Logan (2017): A Dystopic Western Masterpiece That Explores the Depths of Pain

    “Logan” is the greatest X-Men Films and one of my all time favorite films. This is a film that doesn’t hold back in any way and is powerful because of it. To give my non-spoiler thoughts…it is well worth your time. It is beautifully crafted, has a powerful emotional core that drives it and has a point in some of the overarching themes on both the personal and larger societal level (a theme of X-Men films I’ve always appreciated). I’ll get into the details of all these things later into the review.

     The film was directed by James Mangold who wrote the screenplay along with Scott Frank and Michael Green while being produced by Hutch Parker, Simon Kinberg and Lauren Shuler Donner.

    The story takes place in 2029 and all the X-Men are gone except for Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) who is taking care of a dying Professor X (Patrick Stewart) who is losing control of his powers and is only able to keep them in check with medication. Wolverine has become a drunk as well and it takes a mutant child called X-23 (Dafne Keen) coming into their lives as she escapes from the Transigen Corporation who created her and other children who she is trying to find to escape to safety in Canada.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world is one where there are no more X-Men and we never get a full explanation (a virus is what is implied but never fully explained). Transigen has cyborg mercs who are hunting down mutants and the world is desolate with extreme poverty and wealth. The world is a reflection of ours, as the good X-Men films tend to do.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful and captures the pain and isolation of our characters…from the stark contrasts of light and dark…and splotches of blood or shadow. This is a world that reflects our broken characters.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is very much western in theme, which is what I consider the film to be, more so than an X-Men film as the characters didn’t have to be the people they were for the story to work. This story stands strong on it’s own and the soundtrack reflects that. Marco Beltrami made a fantastic soundtrack.

The Characters – The characters are one of the strongest part of the film as it is their wrestling with their pain and choices they make from it that define them and the film.

Donald Pierce – Pierce is head of the Reavers and is a charming, brutal character. I wish he’d been the big bad as the Mad Scientist was pretty lame. Pierce just loved the joy of the hunt and being in control and respected power. This made him interesting and it takes a lot to take him down.

The Family – There is an African-American family that takes them in that the Reavers with the Wolverine clone destroy. It is the first bit of compassion our characters experience and it all ends with the father holding a gun at Wolverine even after Wolverine saves him from his clone…it is such a tragic course of events that leads to both the death of Professor X and Logan and Laura back on the road.

Caliban – Is an albino mutant who can track mutants and is taking care of Xavier. He is a kind and desperate mutant who ends up being used by the Reavers again (he was used by the corporation in the past) but sacrifices himself so that Logan and Laura can escape. I really liked his character. He is fearful and it is contrasted with Xavier’s sorrow and Logan’s rage.

Laura / X-23 – Dafne Keen is a great actress. She gives an intensity to her character where it is believable that she was created and experimented on in a lab. You can understand her rage and her killing Reavers and becoming a family with Professor X and Logan is beautiful…as is her losses she goes through. She is one of the clear leader among the New Mutants that Transigen created.

Charles Xavier / Professor X – Charles is going crazy and is suffering from brain degeneration that he has to take pills for, in order to control his powers. He is the external conscience for Logan though as he is the one who helps Laura find them and is the one always pushing Logan to help her. He is full of regrets for those he hurt when he lost control of his powers and his manipulative past…In the end he confesses all of this but no one hears as he is killed. It is tragic and fits the lonely, regret and despair that pervades and follows our heroes. Patrick Stewart once again is acting gold.

Logan / Wolverine – Hugh Jackman gives one of his best performances ever in this role. We get to see him drunk and desperate, sorrowful and in despair, rageful and moments of joy and empathy. He truly owns this character and I’m grateful he got this beautiful sendoff as his character has redemption and becomes an X-Men again.

The Ending – The ending is so sad. The New Mutants escape to Canada but Logan dies, killed by his clone as he finds his core as an X-Men again but at the expense of his life…Though he dies happy as he protects the girl who became family to him and was his daughter, and not just because she was made with his DNA. The scene is powerful and there aren’t many words at his funeral but it captures that even in desperation people can find the will to move forward.

Regret and Pain – Regret and pain are major themes of the film as both Logan and Xavier live with regrets of all those they hurt, killed or destroyed as this is a core motivation for what drives them to protect others, specifically Laura. They are broken from their mistakes and are surrounded by a world that reflects them.

