Film Review: Logan

The cinematic X-Men universe has been a mixed bag, with some of the movies doing quite well (see Deadpool and Days of Future Past), while others were plain awful (X-Men: Origins: Wolverine and X-Men: The Last Stand). The movies have struggled to get the tone right and have also created a convoluted and contradictory timeline, it’s time for a reboot and where better to end it than with the driving force and most consistent part of the series- Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine.

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Since the first X-movie only Jackman has popped the claws as the Canadian mutant and while he’s often been in lacklustre movies he’s managed to do the character justice. Now, he is finally given the kind of swansong the character, and his efforts, deserve.

Set in 2029 we find Logan in dark times, working as a chauffeur and living out in the Mexican desert looking after Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), who has destructive seizures and seems to be in the early stages of dementia as he enters his nineties. Logan and Caliban (Stephen Merchant), an albino mutant who burns easily in sunlight, keep Xavier drugged to dampen his powers. Logan’s healing powers have slowed, meaning he limps and carries severals scars. He hopes to save money to buy a boat and sail away with Charles so that his seizures can’t hurt anyone.

The other X-Men are revealed to be dead and mutant kind has died out, with no new mutants having been born in decades. While on a job Logan is approached by a Mexican nurse Gabriella (Elizabeth Rodriguez) who asks for his help as she is being chased by shady figures. Logan refuses to engage with her and leaves. One of these, the cybernetically enhanced bounty hunter Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) who works for the Transigen corporation. Logan denies all knowledge and Pierce tells him to call him if he hears anything.

Logan is called to another job but it turns out to be Gabriella who has arranged it, she offers him $50,000 to take her and her daughter, Laura (Dafne Keen) to North Dakota and a safe place known as Eden. The money will be enough for the boat and Logan reluctantly agrees, however when he returns he finds Gabriella murdered. Returning to Mexico he discovers that Laura has stowed away in the boot of his limo and Pierce arrives shortly after. Xavier claims to communicate with her and says they must keep her safe.

Logan is subdued by Pierce’s men, but Laura then reveals that she too has adamantium claws, similar to him and kills many of the men. Logan, Laura and Charles escape and head for North Dakota with Pierce in pursuit, using Caliban and his mutant tracking powers to continue the hunt.

A message left by Gabriella reveals that Transigen bred new mutants, using DNA they had on file in order to develop super soldiers, of which Laura is one of the X-23 programme. However, upon discovering that Transigen had decided to abandon the project due to the fact the kids were hard to control she and several other nurses helped the kids escape before they were “put down”.

Will the jaded Logan be able to form a bond with Laura? Can they make it to North Dakota, and if they do will the promised safety exist or merely be revealed as a dream? And what have Transigen created to replace Laura and her peers, and will Logan be able to defeat this new threat in his weakened state?

I have to say I really enjoyed this movie, which felt like a solid conclusion to the series and a good place to leave this version of Logan. However, I appreciate that it won’t be for everyone and the downbeat, bleak future wasn’t appreciated by MWF and the friend we saw it with. For me, it worked and I liked the way it slowly revealed the fate of the other mutants and the reasons for their extinction.

Rated 15 here in the UK this is by far the darkest and most brutal film in the series, and the first time that Wolverine’s berserker side has really been shown. Previous fights have always been rather bloodless and tame, but this kicks off with a brawl where Logan takes on a gang of criminals in a fast, vicious encounter. It’s good that after suggestions of his dark side we finally get to see it on show here. Otherwise it’s all just a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing, as is the case in Doctor Who where they repeatedly tease that he was a badass during the Time War only to never deliver on this.

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Logan in action

It is hard work in places and Logan is a lot more bitter and jaded than his last outing which makes sense, we left him during the cheerful altered present of Days of Future Past, surrounded by friends at the Xavier School, so it stands to reason that years down the line, with his friends gone he would have reverted to his angry, cynical ways. There’s a suggestion that the X-Men didn’t go out in glory and there’s definite tension between Logan and Xavier, and when it’s finally revealed what happened it’s a gut punch of a twist.

The whole road trip is a tough journey, with tragedy and violence dogging the trio across the US, and the stakes feel higher than in any previous movie.

