A MUTANT ELEGY
Main Cast: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart
Director: James Mangold
Joseph, my manager, has come through. He has got me a booking with the Pacoima Playhouse for the title role in Gypsy. The originally announced actress got a cruise ship gig and the producers have been scrambling around for a marquee name. Normally I don’t play The Valley but as I have an unexpected hole in my schedule, I figure it never hurts to keep the old theatrical muscles in shape and you never know what future opportunities to which it might lead. I’m having them messenger a copy of the script and score over to me this afternoon. That should give me plenty of time to assemble my artistic team and look it over to see if any revisions are necessary for a star of my magnitude before I report to rehearsals. Contractually, in every show I do, I am guaranteed a rousing tap number, a strong second act ballad and a dream ballet and if the original authors forgot to include them, I am happy to make the necessary improvements. Dear Stevie Sondheim always likes my take on his work, ever since he caught my Passion a few years back in which I had Fosca doing a rousing tap version of the Oberammergau Passion Play as an eleven o’clock number.
The rest of the morning was spent with Leah going over the accounts for the consumer products business. There’s been a distinct fall off in orders for Maines Manes, my line of fashion wigs from House O’Hair. We need to work up a new publicity campaign that will convince the women of middle America that a purchase of a fine nylon hairpiece (in three easy payments of $39.95) will improve their health, happiness and hygiene. We’re going to start with a radio campaign; I’ve asked Normy to compose a catchy little jingle for me to sing. He has an unusual interest in artificial hair and I’ve often come home after a late night rehearsal to find him playing quietly with a Tequila Sunrise or Autumn Sonata model. He’ll get to it as soon as he finishes his Tuba Concerto in Eb minor. Peter Lovejoy, my publicity assistant, is working hard on getting it into continuous airplay on the finer satellite channels. It will make a nice change from pitches for precious metals and franchise offerings.
Considering the day to have been well spent, I decided to reward myself with a film. Normy was stuck on a particularly difficult obbligato passage so he accompanied me down to our luxurious home theater where we poured ourselves a couple of Sam Adams straight from the tap and I put on the new Blu-Ray of the latest X-Men/Wolverine opus Logan. We had initially meant to catch this at our local Cineplex but life has a way of derailing your plans and we never managed to make it to a showing. Anyway, we snuggled in together expecting the usual comic book heroes, villains and massive explosions. We were pleasantly surprised to find a somewhat different film than I was expecting. Rather than the bright primaries of a comic book, this film is the autumnal hues of an elegy.
The time is the not too distant future. James Logan Howlett, better known as Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), is aging and greying and losing his superhuman regenerative powers as his adamantium skeleton is slowly poisoning him. He’s working as a limousine chauffeur in some southern Texas border town. After an opening sequence in which he violently dispatches a couple of cholos with attitude, we find out that he’s been squatting in some sort of abandoned refinery in northern Mexico with the mutant Caliban (Stephen Merchant), an albino giant capable of tracking other mutants, and an exceedingly aged, and now senile, Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) who has lost control of his psychic powers and is prone to seizures and wanton destruction. Logan is approached by a nurse named Gabriela (Elizabeth Rodriguez) who seems to know who he is and what he is capable of and asks him to ferry her and a young girl named Laura (Dafne Keen) to safety in some Northern Eden (ostensibly in North Dakota with easy access to Canada. The dystopian future of the US is somewhat obscure but people sure seem to like to cross the borders and get out.) Gabriela turns up dead, Laura turns out to have surprising powers and a closer relationship to Logan than he ever expected, and an evil scientist (Richard E. Grant) with a pack of killers turns up to try and subdue them all. Caliban is captured, but Logan, Laura and Professor Xavier head off on a road trip north. There are narrow escapes, an evil X-24 clone, bad consequences for a good Samaritan country family, and a colony of misfit orphans before the final showdown of good vs. evil.
Writer/director James Mangold has departed from the tone of most of the prior X-men films and the usual comic book popcorn romp. Instead, he borrows from the visual language and pacing of mid-century Westerns and Film Noir. There is even a scene in which several characters watch a protracted clip from Shane so the slower amongst the audience, who might not draw the parallels quite so intuitively, will get it. Once a viewer adjusts expectations to what Mangold is doing, the film becomes much more involving and moving than the usual X-men opus. Logan, Professor X, and Caliban become tragic and doomed heroes in a world that has passed their type by. (Most of the mutants and X-men are no longer extant but I shall not revel all the plot secrets and surprises of the film here.) This gives the film a great deal more emotional resonance than the other entries in the series as it probes at themes of aging, regrets, and roads not taken. In a lot of ways, the film is a deconstruction of the superhero film, in much the same way that Unforgiven was a deconstruction of the Western.
Logan is rated R, rather than the usual PG-13 for its violence. It’s not that it’s more violent than other films of its type, it’s just that the violence is more intimately brutal and real. It’s the kind of thing you might actually expect to see people do to each other, rather than the safely cartoonish fantasies of Bam Pow that super hero films typically present. Characters we care about are injured, and sometimes die in painful ways, and when this happens, we feel something. It’s very different than the usual Teflon coated heroes who never seem to suffer any consequences and piles of anonymous evil henchmen dying in the background.
Hugh Jackman, who is a decent actor, but whom has never really been able to exercise his dramatic chops in the role before, has been digitally aged into a world-weary figure. His sense of internal misery as the film begins, contrasts nicely with his growing awareness of purpose as he gathers his motley family around and fights for their survival against the forces arrayed against him. It’s a fitting end to several decades of his being identified with the role. As far as the rest of the cast goes, Patrick Stewart effortlessly steals every scene he’s in. Young Dafne Keen seems to have mastered the art of the guttural growl and pint sized chop sockey. The supporting cast are all fine but none is really a stand out, although I did like Stephen Merchant’s tortured Caliban.
I have read some reviews of Logan calling it the greatest superhero film ever made. I’m not sure I would go quite that far, but it’s definitely a cut above most of the genre. It’s worth a look. The DVD/Blu Ray combo I viewed has an interesting bonus, a cut of the film in black and white, rather than color, emphasizing the noir-ish elements. I haven’t had time to watch that through yet but I plan to find a hole in my busy schedule for it.
Buckshot limousine. Seizure disorder. Escaped horses. Blocked water pump. Revelatory videos. Gratuitous television watching. Frozen crowds. Tree impaling.