Persecution of Immigrants and Refugees – From Transigen hunting the New Mutants across borders and trying to stop them from escaping to safety in Canada (the current refugees and immigrants doing the same with Trumps immoral new policies), this is a major theme of the story and is one that has always existed in X-Men as persecution and acceptance and compassion for the other is one of the greatest themes of the X-Men.

Pain, Healing and Getting Outside the Self – Healing and looking outside of the self is a major theme of Logan’s character and this film is him finding it again, even after all he has lost and all the pain he’s gone through. This arc ends with his powerful sacrifice for other New Mutants, as Logan once more becomes an X-Men (reflected in the cross at his grave being turned into an X by Laura).

The Cons: Zander Rice – This guy is Mad Scientist ^TM  and anyone could have played him. I wish the Reavers had been the main threat or a scientist who better reflected the world. This world felt like Mad Max and needed a Mad Max type villain. Someone to be Professor X or Logan’s foil. All this guy wanted was power and to create and control mutants and we never see him do anything outside of the lab and hunting our heroes. A better villain like Bane, Joker or Immorten Joe would have made this film perfect.

   This was a film that achieved everything it set out to do, with the only con I could really find being how forgettable the main villain was. Everyone else served a purpose that drove the story in narrative in a rewarding way and had payoff at the end. This is a film that reminds us how important it is to look outside of ourselves, no matter what the cost is and that the actions we do matter and can make a difference even in the worst of world circumstances. This film will probably make my Top 5 Films of 2017 as it is one of the best super hero and comic book films I have ever watched and is a beautiful, tragic film with an unforgettable story. What a sendoff for Patrick Stewart as Professor X and Hugh Jackman as Wolverine.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10

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Hellboy (2004): A Solid Overall Arc That Drags in Parts With Missed Opportunities

Hellboy Poster

   Guillermo del Toro is one of my favorite directors and I’m glad he tacked the “Hellboy” comics as they are a lot of fun and I like the subversion of what it means to be a demon in popular culture that these comics do. Hellboy is a flawed human whose issues of anger are made worse by what he was born as, but it doesn’t wholly define him, so he gets actual character arcs in the films he’s had thus far. These are solid films, I wouldn’t call the first one great, as it does have a few things that bring it down from being that, but it is good.

      The film was directed and written by Guillermo del Toro with the producers being Lawrence Gordon, Mike Richardson and Llyod Levin. Peter Briggs was the creator of “Hellboy” and also worked on the initial story with del Toro.

     The story involves Hellboy’s (Ron Perlman) arrival on Earth when the Nazi’s led by Rasputin (Karel Roden) are using a Portal and magic to bring about the end. It is here his adopted father Trevor (John Hurt) takes him in as they must deal with the fallout of the failed Nazi Plot and the fact that their enemies aren’t through with Hellboy yet.

The Pros: The World – The world is amazing and captures the look of the comics really well. The fact that Guillermo del Toro was the one creating in this world is to his credit as he clearly loves it. The visuals are stark and everything feels like it is from another world at the right time.

The Soundtrack – Marco Beltrami is fantastic and manages to capture both the magical and historical mixture of aspects that make up the film. Whether it is the opening or even capturing humorous moments, his score captures them brilliantly.

The Cinematography – Guillermo Navarro does a wonderful job of bringing the visuals of del Toro’s imagination to life as each scene feels like it is out of a comic book and tension is created in how the shots are set.

The Characters – The characters are the strongest part of the film outside of the world and design.

Agent John  Myers – Myers is one of the blander characters but he is our outsider perspective of the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense in which Abe Sapien and Hellboy are agents for. He is good at showing the wonder at each new revelation and at his core is a good guy.

Liz Sherman – Liz has an arc outside of Hellboy but her relationship to Hellboy really drives the plot. Her main arc is learning to control her powers and to face the anxiety she has attached to it from all the people she has hurt.

Abe Sapien – Abe doesn’t really have an arc in this but gives us the alien Spock perspective as he doesn’t have the unstableness of Liz and Hellboy. I liked his character a lot and wish more could have been done with him as he showed himself to be the brains of the operation multiple times.

Trevor Bruttenholm – John Hurt plays Trevor, who is the leader of the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense and has a great arc as it is through him we meet all the villains and the one who truly cares for and loves Hellboy. It is Trevor’s love that helps Hellboy find himself when he is being used as a weapon by Rasputin and even though he is killed, his legacy lives on through his team.

