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As per usual, Fox sent this screener a couple of days after the official release date, so I threw this review together pretty quickly. I apologize if it doesn’t meet my usual standards.
 

Feature


It's 2029. Mutants are gone – or very nearly so. An isolated, despondent Logan is drinking his days away in a hideout on a remote stretch of the Mexican border, picking up petty cash as a driver for hire. His companions in exile are the outcast Caliban and an ailing Professor X, whose singular mind is plagued by worsening seizures. But Logan's attempts to hide from the world and his legacy abruptly end when a mysterious woman appears with an urgent request – that Logan shepherd an extraordinary young girl to safety. Soon, the claws come out as Logan must face off against dark forces and a villain from his own past on a live-or-die mission – one that will set the time-worn warrior on a path toward fulfilling his destiny. (From Fox’s official synopsis)
 
 Logan
 Logan
Welcome back to another episode of unpopular opinions with Gabe Powers. Today’s episode is likely to cause double consternation as I remind everyone that I already wrote a (cautiously) positive review of Bryan Singer’s much maligned X-Men: Apocalypse, before moving on to admit that I found James Mangold’s Logan somewhat underwhelming. I begin by mentioning both films, not because they’re comparable approaches to comic book adaptations, or even because they’re part of the same franchise – quite the opposite, in fact, I very much appreciate the vast differences in this regard. I’m actually bringing up both films because I think they have the same problem: storytelling. Apocalypse suffers from an abundance of ideas, too many characters, and too much reiteration of past themes, while Logan suffers from too little plot and over-simplified structure that is stretched thin over an excessive runtime. At the same time, these weaknesses also define each film’s greatest strengths. Apocalypse is a big and unabashedly silly comic book fantasy and requires such over-the-top choices. Logan is a serious character study that requires a focused, familiar plot to move forward. If I’m entirely honest, I’m also bringing up both movies because my expectations were so low for Apocalypse and so high for Logan. My opinions were definitely coloured by anticipation.
 
Logan often buckles under its own sobriety. While it’s never so serious as to be inadvertently funny, as tends to happen with other po-faced comic book/cartoon adaptations (to the contrary, the jokes tend to land quite gracefully), it does suffer from a number needlessly dull and thematically repetitive streaks between important plot points and emotional revelations. Such a story doesn’t require a constant stream of fight scenes and car chases, but there’s definitely a lack of urgency that begins to swamp the drama during the second and third acts. Mangold’s efforts to shoehorn the character into a western motif are welcome – moreover they’re the logical extension of the pseudo-samurai-themed previous installment, The Wolverine (2013), also directed by Mangold, as well as an ideal narrative arena for Wolverine as a character. The director understands the beautiful simplicity of movies like George Stevens Shane (1949, a film that actually plays on television during Logan, to ensure the audience implicitly understands the connection) and says as much during his commentary track. But those movies also moved forward with a kind of efficiency that was a pillar of the American western tradition. Moreover, the loose basis of the story, Mark Millar’s Old Man Logan comic series (2008), also maintains a breathless pace while unleashing panel after panel of pathos (otherwise, this is a pretty clever adaptation of the material, considering Mangold was unable to use the majority of supporting players that appear in that comic).
 
 Logan
 Logan
The film’s insistent lack of greater context isodd as well, considering its place in a bigger franchise, as well as the thematic weight that the few acknowledged connections to that franchise carry. This may be just be the ramblings of a lovesick fan of the property speaking, but I would have preferred that this story was told from Charles Xavier’s point-of-view with Logan acting as a supporting player. When he is removed from the narrative, it is meant to embolden Logan’s resolve, but the film loses its heart. Of course, I do understand that such a movie wouldn’t have been a hit, just as well as I understand the filmmaker’s impulse to drive a wedge between Logan and the other movies (especially Gavin Hood’s 2009 X-Men Origins: Wolverine). It needed to streamline the cameos, focus on the title character, and ground the tone. And the emotional center of the film survives the lackluster storytelling and glacial pacing wonderfully, bringing about a genuinely moving end that befits the Wolverine brand. Overall, Logan is a very good movie that feels burdened by impractical attempts to turn it into Oscar material. Will it ultimately be better than some of the movies nominated for Oscars this coming year? Most definitely – and both Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stuart give almost transformative performances that will surely overshadow a number of award season darlings. For their part, Stephen Merchant and Dafne Keen would also make worthy nominees. That said, it's very doubtful that it will receive any nominations (perhaps sound design/editing?) and the thematic and stylistic choices that I see as attempts to court such attention and pull the X-Men franchise from the ‘superhero ghetto’ simply do not work in the final film’s favour.
 

Video


Did I say this review was going to be stained by two unpopular opinions? I meant three unpopular opinions. Here’s the third: I’ve developed an aversion to black & white versions of movies that were shot in colour. Some time after my positive review of the Mad Max: Fury Road “black & chrome” release, I realized that I was confusing an obvious gimmick for filmmaker intent. If a filmmaker wants a film to be black & white, they really should design it that way from the beginning (Mangold states that he made the choice after he included B&W stills from the movie on his Instagram, just for fun) and I notice (in retrospect, I admit) that even studious, filmmaker-supervised desaturation – be it Park Chan-wook’s Lady Vengeance (2005), Frank Darabont’s The Mist (2007), George Miller’s aforementioned Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), or the subject of this review – tend to appear muddy and unattractive, compared to their full-colour counterparts. With this in mind, I was not particularly interested in Logan: Noir, the monochromatic alternate version of Logan that is included in this Blu-ray Combo Pack set. I do, however, commend Fox for not holding onto the Noir version for the sake of milking re-releases, as they’ve done with extended cuts of both The Wolverine and Bryan Singer’s X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014).
 
