Oh Logan. You had me intrigued from the moment I laid eyes on your beard. That forest of animal fur strapped around your chin – Filled with pain, loss and regret. Sure there might’ve been some icky leftovers from last nights dinner trapped inside but I wasn’t about to let that stop me.
We all saw the Johnny Cash trailer. Some of us twice. Others like me: three times. Maybe four, even. I was absolutely sold by the premise. By Logan’s beard I announced to the skies that this would be a day one viewing. A goal I managed to accomplish. Yet unfortunately, that majestic mane had a lot more unwanted debris hidden inside than just a few pieces of rice and peas.
Before anything else, let’s nail down the good stuff. Did you know that the “R” in R-Rated stands for Right Decision? Because boy, this was a thrill to watch. Almost like Fox were finally able to release all that dormant anger and were using Wolverine as a spirit medium to do so. There were some moments of reduced visibility due to a lot of close-ups that really needed to be wider shots but for the most part the action gets a double thumbs up. In fact, let me take off my socks to give X-23’s actor both a thumbs up and a toes up. I was along for the ride from the moment she first used her claws on that poor man and shrieked like the mad banshee child that she is. Bravo.
The energy I got from this experience compelled me to revisit the old X-men films, particularly the previous Wolvie movies. And what I found was a reminder of just how much of a positive leap Logan is. Everyone involved clearly wanted to create something visceral that would stay with you for a long time after watching. Male or female, you’d gaze at your own beard in the mirror and be reminded of the journey these characters went on. They did their best to take bits and bobs from the source material, mash them together with other Wolverine stories to create a balanced experience for comic heads and plebeians alike. But alas, the teams valiant efforts fell short of my expectations. Just like Logan at the start of the movie, the film wasn’t able to push those adamantium blades out all the way.
This film had an easy story to tell. If you played and enjoyed The Last of Us then you’re aware of the multiple ways that a Father/Daughter relationship can tug at your heart-strings before ripping them out completely. Which is why when I wasn’t busy enjoying the cool fight scenes or Hugh Jackman’s great performance, I found myself really frustrated at the more important pieces of the narrative failing to deliver. Here you have a broken husk of a man named Logan — thrown into a situation that he cannot run from. This situation is called: Fatherhood. And because this child of his is everything he was, is and no longer wants to be, he’s afraid. Refusing to look in the mirror because he might not like what he sees whilst slowly coming to terms with the truth that he needs her just as much as she needs him.
As cool as that sounds, the relationship was more of an emotional puzzle than anything else. X-23’s journey from muted killing machine to sociable wonder child was a little hard to buy, mainly because the film wasn’t completely able to nail what it seemed to be attempting. I think it’s clear that Laura was essentially on a “How to Act Like a Human Being” crash course throughout the majority of the flick but multiple scenes made me question if that was actually true. Moments like the tug of war with Logan over her backpack or her meandering around the supermarket before judo flipping the owner were pretty straightforward. She’s just an angry disobedient kid right? We’ve all seen those.
But then seeing her solemnly ride the toy horse, watch cowboy movies with Xavier and that awkward scene where the other kid lets her listen to his iPod, illustrated her to be much more socially domesticated than one would be led to believe. But where was the arc that took her there? Why is she so aggressive one moment then completely docile the next? Maybe she’s always understood decency and is choosing to act up randomly? Or is there something in her head that makes her go crazy from time to time? This instability became a little tiring and made it hard to care about her in the way I wanted to. “But Charlie, that was the point! She’s supposed to be unstable! Duuh!” Which may be true but guess what? That doesn’t make it good.
A character with a volatile personality can still have very clear motives and reactions. It doesn’t have to be a confusing experience for it to function. And if it’s supposed to be confusing, then the question becomes “did it work?” Did the lack of clarity create an interesting dynamic? I would argue it didn’t. By the end of the film I was so emotionally disinterested with her character that I ended up not caring about her loss which isn’t how I wanted to feel. I wanted to feel like shit. Like actual feces had been spread around my face with a butter knife. You know what Logan? Fine! Next time I’ll bring my own poop.