Grigori Rasputin – This villain was good but not great. He fits the standard evil wizard trope but with demons…but shows he can be more too as he clearly loves Isla and is devoted to the cause as he was granted immortality by a demon inhabiting his body. I felt more could have been done to explore his motivations and backstory, but he works as someone who does have some level of honor.

Karl Rupert Kroenen

Karl Ruprecht Kroenen – This Nazi assassin is one of my favorite characters. He looks like Voldo from the Soul Series and no matter how many times he gets killed he keeps coming back. He’s a masochist who lives for inflicting the pain he feels on others and is a zealot. This is the guy who kills Trevor and has the highest kill count of our heroes. I was hoping he’d survive this film if they decided to bring him back since not only does he have a great design but as a villain he is very much his own perfect terror.

Hellboy – Ron Perlman really does a great job as Hellboy, a teenage demon just trying to do right by others and himself while still dealing with anger issues and a big ego. The character has a big heart that shines through multiple times as we see him become more fully aware of his issues and face them over the course of the film.

Okay: Isla Haupstein – I liked her character as she brings back Rasputin, sadly that is all she does though. I wanted to know her motivations beyond her love of Rasputin as she deserved more and Bridget Hodson does a great job with what little she is aloud to do.

The Demons – These guys are tentacles, except Hellboy, which is boring. The Hellhounds did look cool though and they did feel like a threat even if they didn’t have all that much variety.

Cons: Women Only Exist to be in Relationships – Liz and Isla largely exist in the plot in relationship to the ones who love them. Everything they do is a reaction to this which doesn’t give them a chance to be full characters in their own right.

Pacing – There are times this film really drags. Many scenes could have been cut and would have brought the film’s score higher.

Faceless Agents – So many agents get killed and none of them really stand out besides Myers. The rest are Red Shirts and exist to die to establish a threat.

   This is a solid and flawed film that is well worth checking out, especially if you are a fan of del Toro you will probably enjoy this. The designs are fantastic and Kroenen is a great villain. I loved his design. Hellboy is also a great flawed protagonist dealing with the role everyone wants him to play (both good and bad) and growing up since he is pretty much a teenager in a whole new world. I wish the women had been written better as Isla fascinated me and Liz seemed to exist to be with Hellboy, though I’m glad they had her face her anxiety and grow from it. Del Toro is one of my favorite directors and this film illustrates some of the things he excels at in his films.

Final Score: 7.8 / 10

Snowpiercer (2013): The Cost of Revolution

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     “Snowpiercer” is one of the better films I’ve seen in the post-apocalyptic genre. It has consequences, high stakes and human characters who are relatable, as well as covering the many ways revolution can be viewed and the cost that comes with it, regardless. I’ll get into more details in the assessment.

    The film was directed by Joon Ho-Bong who was also one of the screenwriters, along with Kelly Masterson. “Snowpiercer” was produced by: Park Chan-wook, Lee Tae-hun, Jeong Tae-sung and Steven Nam.

    The story was based on the graphic Novel Le Transperceniege by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand and Jean Marc-Rochett.

     The premise is the near future has brought about an attempt to counter global warming that leads to the world freezing over. The survivors board the Snowpiercer and the story unfolds years later in a world where unequal power dynamic lead to the rich preying off of the poor and using them for labor to sustain the train. From here the story unfolds as the main character Curtis (Chris Evans) plots rebellion with his mentor Gilliam (John Hurt) and second in command Edgar (Jamie Bell). From here the story unfolds as they rebellion ignites.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The Soundtrack – The soundtrack does a great job of capturing the tension and the stakes throughout the film. From the first attack to get out of the back of the train…to the moments with the rich in the night club or high society…Marco Beltrami did a great job composing this score.

The Action – Bong Joon-ho knows how to film action and there are a lot of great sequences…from the first fight to get out of the back car, to being stalked in the sauna and the surprise attack the wealthy do on the poor where we learn guns weren’t destroyed and the bullets still exist. The action has purpose too as it drives the characters forward and kills many of them.

The Cinematography – This is a very beautiful movie. A lot of the scenes are cast in shadow which sticks with how dark the theme is. We learn of the evil the wealthy do to the poor and what the poor did to themselves when they first boarded the train. There are no heroes in this world and how the film is filmed captures this stark reality. Hong Kyung-pyo did a good job.

The Characters – There were many good characters in this. I’ll go into depth on who and why.

