Wednesday, March 8, 2017

X-Men: Apocalypse or Termutantator 2: Judgment Day or Children of Mutants

If Logan seems really good, it could be because it reminds us of some really good movies.

One of which is not last year's X-Men: Apocalypse. Which wasn't terrible, but which I watched on the plane only like three months ago and have already forgotten.

I think they might have used that title a year too early.

And before I go any further, let me issue a giant flaming SPOILER ALERT for anyone who thinks I'm not going to spoil every last second of Logan in the following post. (Also spoiling T2 and Children of Men, but it's a bit more likely you've seen those.)

Let's do this systematically.

X-Men: Apocalypse

If you're going to use a cataclysmic word like "apocalypse" in an X-Men movie title, don't waste it on the name of a character. A character who was the most forgettable part of a forgettable movie.

No, use it on a movie like this.

The world does not end in Logan, nor is it in danger of ending. But a cinematic world does seem to meet its maker, and what could be more apocalyptic than that?

Logan doubles down on the epic revelations of the way characters die that makes movies like Star Trek Generations and Star Wars: The Force Awakens feel apocalyptic in their own ways. It kills off not only one, but arguably both of the most famous X-Men there ever were.

And what could be more apocalyptic than that?

But the deaths of Charles Xavier and Wolverine -- in 2029, so they can still fiddle with the timeline to get them in plenty more movies -- are not just apocalyptic because of the fact of their occurrence. I mean, everyone dies, and in this movie we learn that Xavier is supposed to be in his 90s -- a good long life. I'd have to consult the comics to know for sure, but Wolverine a.k.a. Logan nee James Howlett could be three times older than that. They've lived good long lives.

Well, not good long lives. And that's the apocalyptic part. Because we somewhat rarely see our favorite recurring characters in the movies meet their ultimate demise, we always retain this distant hope -- nay, belief -- that there is a happily ever after waiting for them, somewhere, at the end of all these troubles. They may be going through the shit now -- for the seventh, eighth, ninth, or in the case of James Bond, twentysomethingth time -- but someday, somewhere, they will have a quiet retirement full of all the carefree joys that life has denied them so far.

Not so with Logan and Professor X.

Logan has become a heavily bearded alcoholic who drives a limousine, and is starting to get eaten from inside by his adamantium. More metaphorically, he is being eaten from within by the deaths of centuries' worth of people who loved him. Simply put, happiness was never going to be possible for him.

But there's a difference between knowing that this is true and actually seeing it play out. We see the last week of Logan's life, and it's not a pretty one. And yeah, he does die a hero. There's some satisfaction in that. But I wouldn't exactly call it retiring by a fireplace and sipping Earl Grey tea.

And Xavier? He's spent some number of years at the end of his life living in a large metal canister in the Mexican desert, losing his faculties and prone to violent seizures (with catastrophic external consequences for those around him), attended to by an albino who once helped track down his friends in order to exterminate them, and an alcoholic limousine driver who shoots adamantium claws from his knuckles. He also bore the responsibility for an event that gets no elaboration that saw seven other X-Men die. (Which ones? Some other movie will probably tell us, eventually.)

That's not exactly the fireplace with Earl Grey either, now is it.

Termutantator 2: Judgment Day

In structure and form, though, this is almost a complete rehash of Terminator 2. Which is one of my favorite movies of the 1990s, so if there's any movie to borrow from, it might as well be this one.

Shall we review?

- Both movies spend significant portions of the narrative in a Mexican desert setting

- Both movies are violent, R-rated action movies that were successfully sold to the masses despite their R rating

- Both movies feature a fight between two nearly indestructible creatures, the original model and the new and improved model -- here, let's call it Logan vs. the Logan-1000

- Both the T-1000 in T2 and either one of the Logans in Logan have the ability to reshape their hands, making use of a sharp appendage that either comes out of their hands or actually is their hands

- And speaking of hands, both movies feature a character who reveals that he has a robotic hand -- the T-800 revealing his cyborg endoskeleton in T2, and Boyd Holbrook's character showing off his "enhancement" in Logan

- Both movies feature a precocious child in tow, though the roles are reversed in terms of who teaches whom not to use lethal force on an innocent victim

- Both movies feature a mid-movie domestic interlude at the home of a nice black family, though that interlude works out a lot worse for the black family in Logan

- Both movies effectively feature the protector sacrificing himself at the end so the precocious child may live

That enough for you? Or should I go on?

(Trick question. I'd have included more if I could think of them.)

Children of Mutants

This movie's Children of Men similarities are not quite as unmistakable, but I started to think of them when Xavier talks about how there have been "no mutants born in 25 years." (Or someone else says that to him, I can't remember.)

So when we are first presented with Laura, it does seem as though she's kind of the "miracle mutant," the one who has broken the string of no mutant births, just as the baby in Kee's stomach in Children of Men heralds the end of 18 years of worldwide infertility. Of course, we later learn that Laura is not quite so unique and that there are at least a dozen others like her, with similar abilities. (And forgive me for being a bit cynical and thinking that someone is just trying to create the conditions for a whole new series of X-Men movies starring these kids, but grown up by a decade so they can be played by bankable actors.)

Logan is also a similar reluctant hero to Clive Owen's Theo in Children of Men, guiding his young female charge on a dangerous journey plagued by numerous threats to get her to a safe haven -- a Canadian location called Eden here, an altruistic team of scientists called The Tomorrow Project in Children. And of course, both have to die in the execution of their sacred task.

Both movies also feature an adult woman who was meant to be part of the journey but dies unexpectedly near the beginning.

And of course Children of Men is set in 2027, only two years before Logan.

I guess there are only supposed to be like six different stories that people tell over and over again, right?


One final thought about the movie, which I did like very much despite pointing out these similarities and giving you the impression I view it skeptically. When Xavier asks Logan if Laura reminds him of anybody, I thought for sure they were not going with the obvious (uh, sure, she has adamantium claws, of course she reminds him of him) but the less obvious, a character who has been in the background of each of Wolverine's three spinoff films while almost never being referenced openly. It can't have been a coincidence that the terrific young actress playing Laura, Dafne Keen, could very credibly be cast as either a younger version of Famke Janssen, or her daughter. Famke Janssen having of course played Jean Grey, the love of Logan's life, who dies in X2. Yet the movie doesn't ever evoke her name, and the similarity of appearance must be only coincidental because Laura is the biological daughter of Logan and some Mexican teenager who was used as a surrogate to carry the baby to term. A bit of a missed opportunity, I'd say.

Maybe they just cast Keen as a bit of a visual link to Logan's past, a past he has finally now put to rest.

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