It’s here I have to give a lot of praise to Patrick Stewart, who does a sensational job as the ageing, shattered Xavier. His performance is genuinely moving, almost heart breaking as he captures the sense of a man long dependent on his mind who is now losing it slowly. His crankiness and vitriol is a world away from the dignified, compassionate leader of the past, but there are glimpses of this throughout, especially when Laura arrives and he sees the opportunity to aid her and do the right thing. It’s quite nice to see that the relationship between the two has changed and shifted, and that there’s some closure between then.

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Charles Xavier, a broken man

But this is Jackman’s movie and he excels again as Logan, capturing all the different aspects of the character- the brooding loner, the reluctant hero, the savage and even the man trying to do better. Coughing, limping and stiff it’s a shock to see the most robust of the X-Men in such a state, and yet it works.

The rest of the cast do their jobs extremely well, with props going to newcomer Keen who captures the almost feral detachment of Laura and who slowly gets the audience to feel for her while avoiding any child actor cliches or excesses. Her relationship with Logan develops slowly and at times unsentimentally, and it’s interesting to watch as she slowly tries to form a bond with someone for the first time while he tries to pull away due to the fact that he’s lost so many people.

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Laura and Logan, both put through the wringer

The villains are well done, especially Richard E. Grant as a slimy, manipulative scientist behind the experiments.

The bleak future world is wonderfully executed, with machines replacing human workers, a gigantic wall at the Mexican-US border and a sense that corporations are running the show now. The reason for the absence of mutants is revealed in quite a clever way, and the quest to safety is tense as throughout it’s never certain what awaits the group when I get there.

The final sequence, a mad dash for safety and Logan unleashing his berserker side against Pierce’s men and the latest Transigen experiment X-24 is bruising, vicious and intense. The ending is emotionally raw and well played, and a fitting finale for the series.

As a series the X-movies have often stumbled, but it’s good to see that they stride out on a high, a well executed and solid movie. It’s the most grown up of the series, and not just because of the blood and swearing, it feels like the story of a grown man still struggling with who he is and what his purpose in the world is. Jackman shows again why he was brilliantly cast as Wolverine and leaves big shoes to fill in the inevitable reboot.

Although it is a shame we won’t get to see Jackman’s Wolverine team up/fight Ryan Reynolds’ Deadpool.

Verdict: Dark, brooding and bleak this is the most grown up and emotional of the franchise. Jackman and Stewart excel playing aging, failing versions of their characters dealing with loss and change. The plot is solid and moves along well with a few nice twists along the way. Finally a film that delivers after a series which often botched its potential. 9/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

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Film Review: X-Men: Days of Future Past

When it was announced that the X-Men’s next onscreen adventure was to be based on the Days of Future Past storyline from the comics there was a bit of a geek meltdown. DoFP is one of the most famous X-stories out there, and featured a dystopian future where many of the Marvel heroes had been killed by mutant-hunting robots called Sentinels. Startling bleak in it’s depiction of the nightmarish future the plot hinged on Kitty Pryde (aka Shadowcat) having her mind sent back in time to her younger body, where she had to stop events which would lead to her hellish future.

It was a great storyline and worked because of the dark tone, and the fact that Kitty Pryde was the group’s sweet, innocent youngster but could/would become this battle hardened woman who would witness most of her friends die. It was a great idea for a movie and would also feature a crossover between the casts of the original X-trilogy and the prequel X-Men: First Class.

Changes would have to be made, in the movies Kitty Pryde, played by Ellen Page was only a minor character, could she carry a movie for the fans? And also, to reach the First Class cast was tricky as Kitty wouldn’t have been around. And so, the decision was made to make the focus of the movie be Hugh Jackman’s Logan aka Wolverine.

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I’ve seen a lot of criticism for this online, with many people complaining that Wolverine has been the main focus for all the movies (First Class aside), it’s not exactly untrue but it misses the point- Wolverine is a big fan-favourite, probably the most popular X-Man and Hugh Jackman’s work in the role has been superb, with him putting in charismatic performances even when the movies have been lacking (see X-Men: Origins: Wolverine).