Mason – Mason is the Minister and primary antagonist until we meet Wilford the religious leader of the train (and the one manipulating everything). Mason is crafty and cowardly and makes a great antagonist. Tilda Swinton makes her weasily and viscous as well as a true believer in Wilford and the Holy Engine. She’s a character I would not have minded sticking around till the end, but she is killed by Curtis in revenge when she facilitates an ambush done by the rich’s thugs.

Tanya – Tanya is the closest we get to a good person as we see her caring for others as well her young son before Wilford’s second takes him away. She fights hard and is there to remind Curtis to keep going on and to lead when he loses his second in command. Her death is powerful for this reason as she never finds her son before she is killed by one of the more powerful thugs in the sauna. Octavia Spencer is wonderful.

Namgoong Minsu – Is one of the addicts who they first rescue who helps them open up the doors to the different cars as long as they provide him with Kronole for his addiction and rescue his daughter as well. He is a compelling character as he notices how the world is changing outside and that the ice melting. He knows they don’t need the train, but because his addiction makes him so selfish he is never listened to. He does make possible his daughters escape as a group attacks and they use the Kronole to make a bomb that destroys the train leaving her and Tanya’s son to find or create a new world. He is compelling character and Kang-ho Song does a good job.

Yona – Yona can see what’s coming which gives her the best bet for surviving at the end. She does manage to survive and rescues Tanya’s son with Curtis as well as getting the chance to hold her father one last time before the bomb goes off. She is an interesting character and I wish we’d gotten more time with her. She’s as smart as her father at hacking the doors. Ah-sung Ko did a great job.

Wilford – The man who accepts the status quo even though it’s unjust and upholds it through terror. Ed Harris makes him personable which makes him all the more frightening. He sees himself as being alone and that all people are expendable. He tries to get Curtis to take his place but fails as Curtis sees through the illusion when Yona arrives and he realizes what he’d become and endorse by being the leader. When the train is destroyed Wilford accepts it and respects those who beat him.

Gilliam – Is the one who worked with Wilford we learn and was using people and rebellions to keep the population balanced. He changes in the end though as he helps Curtis get beyond the halfway mark which leads to him getting killed. John Hurt does an amazing job as the heroic manipulator as we learn he gave his body to the poor to eat so they wouldn’t eat the children anymore. You really get why he’s respected so, which makes the betrayal felt.

Curtis – Chris Evans must be one of the best male actors in Hollywood now…I was impressed. This was “Winter Soldier” level acting and he played the anti-hero role so well. From the reason he trusted Gilliam (his guilt at having eaten people and known the young taste better) and his constant struggle to get his humanity back. He finds it in the end by destroying the unjust system and helping Yona and Tanya’s son escape. His complexity is part of what drives the story as he captures Mason but lets Edgar die in the process.

The Ending – The ending has a point and is all the stronger for it. It takes the corrupt system being destroyed for the children to have a life and it takes leaving the system to create a new one where freedom is found. Bong Joon-ho is truly a great storyteller. You felt the cost of revolution as so many innocents on both sides died even though the victimized poor were in the right.

Okay: Edgar – He’s just an angry rebellious guy. His character doesn’t have much depth but at least adds more dimension to Curtis.

The Thugs – There are a few powerful thugs but none of them really have personality. This I think takes away as we don’t know they serve the system. They are good action moments but they have no personality beyond cruelty.

     This is a movie I’d highly recommend. I want to check out this director’s other work now as the story was unique and powerful and had a point. From the reasons the poor rebelled, from how desperation can ruin the best of people but a single person living by example can change things…as well as the cost of change. It takes so many deaths for the train to finally stop and for people to notice that the train wasn’t needed anymore. Even Curtis misses the fact that the world is melting outside and life is coming back…because for so long the train is all he’s known. It is for this reason Wilford is able to manipulate him so well. Not only does it have a point but the music, characters and story are rich and rewarding. I highly recommend this film.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

World War Z (2013): An Alright Action Film

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We continue Apocalypse Week with “World War Z.” World War Z is one of my favorite books, and I’m going to say off the back, there is not much related to the books in how this film was executed at all. It doesn’t prevent it from being an enjoyable film mind you, it just doesn’t reach it’s full potential and takes the simple route for storytelling and entertainment value.

The novel World War Z written by Max Brooks is told as a historical narrative of life under a zombie apocalypse, with journalistic reports of the outbreak as it happens from the initial spread, to the end and how humanity fought back against it. It takes place in locations all over the world and has a diverse cast of interesting characters. There really isn’t a traditional main protagonist. These are some of the reasons, beyond the social justice commentary that make it such a miraculous book. There isn’t any of that in “World War Z” the film.

“World War Z” was directed by Marc Forster and went through a lot of writers to actually be completed. There are five names attached to the screenplay. Matthew Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard and Damon Lindelof and came from a screen story by Carnahan and J. Michael Straczynski. From the look of it, they did not know what they were doing, so it is a miracle it even managed to come together as much as it did. Everything was going against this film being any kind of good.

The story itself is simple in the end. Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt), a United Nations Employee is called out of retirement to help find out how the outbreak occurred and finding some way to stop it. The narrative is entirely around him and the survivors and people he meets as he tries to survive the initial outbreak and trace the source of the contagion and find a cure.

Here is the assessment of the film:

Pros: The Action – The action is really good. The zombies are like fire ants and having rage type zombies is great for action since people turn quickly and it creates tension when a zombie gets close since you don’t know if one of the survivors that Lane is with are going to turn. There is also a great scene of the outbreak occurring on a plane in flight.

The Cinematography – You see Israel, London and New York City as some of the locations destroyed by the outbreak. The sheer destruction…most of which we cause in trying to stop the spread of the zombies is powerful and the shots of fear and creating tension with simple things like people singing is masterful. Most of the times hope occurs it is squashed…until the third act.

The Music – I really liked the score for this film. Marco Beltrami created a great score that adds tension and drama when it needs too and can be reflective on the scenes that demand it. I plan to use music from this score to write sometime.

Gerry Lane – Brad Pitt is a solid actor, and he pretty much needs to carry the plot since they kill off all the interesting characters, like the doctor who thinks he knows what might be causing it dies when they land in South Korea, they go to Israel and the government agent who built the wall to protect from the outbreak dies too before we get the chance to know him, the only two who survive are people who are interesting characters who I’ll list below.

The Scientists – The final area is the pharmaceutical company in the UK where some of the scientists have a theory that the infected only target the strong to spread the contagion so they need to infect themselves with a deadly virus and cure it in order to be safe from the zombies. This is done and is one of the best parts of the film. Peter Capaldi (The 12th Doctor) plays one of the scientists and he is great as the distrustful guy. We also see one of the scientists go with him and the Israeli soldier to get the viruses. This scene is great and everyone survives!

The Ending – The ending is when we finally see people other than Brad Pitt and the military fighting back. We get references to things in the book too like the the fight in the north where people went to in order to escape the zombies and to get their bodies to freeze and destroy them that way. We also see some folks in an apartment creating a makeshift flamethrower to fight against the zombies. Honestly, I wish this had been the film. Seeing different groups from all over the world fighting against the outbreak is what made it interesting.

Cons: Lane’s Family – He has two daughters and a wife and they don’t feel so much like characters as props. Which is a shame since a lot could have been done. They are there to motivate Lane to do his job and to be protected. They are motivation and nothing more.

Most Minority Characters are Killed or Turned – If you are a minority in this film, chances are you will be turned. We see this in the Hispanic family who decides to stay in the apartment during the initial outbreak, the doctor who slips in South Korea and accidentally shoots himself and in the Palestinians and Israelis who die when the zombies climb over the wall. Only ones who survive are the U.N. Deputy-Secretary General and one of the Israeli military folks who is working with Pitt and almost gets infected.

The Pepsi Moment – Lane after he is infected grabs a Pepsi from a machine and looks relieved as he drinks it. He later uses it to get the zombies away from the door so he can get back to the science team. It is pretty blatant product endorsement and I laughed during it because it was so against everything going on before. I’m sure Pepsi was on this survivor’s mind…Wow, in the final score taking away a point just for this scene.

I honestly was expecting worse from this film. Most of the problems with how minority characters and the family were handled was just bad writing, which I think wasn’t the intent. Since Lane works for the U.N. and the whole feel of the film is global, it should have had more of it’s global characters survive. Since every group has people turned. In that way I recognize those issues but also that they were larger issues…like the blatant product endorsement thrown in at the end. The movie still manages to have a pretty strong narrative for it’s protagonist Lane and the music and cinematography are fantastic. I thought those would suffer too because of all the different writers and time in development hell.

Would I recommend this movie? Yes, just know the problems going in…and know that it is pretty much nothing like the book. Where the book was a deep story that had a larger point socially and politically, this is just a fun apocalyptic survival action film.

Final score for this is 8 / 10