Other issues I had were centered on the amount of characters that simply did not need to exist. Caliban was only there as a way to track the protagonists, a purpose that could’ve been achieved without spending a character slot, especially since he didn’t offer much else aside from tell the audience that Logan has a doom timer over his head. Up next is Zander Rice, the second big bad who literally had about 13 minutes of total screen time. He was another waste of space that could’ve easily been scrapped and merged into Donald Pierce’s role, who ended up being woefully underused for such a cool character.
I personally think the family they stayed with should’ve been nixed completely and that touching gathering at the dinner table could have been achieved with the 3 main characters eating at a campfire or a hotel. I mean, why not right? The protagonists are Logan, Laura and Charles. Did we really need a mid section of miscellaneous NPC’s to get that? Not at all, especially considering how much time that entire midsection took. But the worst offender of all is the character that my good friend has named “Dark Wolverine”. For me, he was 100% the biggest blunder of the whole experience and completely ruined the immersion that I had left. The big “surprise” the reveal was meant to be had the complete opposite effect on me and the entire skirmish that followed felt like a bad filler episode in an Anime series.
As a guy who dabbles in screenwriting and hopes to sell a couple of scripts in the near future, I’ve been spending lots of time to learn thing or two about story telling from just about every source you can think of. But I’ve come up with a few findings of my own from the past 3 years that I’ve spent writing stuff. One of these concepts is the idea of making “trades” in the plot and ensuring that the thing you get is worth the thing you gave. What does this mean? Well, this might come off as controversial but In my opinion, this film would be much stronger all around if X-23 could talk from the very beginning. I say this because the problems that arise from not knowing exactly what she’s feeling or thinking at key moments would have been swerved completely. In addition, the core differences in worldview between Logan and Laura would’ve made for amazing banter and character friction, achievable only through the latter character not being muted. We as Humans love conflict, that’s why all stories have it.
So let’s go back to the idea of trading. What did making X-23 not speak throughout 70% of the movie do for the story? It gave it one really great scene in the car, where Laura reveals she can talk. It was funny. It was cute. It was refreshing. But was it worth the trade? Was the price of that moment more efficient than the much denser character development that we likely would have gotten otherwise? Keep in mind that Laura seemed to be talking to Charles off-screen throughout the film so it seemed like she was choosing not to speak to Logan for some arbitrary, inexplicable reason. Maybe because she didn’t watch enough Westerns with him? I’m not sure.. but I’m confident the other route had higher potential for an interesting relationship.
As I dance on the edge of potentially saying too much, I did want to share one more thought that more or less provides a tl;dr version of this entire review. When Xavier is buried after being killed by Dark Wolverine, Logan breaks into a tantrum, smashing his car like the bonus level in Street Fighter II. I giggled during this scene. One of my cinema buddies also chuckled. The guys down the row busted out laughing and so did some other patches of people. But I’m pretty sure it wasn’t supposed to be funny, which is evident by the fact that not everyone in the theater found it amusing.
After the movie, me and the gang discussed that juncture. I found it awkward that I laughed because I felt like the director intended for it to be a sentimental moment where X-23 sees herself in Logan as he rages for the first time in front of her. But my friend said he felt like it was supposed to be funny because of the way Laura was looking at him like a child, saying that the role reversal was humorous to watch. I strongly disagreed because it felt very tone-deaf to have a funny beat after the death of the extremely iconic Professor X but deciphering who’s right or wrong here isn’t even the issue. The real problem with the scene (and the entire film) is the execution, and its accidental creation of polarising elements.
Thus, we have come full circle. What began as a promising trek ended up having much more turbulence than anticipated. Admittedly, I think a good chunk of my grievances are due to trailers being really misleading nowadays. The initial clip for this movie painted a picture that the final cut didn’t achieve. I’d be curious to know what people who skipped the trailers felt about the movie.
Despite combing out all my gripes, my time with Logan was a decent experience. That glorious beard I was once infatuated with became brittle and flaky. What should have been a soft, smooth collection of face bush turned into a cactus with only a couple of spots of safe zones and lush greens. The rice and peas from the night before were now exposed on the sandy ground and this time, I couldn’t ignore them. But I can find the strength to look up again and go for a second viewing to enjoy what it did well once more.