Also, it makes sense to have Wolverine go back in time to his younger self, as he is one of only a few characters to legitimately cover both time periods. The movie also plays a trump card in suggesting that Wolverine is the ideal candidate as his healing factor means he will survive the trip better.

The movie starts in the future where the Sentinels have hunted and killed many mutants, and a small band survive underground. Kitty and a group of Professor Xavier’s former students survive by staying one step ahead, when the Sentinels attack Kitty transports Bishop’s (Omar Sy) mind back a few days so they can get out in time.
Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) meets them accompanied by Wolverine, Storm (Halle Berry) and former advesary Magneto (Ian McKellen). They plan to send someone back to 1973 where they hope to stop shape-shifting Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), a former ally of both Xavier and Magneto, from killing Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), the man who invented the Sentinels.

Kitty Pryde (Page) showing off her time travel skills

Kitty Pryde (Page) showing off her time travel skills

 

Trask’s death fuels anti-mutant feeling and the captured Mystique’s DNA is what enables the Sentinels to adapt, making them able to counteract mutant powers and be even more effective killing machines.

The problem is that to convince Mystique to stop in her assassination will prove difficult as she had become increasingly militant and embittered, and Xavier alone would not be able to convince her, they need Magneto’s help too. However, in ’73, Magneto and Xavier are enemies and convincing them to work together will prove challenging.
Wolverine goes back and finds the young Xavier (James McAvoy) a very different man, stripped of his powers, afraid and self-hating. Convincing him proves a challenge, and he is less help than anticipated, but Magneto (Michael Fassbender) represents a greater challenge, being locked up in a high-security prison.

Meanwhile, in the future the Sentinels plan to launch a massive attack on the remaining X-Men, who can’t flee while Kitty is holding Wolverine’s mind in the past.

Can they hold the line in the future long enough for Wolverine to succeed in the past? And if Wolverine, Xavier and Beast (Nicholas Hoult) do break Magneto out will they be able to get him onside? Will that be enough to stop Mystique in her quest for revenge?

The 1973 X-Men- Wolverine (Jackman), Xavier (McAvoy) and Beast (Hoult)

The 1973 X-Men- Wolverine (Jackman), Xavier (McAvoy) and Beast (Hoult)

I really dug this movie, and thought that it worked. The X-Men movies have never fully succeeded in my book, being rather fun and well done, but often flawed thanks to changes to the characters and casting (Halle Berry continues to disappoint and lack the gravitas and power to be a good Storm, and Hoult’s Beast is nowhere near as funny or lovable as the comic book version)

However here the cast are one of the greatest strengths, with Jackman still proving charismatic as the clawed Canadian, and playing it just right. The tone of the movie is such that there are some nice character moments and plenty of humour amidst the superheroics. Jackman’s Wolverine differs from his comic counterpart, and has always lacked the underlying edge that made the character so popular, but he’s managed to create a compelling onscreen character and has great presence.

Also impressive are McAvoy and Fassbender as the younger Xavier and Magneto. McAvoy has the harder job as the whining, self-loathing Charles is less than sympathetic, but he does a good job in showing us the reasons why and a glimmer of the decency which will help him become the Xavier of the future, and he also displays fantastic comic timing, getting several of the film’s biggest laughs. Fassbender meanwhile is tremendous, capturing the fire of Magneto along with the easy, commanding presence that McKellen bought to the role, but with more youthful vigour and an impulsive, angry nature.

Angry young mutant- Fassbender as the young Magneto

Angry young mutant- Fassbender as the young Magneto

 

McKellen and Stewart do their roles with ease and capture the sense of two friends who have set aside all disagreements for the greater good and convey that there is genuine affection there.

Jennifer Lawrence impresses as Mystique, despite not being on screen as much as I’d like. She manages to capture the character’s icy determination, while also managing to convince that there is a fragile, damaged young woman beneath it who has turned to violence out of desparation and disillusionment.

Lawrence as Mystique

Lawrence as Mystique

The future X-Men are a little underdeveloped, and even Ellen Page doesn’t get much to do. They have cool powers, and as a Bishop fan it was cool to see him on screen, but I never found myself that invested in any of them.
Hoult and Berry continue to struggle with watered down versions of their characters, and while Hoult has some chemistry, Berry continues to be woefully lacklustre as Storm, one of my favourite comic book heroines.