 Logan
 Logan
Comparing screen caps from each of the 2.40:1, 1080p discs in the set, I can also see that considerable effort has been put into the gamma balance, levels, and contrast of each sequence to ensure that the images are dynamic and well separated, even without the added benefit of colour. The problem is that the film was shot using various digital cameras (Arri Alexas, Blackmagic Pocket Cinema, and Canons among others, I’m guessing) and the combination occasionally has the strange sheen of, well, digitalness. The same thing that made it easy to re-colour-time the footage makes it look uncanny and very unfilm-like, which is mostly okay for the movie when it is presented in colour with a few exceptions – specifically the dark night shots that exhibit over-sharpened edges and that weird, otherwise indescribable ‘soap opera effect’ – but definitely not in keeping with the ‘classic Hollywood western’ look that Mangold discussed in reference to the Noir release. Frankly, I also like the film’s dusty colour palette and think it fits the material better than the black & white version. In fact, the hues are often designed to appear similar to those of the colour westerns that Mangold mentioned as inspiration, especially those sunbaked Mexican desert scenes. The Vegas-set night scenes and Dakota-set final act also have their own unique colour temperatures that play into Logan’s meaningful cross-country theme. All opinions on versions aside, these are both strong, sharp HD transfers, neither of which exhibit any notable compression artefacts, besides those that are mostly likely inherent in the original material (again, referring mostly to the darkest night scenes).
 

Audio


Logan was designed for Dolby Atmos theatrical screenings, but that mix is slightly downgraded to an equally punchy and active DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1. As you’d probably expect, both the theatrical and Noir versions feature the same soundtrack. Silence is a particularly important piece of this particular mix, especially during the early, deliberately-paced sections of the film, in which a lack of sound takes on a representational purpose (i.e. Wolverine’s life is much quieter than it was when he was an X-Man). The action scenes and science fiction elements are, of course, louder, offering a nice range of between shoot-outs, car chases/crashes, blade-aided fist fights, and the overwhelming rumble of Professor X’s psychic freak-outs. Additional multi-channel effects are created by the various environments, such as the bassy shake of the train that rushes behind Logan’s base of operations. Originally, Cliff Martinez was announced as the film’s composer, which would’ve been pretty exciting, based on his recent work with Nicolas Winding Refn alone; however, he was replaced late in the game by Marco Beltrami, who had also scored The Wolverine. The music conveys loneliness and sadness well enough, but Beltrami shines during the action sequences, where he mixes in some truly unusual instrumentations.
 
 Logan
 Logan

Extras


  • Commentary with director James Mangold – The director delivers a measured and well-prepped track that runs down the impetus and ethos of the film, as well as the making-of process. It’s not always screen specific, but that’s okay, because Mangold keeps the discussion moving and doesn’t repeat himself too much. His serious tone even works for the material.
  • Six deleted/extended/alternate scenes with optional audio commentary by Mangold (7:45, HD) – These are mostly character moments, rather than plot points. There is a cute scene where the little boy at the farm asks Logan if Sabertooth was ‘real.’
  • Making Logan (1:16:05, HD) – This pretty inclusive behind-the-scenes documentary is divided into six parts, each including on-set footage, production illustrations/storyboards, cast & crew interviews, and self-explanatory titles:
    • Crafting the Story – Concerning the comic and film inspirations and ideas behind the screenplay.
    • Casting the Film – A quick look at each cast member and the characters they play.
    • Designing the World – A breakdown of the production/costume design and set construction, and the special effects used to bring them to life.
    • Creating the Score – On the process of crafting a unique musical score for the film.
    • Stunts and Fights – Behind-the-scenes with the cast and stunt coordinators as they prepare for action.
    • Wrapping Logan – A final look back at the production.
  • Trailers

 
 Logan
 Logan

Overall


The last year or so has been a very interesting time for Fox and their X-Men franchise. Between Tim Miller’s goofy and subversive Deadpool (2016), Singer’s overloaded and blockbuster-friendly X-Men: Apocalypse, Noah Hawley’s brilliant psycho-comedy TV series Legion (2017), and Logan, they are developing one of the most diverse per-capita comic book universes in popular entertainment. I don’t have to like every piece of it (for instance, I didn’t think Deadpool was very funny) to appreciate the impact of the larger design. Logan isn’t as great as I was led to believe, but it is very good and occupies an important place in the model going forward. Given that Deadpool was an even bigger hit and Legion is already growing a strong cult fanbase, I have faith that Fox has learned the right lessons from their success with a more melancholy and adult-oriented version of Wolverine. Just because Jackman retired the character doesn’t mean the studio can’t roll out another X-Alumni for the same treatment in the future.
 
 Logan
 Logan

 Logan
 Logan
* Note: The above images are taken from the theatrical cut and Noir version Blu-rays, then resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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