchant wilfully and intelligently highlights the internal struggle of being shackled by his mutation and works in conjunction with Logan in the form of a conscience in the film’s early stages to ease us into this shift in character.  Boyd Halbrook injects the perfect balance of charm and charisma into his role of Pierce with a sleek, snappy performance and a playful dark threatening humour with subtle overtones of friendliness. This helps to fully express the character’s vengeful gleefulness as he stifles and suppresses the genetically extraordinary and powerful mutants. We feel his needy clawing for approval under the instructions of Dr. Rice without word or action to create a fully formed character.

It is my belief that Logan;s death was the right choice for the film, With a character built around the defiance of mortality their is a poetic nature to his demise and eventual death. In his sacrifice he is able to end the living nightmare of watching friends die time and again while he must go on. His death adds a new dimension to the franchise as a sense of consequentiality and finality is added to the series. The payoff of a journey coming to an end reflects the core belief that things aren’t beautiful because they last but because they must end. There is a certain moral and emotional quality to the eulogy read by Keen confirms this without ambiguity so that director James Mangold can fully realise the potent repercussions of such a fringe lifestyle in such an unremorseful reality. Dying with his surrogate daughter holding his hand this dying moment does not become an effective isolated moment but something better, it becomes an emotional crescendo to this violent journey.

One aspect I particularly enjoyed in Logan was it’s deep cut references to the comics. For the film, director Mangold requested new 60s style X Men comics to be created as a bridge between the real world and the symbolic nature of the X-Men series. It is revealed that the paradise to which Logan aims to arrive at was drawn from an ancient and unreliable comic of pure fiction which in the end reveals itself to be partly true. Therefore X-men becomes a wonderful metaphor for the oppression of the weird, wonderful and minority groups in our society by abridging reality and committing itself to the comics.  Contextually Logan draws from several comic book influences with Old Man Logan recurring in it’s links and references as well as a rostra of other examples. Perhaps most importantly, this film lets loose and uses all of the violence, swearing and dehumanisation seen in the more recent character renditions to pay tribute to the support and founders of this cult classic character,

Unsurprisingly I was struck by the editing used for the violence in this film. The swift camerawork completed several visual acrobatics and minimal CGI to capture three decapitations and many bloody and vicious deaths so as to elevate the consequentiality of violence and to add a cause and effect vibe to the violence instead of it’s more one sided predecessors. Wide cuts and long shots with clear movement came together with the use of movement and sound to introduce new elements creatively and with instinctive viscerality. The blocking for choreography of this piece was second to none as the two metal fisted protagonists leaped and skidded from aggressor to agressor in an almost dance-like beauty and efficiency.

To recognise this film as a drama with superhero elements is to make a mistake. This picture could not function as a drama in and of itself and relies heavily on it’s superhero origins, not just for great characters or wonderful action sequences but as an intrinsic element to it’s success. Superhero movies work well when they use extravagant non-realistic circumstances to project a moral dilemma and Logan demonstrates with a deafening roar that superhero movies outperform their dramatic competitors. The tone of the film is integral to a comic book movie as the isolation and rejection by society reflect the political demonisation of minority or other racial groups in such a way as that provokes moral dilemmas and questions in the modern political sphere confidently and intelligently. Oner other important element was the western theme, the movie moves beyond surface level references to the genre to a subversive tribute with a dusty colour palette, references to black and white cowboy films, a stand-off as well as an anti-hero struck down by society seek redemption for himself and other in such a lucrative style.

Composer Marco Beltrami has constructed an above average soundtrack which falls down in some areas. In particular it refocuses the fight scenes on some of the soundtrack tropes with indistinctive and uncreative sounds. However, Beltrami makes up for this in spades by using a wide variety of tracks varying from jazz to classical and electronic screeching to eclectic peaceful violin in such a way that is fresh, exciting and that adds a new dimension to each and every scene. I found that the soundtrack relies heavily on piano and strings which one might consider to be usual when a soundtrack is delivering an action sequence however Beltrami approaches this in a novel way. In particular the track ‘X-24’ uses dissonance with strings to create a dark riff and adds a pensive piano beat unexpectedly to elicit strong emotions. Many tracks use random piano parts to give pasty and erratic sensation in such a way that wakes the viewer and adds a new quality to each scene in which it is used. Piano and strings in this film have a unique character with strong base and drums. However these are played normally so as not to detract from what is being learnt. Each instrument speaks appropriately loudly without obscuring from the scene’s central purpose. They are all secondary to the strings and piano.

Overall Logan is a fantastic display of talent on all parts. The visuals are incredibly addictive and exhilarating crafted to create emotional peaks and crescendos expertly. The chemistry between the actors is phenomenal as the script and acting interweave to create a wonderful character arc narrative with a potency. Furthermore, the film pays tribute to it’s roots while exploring new territory in such a way that inextricably links small budget intelligent superhero films to greatness and moral complexity unseen before in the genre.

LOGAN: BLOODY, BRUTAL AND BEAUTIFUL

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