Representing the non-mutants and impressing throughout is Peter Dinklage as Trask, in a powerful, commanding performance. Dinklage has great on screen presence and the film should be applauded for not making him a textbook nutjob. Trask believes himself to be the good guy and Dinklage does well in making it clear that the nightmarish future is not what the man wanted, and that he saw the war on mutants as a way to unite mankind and bring about lasting peace.

He’s misguided and short-sighted, and there is a nasty side to him, mixed with rampant egotism, but Dinklage ensures that he remains human and believable throughout. In the middle of a vast ensemble cast Dinklage, and his impressive ’70s ‘tache is one of the standouts.

Impressive- Dinklage as Trask, rocking a quality 'tache

Impressive- Dinklage as Trask, rocking a quality ‘tache

The plot works well as long as you go with it, and it zips along at a decent pace that kept me engaged throughout. There’s also a nice vein of humour running throughout the movie and the movie thankfully avoids just making tons of ’70s jokes. The plot is simple enough to follow and the cutting between past and future works well, especially as climactic fights kick off in both time frames. (The denouement is a little cheesy and didn’t work for me).

For an Marvel fan this is a solid movie, providing a lot of the action you require from a blockbuster, but grounding it in compelling characters, strong performances and a sense of humour. Not all of it works, but for the most part it’s a success and it’s great to finally see the Sentinels on the big screen, and they do make for an impressive, terrifying threat (even if the design does seem rather similar to the Destroyer from Thor).

Sentinels

Sentinels

Verdict: It’s not perfect, but it’s an immensely enjoyable and successful big screen version of an iconic X-Men storyline. Jackman, McAvoy, Fassbender, Lawrence and Dinklage are the standouts, as many of the supporting players get lost in the crowd. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

Post-credits sting: A tantalizing glimpse of one of the most powerful and impressive X-villains.


Movie Review: Ted

Seth MacFarlane makes the leap from the small screen to the big screen with this movie, and he’s chosen a great project for his first movie. MacFarlane’s cartoon shows revel in having crude jokes and adult language come from odd sources (Stewie, Brian and Klaus) and apparently this story of a teddy bear come to life was floated as a TV idea before MacFarlane realized that it would work better in a live action setting as it would make the bear’s presence and outbursts all the more surreal and outrageous.

In 1985 a ten year old boy without any friends makes a wish that his teddy would come alive and be a real best friend. Through unexplained magical means the wish is granted and his bear comes to life. However, this is no Disney flick and Ted becomes a celebrity before the public’s interest fades and he falls from grace. Now 38, John (Mark Wahlberg) and Ted (voiced by MacFarlane) are still best friends and going nowhere. Ted now spends his time getting high and partying, while John is trapped in a dull, unfulfilling job and yet to fully mature, stuck in an adolescent limbo with his best friend.

However, for the sake of his relationship with his girlfriend Laurie (Mila Kunis), John does want to grow up but his lack of responsibility and the bad influence of Ted cause tensions and Ted must move out and try and make it on his own. Can Ted cope by himself? Can John really sever ties with his best friend?

Now, I love Family Guy and American Dad (I’m not so fussed on The Cleveland Show, although it has its moments) so I was well versed in MacFarlane’s style of humour- dirty, shocking and filled with pop culture references. As a fan of his earlier work you could say I was inclined to like this flick from the get go, but I honestly think that it will work for people who aren’t as fond of the director’s animated work.

One reason for this is that it doesn’t take place in an animated world where anything goes, and while its hardly the most realistic of films, the live action medium does ensure it remains fairly grounded and makes the surreal moments much more outlandish and shocking.

The other difference from MacFarlane’s TV work is that it doesn’t have the mean streak that’s present in those shows, don’t get me wrong there are lots of off colour jokes and insults galore, but I actually found the movie kind of sweet. While the plot might be seen as lampooning Disney fare it actually has some of the same themes as those movies. John’s childhood loneliness is handled well (and amusingly) and the friendship between the two characters feels real and is wonderfully touching at times.

