Logan: Third Time’s the Charm

Objectively, Logan was sweet, a defining and tested amalgamation of everything that adheres to the general consensus of the character Wolverine/Logan. Despite the track record of the X-Men franchise, Logan came hot off the heels of last years ‘gorious’ Deadpool; which served as a barometer in regards to R-rated comic book adaptations. And yes, this is nothing new in the realm of movies; Blade, Watchmen, and The Punisher were all rated-R adaptations that despite critical review have their fans. However, time certainly plays a factor in this recent rejuvenation of hard-edged movies; that and the climate in which we as movie-goers has been more or less consistent/homogeneous with the release of the first Iron Man. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has done well with what I can imagine an average of “B” ratings when it comes to their overall output of movies. DC has all but what the bed when it comes to their live-action sacrifices post Dark Knight Rises; but 20th Century Fox? It has been a mixed bag, with a partial shot in the arm to the X-Men universe and a desire to step outside the bounds of PG-13 territory, they are shaping up to be the perfect alternative to the family friendly model of Marvel.

The first thing they did right was eschew the overall story arc(s) and instead abridged the story succinctly; offering morsels of backstory and focusing on the passing of the torch. I mean, it is a Wolverine movie after all, yet, this installation does not share the burden of having to tie in the previous movies. With how far in the future this takes place it is conceivable for this specific outcome to exist; and when the next movie comes out, it is unshackled to this movie as well. That’s another thing 20th Century Fox gets points toward too, unlike Marvel, they do not have to follow a main storyline. Each spinoff, sequel or soft reboot can go along unrestricted to an overall story arc. Granted, it could be debated whether or not this tactic is as impressive, but that can fit into the charm and practicality of a studio more than willing to toy around with the concept of rated-R comic book movies; given that artistic freedom and leniency are welcome. Point being, if there ever was a time ripe for the making of Logan, now was as opportunistic as any.

The violence, oh good lord the sweet bloody grand time we have all been waiting for the past seventeen years; the kid gloves are off and the adamantium clause was met. Visceral, is the word that immediately came to mind in the beginning scene with Logan. There is something about visual association and the sound of his claws rip into enemies that tickled the back of my spine. Not only that, but we get X-23 joining in on the action and, at times, out-fiercing Logan when it comes to brutal God of War kills. Repetition plays as much as a strength as it does as a tiny fallback; after a while watching Logan and X-23 hack and slash at the mere scent of contact, the luster wears off.

Where the luster was still as bright as ever was the bond between Logan and Charles. Seventeen years of development with the same two actors in both roles culminating in one final movie gave weight to themes initiated in the first movie. Themes of community and isolation that Logan and Charles have dealt with, they know all too well the dangers that await their kind. In the beginning it was Logan who needed the aid of Charles in opening his mind and fulfilling self-discovery, it is Charles who is Logan’s last real connection to this world (until X-23).

Overall, this movie, I believe, was necessary in closing out the loop of past X-Men movies. The final hurrah of Patrick Stewart and Hugh Jackman in roles which they were undeniably born to play. Logan is a benchmark, that despite certain directions the X-Men universe took, it was nothing a little ret-con could not fix; with a rejuvenated sense of direction, and willingness to take chances with the X-Men universe, Logan ends the current form of X-Men and opens up the potential for all the tasty off-shoots of mutant life.

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John Wick: Chapter Two – Locked & Loaded

P.S. some spoilers be ahead.

The John Wick series has captured the essence of a video game, reboot, and comic book movie all nicely wrapped up in electrical tape; it is both not specifically any of these things and all of them, at the same time. He has the aim of Hawkeye, the durability of Marv from Sin City, and the unquenched thirst for vengeance of Frank Castle; never is there a moment where he is slowed down for long, his drive and precision will not allow it. He is the One, the perfect amalgamation of 21st century action movie (anti-) heroes; Jason Bourne, Brian Mills, Ethan Hunt, and Scott Pilgrim have nothing on John Wick. In true action movie fashion, the John Wick series has set a precedent for future action movies to follow; on the ever-growing kick-ass meter, movies such as John Wick, Dredd, and The Raid: Redemption are the new barometers for how movie critics and enthusiasts judge future action flicks. Strong movies, which have laid down a foundation of innovation and homage.

A key difference in the second movie compared to the first is the enhancement of world building and action that saturates the overall plot. In Chapter Two, the sequences move akin to a movie like 2005’s King Kong where once the action starts, it does not peter out until whole swaths of baddie-fodder are completely decimated. Where the first movie’s dialogue consisted of filling in the audience with John Wick’s backstory and why he went back into the world of assassin’s, Chapter Two plunges the narrative into the world of the assassin’s guild, and the connection of the Continental to the mythos of the John Wick universe. The overseer, dungeon master, and counselor of the Continental; the man who keeps John Wick in line as he further descends into the world he so hard tried to leave, is Winston, played succinctly by Ian McShane. He provides insight and boundaries as John saddles up to his, oath; as difficult and treacherous as Wick’s journey will be, maintaining relative order in the realm of assassins in no dog and pony show either.

The way the rules are set up regarding the Continental, and how they trickle down to the assassins, is a concept that felt increasingly confusing as the movie continued. Essentially, because John Wick followed the rules and met all the guidelines to accomplish his goals, only to be brought back in through a blood oath initiated a catch twenty-two situation in which there was no escape for John. Anything he did out of the boundaries of the rules, or within, left in a position where he would have to fend for his life; eventually, the sects and overlords have to realize that placing a bounty on his head would end up destroying entire fabrics of this world in way that reminded me of the scorched earth devastation that took place in God of War 3. The only group who stayed neutral to a degree were the bum assassins, perhaps because the Bowery King, portrayed by Laurence Fishburne, knew better than to mess with the One guy who had the potential to undo the foundation of this world. Speaking of which, what a cheeky nod to a past movie franchise where a man dressed in black and insurmountable skill faced against countless enemies. This was a nice meta-break to pace the action in between; a little wink and nod letting the audience know, “yeah, we thought you might like this.” Same goes for the pencil trick spoken in haunting tones in the first movie, although, it was not as sweet as The Bourne Identity or Dark Knight renditions of a writing utensil used unexpectedly in a situation where the audience goes, “wait what happened there?”

Despite the fine job Ian McShane did, and the wonderful reprieve of Laurence Fishburne, the main antagonists fell to a shade above obvious archetypes consistent with the action movie universe; the jealous family member who wants the power for himself so he lifts some old clause to bring our (anti)-hero back, and the older sibling who tragically is made the sacrifice in order for John Wick to regain his quiet life he so desperately wants to maintain. I mean, they were not bad performances, and I am not expecting villains with Machiavellian schemes of world domination, but if I had to choose a loose end to nitpick, brother blood and sister tub fell into the Marvel universe/Snyder-verse trap of villains with little to no urgency outside of the plot; an obstacle for the protagonist to hurdle no different than the pawn baddies.

John Wick: Chapter Two was a pristine example of the formula of a sequel: not as shocking or innovative as the first, yet built upon the world building as the events of the first movie wrapped up, focusing less on a single entity of villains and undamming a flood of conspirators and organizations that make the first mob look out-matched by comparison. Now the real test, is to see if the third movie capitalizes on all the aspects of the first and second and bring to us, the movie goers, a cataclysmic shift in the story of John Wick, will he die? Or will he not? Regardless, I would like to see the body count of all three movies.