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Archive for July, 2017

“The beginnings and endings of all human undertakings are untidy.”
-John Galsworthy

Logan the Old Man

I’m not often challenged by a superhero movie, but as the end credits started rolling up my tv screen last night, and my son started asking me “So…what did you think?”, my initial reaction was to shrug my shoulders.

But as I made my breakfast this morning, it occurred to me that once again, a screenwriter had used to the inhuman, or maybe more than human to explore the nature of humanity, and it was this undertext that made the movie more than it was on the surface.

When the movie opens, we’re confronted with a Logan who has grown old…a startling transformation for someone who is actually much, much older than many of his peers.  His short temper and quick action have been replaced with an obvious fatigue.  But when pushed, his lethal brutality manifests itself.  When the rage evaporates with the threat, his momentary surveillance of the carnage add to the weight of the tired resignation that surrounds him like a cloud.  This, and the fact that he no longer heals like he once did, give him the appearance of a sad old man.

This is a world a few decades into the future.  It is slightly recognizable, yet harder.  Logan, going by his given name of James, is a limo driver for hire, ferrying the callous and the oblivious from deal to deal, drink to drink, and door to door, and is plotting an escape from a world that seems to have passed him by.

Before long, we are shown that he is living at an abandoned smelter, along with Caliban, and Charles Xavier, who is clearly unwell.  Charles is suffering from some kind of deteriorating brain condition, and Logan’s and Caliban’s lives are centered on keeping Charles medicated enough that he doesn’t have seizures, which paralyze anyone who is too close, and cause seismic disturbances.  Charles is at times incoherent, and abusive, causing Caliban to defer to Logan, whenever he is present, in order to see to Charles, and his doses of medication.  The two mutants, who don’t really like each other very much, bicker like adult children, dealing with the stresses of an aging parent who is failing by inches every day.  But like such children, they bear the abuses and indignities of such roles with a love and determination that wouldn’t be reserved for anyone else.  This world doesn’t seem to have any other mutants in it, and we are never given an explanation, although it is strongly implied later in the film that they were all hunted down, cataloged, and exterminated.   So when Charles claims to be “in communication” with someone who needs their help, Logan is naturally skeptical.

Father and Son

Logan continues this existence of miles, driving other people through their own lives, while drinking heavily, and clearly deteriorating when he is approached at a funeral by a woman who knows his real identity, and begs him for his help.  Logan angrily refuses, fixed on the idea of making enough money to buy a boat and leave the country with Charles for a life on the sea.  He is then approached by a cocky and menacing young man with a mechanical hand who knows he has been contacted by the woman who talked to him at the funeral.  This man makes it clear that he knows who Logan is, and that he is likely harboring Charles, who has (rightly, given his condition) been identified by the government as a threat to humanity.

As the story unfolds, we learn that the woman is shepherding a girl who looks harmless, but who is, in fact, quite dangerous, and has adamantium claws of her own, including in her feet, along with a healing factor much like Logan’s when he was younger.  When circumstances bring the three of them together, running from the mysterious mechanical handed stranger, and the government operators who accompany him, Logan finds himself becoming the girl’s protector and teacher, and getting angry at Charles every time he refers to her as Logan’s daughter.  In a quiet moment, Logan reviews files that the girl has with her, and realizes that although he never met the girl’s mother, his genetic material was used by the shadowy corporation that created her “sisters and brothers”, and that for all intents and purposes, she was his daughter.

Father and Daughter

When stopping to help a family of farmers involved in a traffic altercation, Logan introduces Charles as his father, and the girl, Lora, as his daughter.  It is a deception, and at the same time, the truth, as Logan has, for years, shown the same dedication to Charles as a son would to an aging father, and for all of their conflicts, and arguments over the years, Charles has truly come to regard Logan as his son, something revealed in a deathbed confession by Charles.  Conversely, in their short time together, Logan has come to regard Lora as his daughter, even going so far as to selflessly sacrifice himself (repeatedly) to protect her from a younger clone of himself, also created by the same corporation which made her.

As the movie came to the obvious and predictable climax, in which Lora reveals herself to be Logan’s daughter in spirit as much as in body, the real “hand off”  from one generation to the next didn’t come in Logan’s sacrifice and death to give Lora and her sisters and brothers the chance to escape.  It came in a conversation started when Lora watched Logan sleeping, tormented by a nightmare. When the juxtaposition of their nightmare experiences was discussed (she having nightmares about people hurting her, him about hurting other people), she remarked on him having killed people, and acknowledged that she too had killed people.  He replied that she would have to find her own way of dealing with that, and she made a very simple response that they were bad people.  This caused Logan to simply stare and nod.

When the final confrontation came, and with it, Logan’s death, Lora is consumed with grief as she calls him “Daddy.”  She lingers over his grave, after her brothers and sisters have continued walking toward sanctuary in Canada, and pulls the cross out from the head of it, turning it onto its side, making an “X”.  Then turns and follows the other, leaving the audience to wonder if she will be better for remembering this experience, and the loss, or if she would be better living with no memory, as Logan had for so many years of his own life.

In the end, I enjoyed the film, but I found that I didn’t mourn Logan’s passing.  Instead, I was encouraged, even uplifted by the thought that he would be reunited with so many people he loved who had died long before him, and as I write this, I realize that this is only possible because unlike family and friends, he was someone I knew of, but didn’t have as a fixture in my life.  And maybe that’s for the best, because I can only see the good, and not the sorrow in the ending.

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Sequels are a tricky thing.  Generally, if a movie is a sequel, but still ends up with its own name, then I expect that sequel or not, I’m going to see a film that is a story in its own right, and not merely a half-hearted attempt to capture whatever made the first movie a success. (The various Disney sequels of the 90’s come to mind.)  So with this in mind, you might understand my hesitation in watching this movie, given the typical dreck that usually is put out with a “2” in its name.  As it turns out, I think I liked this installment of John’s story more than the first one.

The movie business has known for some time that gratuitous violence puts people in seats, but there is a subgenre that can only be categorized as “ode to violence”.  Sometimes, it takes the form of a stylized, almost cartoonish violence, such as Quentin Tarantino employs, and sometimes it is just raw, and brutal, like in Sam Peckinpah’s “The Wild Bunch” and “Straw Dogs”, or the original version of “Get Carter”.  John Wick, Chapter 2 seamlessly melds the stylized with the brutal by hitting the trifecta of film making.  It has a good story, good dialogue, and each and every frame is beautifully composed. I mean truly beautifully and heartbreakingly composed.

The movie opens with Wick continuing to pick off outlying members of the Tarasov family, largely because the remaining Tarasov was stupid enough to steal Wick’s car.  When Wick comes to get it, and the predictable body count ensues, the gangster has time to dread the knock on his door which he knew was going to come.  A conversation Tarasov has with his lieutenant about Wick’s lethality harkens back to the first film, and what Wick can accomplish with just a pencil…a moment of foreshadowing made bloodily manifest later in the movie.  While the encounter, when it came, did not end as we have come to expect, it still felt right.

We are then given the impression that he will now get to live the rest of his life in peace, while knowing that John will never ever get that peace, and so when the knock on his door finally comes, it is odd that John himself is almost more annoyed than afraid.  We learn that John’s famous “impossible task” came at a price.  John had to give a marker to a soft-spoken Italian gangster who is a scion of crime royalty.  This man, Sabatino, wants John to kill his sister, who inherited their father’s “seat at the high table”, a governing body of crime.  John, begged him not to ask for the favor, and Sabatino accepted, regretfully, before leaving, and like others before him, he chose to take something from John that was dear to him.

There was so much more to this movie than the first installment.  We learn more about the world that John blazes a bloody trail through, including the fact that it has rules, which are enforced by people even more brutal than he.  But we also learn the scope and reach of Wick’s own reputation in this world, and the calm acceptance with which so many of its characters acquiesce to the choices they have made in life.  When one of his intended targets reacts not with fear, but calm when he comes for her, the exchange is intriguing.  In perhaps one of the most honest moments in either of the films, she refers to him as “Death’s own emissary.”

The truth is that even without the good story and dialogue, this film is still a feast for the eyes, as the composition and lighting create a treat, including a sequence in a hall of mirrors that is reminiscent of the climax in “The Man With the Golden Gun”, but much, much more thoughtfully filmed.

In the end, when John breaks one of the cardinal rules of the world he lives in, he is confronted one last time by Winston, the shadowy owner of the New York Continental.  Winston informs him that his life is forfeit, and after a demonstration that starkly shows that there will be no safe place for him anywhere, Winston gives him an hour.  Wick, true to form, tells Winston to tell whoever choses to come after him that he will kill them.  All of them.  Winston smiles, and says with conviction, “Of course you will.”

I was left with the belief that Winston actually believes it, and although he could never be obvious about it, that is rooting for John.

The film’s deleted scenes also lead me to this conclusion, as in two of them, Sabatino acts in ways that clearly break with the traditions and norms of this violent world, and in an exchange between Winston and Sabatino about the latter’s excesses and naked ambition, Sabatino reveals his contempt for these rules and norms, because they “stand in the way of progress”, while Winston calmly retorts that he believes just the opposite.  It is a theme repeated throughout the movie, once when Sabatino angrily makes a demand of Winston, who calmly reminded the upstart prince that he was in Winston’s house, and according to the rules of their society, he, and he alone was master there, and again when it was stated that “without rules, we run with the animals”.

The story is a tragic tale.  Wick is feared by his peers, beloved by the servant class, and the leaders of this world alike.  As the truth is revealed, we learn that the boogeyman (Wick) made a deal with the Devil (Sabatino) to leave the life.  When the Devil came to collect, he asked the unthinkable in order to satisfy the debt…putting the boogeyman in an untenable position.  When Wick came for payback, as a marked man, his only leverage with people in a position to help is that in killing the Devil, he will stop his unquenchable desire for power, and in so doing, stop an all-out war in the underworld.  When he actually kills the Devil, he breaks an unbreakable rule, causing the only people he could call friends to turn on him in order to maintain the order of their society.   In one fell swoop, Wick made himself both the savior and pariah of his world, and when the severity of the consequences become real to him, he appears to resign himself to face it the way he always has…with a murderous resolve.

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