Similarly, John and Laurie’s relationship is also rather sweet. MacFarlane makes a good call in casting Kunis, who is more than capable of handling saucy, foul mouthed dialogue and shares real chemistry with Wahlberg. The other thing I liked was that she’s shown to be easy going, fun and most importantly, funny in her own right. All too often with films that deal with responsibility-vs-friends themes there’s a tendency for the wife/girlfriend to be nothing more than a nagging killjoy, which never works because you find yourself wondering why the guy is with them in the first place and how their relationship has made it this far. Here the relationship works because we’re shown that Laurie gets on well with Ted and is just as fond of daft jokes and messing about as John is, but also has a clear idea of where she wants to go and knows when to draw the line and be grown up.

I think Mila Kunis is one of the best comedic actresses working today, I’ve only seen her in a couple of things (That 70s Show, Max Payne, Forgetting Sarah Marshall and, of course, Family Guy) but she’s usually impressed me and I love the fact that as well as being gorgeous she also has a real flair for comedy. Its a rare mix, and I think with some good choices she could establish herself as the cool rom-com actress (although I thought the same thing about Katherine Heigl after seeing Knocked Up and she was soon mired in standard genre fare like 27 Dresses). She’s great here and makes Laurie a likable character and not just “the girlfriend” and, as I mentioned above, she and Wahlberg have great chemistry together.

Mila Kunis- Funny lady

Wahlberg has long been a favourite and man-crush of mine, and after being in my best movie of last year, The Fighter, he may have cemented a place in this year’s top ten with this flick. Wahlberg has this regular-joe amiable character which I instantly warm to and he plays the slacker-ish John really well. I can’t remember ever seeing Wahlberg in an out-and-out comedy before although there are funny moments in several of his films (Three Kings for example) and he’s carried them off well, but I was still impressed with just how good he was in this and how well he handles the comedy.

He ensures that his character is never a pitiable loser, and shows real charisma that explains what Laurie sees in him as well as conveying the fact that John does want to move on and do something with his life but struggles to do so and doesn’t want to lose his friendship with Ted.

John and Ted- Touching friendship

The friendship between the two reminded me of Superbad, where underneath all the blue talk and insults there was a genuinely touching, loving friendship between the two male leads. And the friendship here is utterly convincing and at times really touching.

MacFarlane does a great job as Ted, delivering his lines in a voice very similar to Peter Griffin (a fact acknowledged in the film) and it all seems fresh and off the cuff, unlike several films like this where the voices are dubbed in later and often feel a little flat. Apparently MacFarlane would jump into scene and act out the scenes meaning the actors can riff off of each other and his dialogue was recorded at the same time so it feels more naturalistic.

The rest of the cast do very well, and there are several appearances from MacFarlane’s colleagues on Family Guy and American Dad, including Patrick Stewart providing a very funny, tongue in cheek narration for the film which got one of the movies best laughs in the screening I was in.

There are also some big name cameos which are rather amusing, including Norah Jones playing a foul mouthed, slightly slutty version of herself and my man crush, Ryan Reynolds in a fleeting role.

Best of all is the fact, that as ever with MacFarlane there are numerous pop culture references, especially to the 1980 Flash Gordon, John and Ted’s favourite movie which I loved, and a wonderful cameo from Flash himself Sam J. Jones, playing a coked up, partying version of himself. For someone who loves that flick it was nice to see and I really enjoyed the repeated references to it, and seeing Jones now- his hair’s scarily remained the same and his acting hasn’t improved in the last 31 years, but still it was nice.

There are a few flaws, some of the gags go a little too far, or are a little too niche (I love Flash Gordon, but I’m not sure a lot of younger audiences will get the gags) and some of the supporting characters are a little flat. Also, there’s the sense that MacFarlane has had to add somethings in to make it fit the film formula and follow the 3-act model and the subplot regarding the movie’s villains doesn’t quite work, but I suppose it does give the film a structure and enables MacFarlane to reach the rather satisfying conclusion of the movie.

Verdict: Its not for everyone, and some people (like my parents) may not be down with the film’s frank, crude sense of humour, but most of the jokes work and it had me laughing loudly several times. And underneath all the blue humour and swearing its a rather endearing, sweet natured film. Wahlberg, Kunis and MacFarlane do great work, and while it does have a few flaws, for the most part it succeeds. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO