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The LEGO Batman Movie is not a sequel to the wonderful, OMG can you still not believe it not only didn’t win Best Animated Feature at the 2014 Oscars, it wasn’t even nominated, The Lego Movie, but, rather, the newest entry in the franchise. For those of you into esoteric movie references, that’s like the difference between Road to Zanzibar and, say, After the Thin Man.
The Lego Movie was a film that wouldn’t stop and carried you along on its ridiculous back never giving you time to think about it. It had something to say about being a drone versus being a child again, but what made it work was the theme being so secondary you might have missed it and not realize (as one politician didn’t) that the main song, Everything is Awesome, was ironic.
The LEGO Batman movie starts out the same way as action, action, action drives the story backed by a great deal of wit and cleverness. And the opening scenes suggest a movie with all the positives and pleasures of the first one.
But then, well, the movie becomes about something, which as far as I’m concerned was a huge mistake. And this something revolves around Batman’s inability to realize that he is a loner and being a loner is a bad thing and that he needs other people and that his refusal to let other people help him take out the bad guys is not a good thing for the soul (which seems a little insulting since he’s saved the city over and over and over and over and over again-probably as many times or more than various gigantic creatures have taken out Tokyo-and did it fine by himself, thank you very much).
This stops the story dead at this point and it’s a bit hard to get through all the piety and messaging here without nodding off or at least squirming in your seat while looking at your watch.
The only real interesting idea here is that being Batman has no meaning without there being a Joker. I wonder how parents are explaining to their kids the philosophical concept that good has no meaning without evil and that without evil there can be no good?
With a screenplay attributed to five writers (which may explain a lot) and direction by Chris McKay.
With Will Arnett, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson, Ralph Feinnes and Zach Galifianakis as Batman/Bruce Wayne, Robin/Dick Grayson, Batgirl/Barbara Gordon, Alfred and The Joker respectively, and a ton of other famous people doing a ton of other familiar characters-tough work if you can get it.
I’m not sure what it is about studio/comic book films of late. First you have Deadpool, the first R-rated Marvel film, a delightful, but extremely cynical and downbeat look at a hero who can’t die (which isn’t as great a characteristic to have as one might at first think).
In Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, all the heroes die in their attempt to get the plans for the Death Star to Princess Leia so we can have one of the most successful franchises in movie history. It’s basically a story about people who do amoral things, sacrificing their lives as they do, in order to prop up a spiritual system consisting of absolutes.
And now we have Logan, a Wolverine driven story, about as bleak and nihilistic and cynical a tale as one can get.
As I told my friends, I no longer won’t to hear any shit about the types of films I like being way too depressing. Logan makes Manchester by the Sea a Shirley Temple film in comparison.
Perhaps these are the tent pole films our times are demanding as we are still recovering from a recession and we’ve elected a president whose handle on sanity is often in question, as well as a host of representatives whose goal is to make the 1% richer while taking away health insurance, social security, Medicare and welfare from the rest of us under the pretense that it is the Christian thing to do and will make us better people, just trust us.
Logan takes place in a near future on the cusp of an apocalypse. Most of the superheroes are gone, having died or been killed. No new mutants have appeared for some time. Dr. Xavier, who ran a school for those like him, is on his deathbed and possibly becoming more and more senile.
Logan, or Wolverine as he is known when his claws are out, is an alcoholic driving a limousine trying to make enough money to buy medicine for Xavier while keeping him hidden south of the border, with only Caliban, an albino with the power to track anybody, his only caretaker, and a foreteller of doom one at that.
Meanwhile, America is more and more run by corporations who go to Mexico where they can exploit lax laws to secretly experiment on children in order to create supersoldiers, while a Monsanto like company has taken over most of the farming in the U.S., using driverless trucks on highways that won’t stop for anybody to transport their products.
The only way out? Making it to Canada.
That joke should be funny, but the movie is so dark and gloomy and full of dread, it’s difficult to want to laugh. Instead you just thank God for Justin Trudeau.
The main plot then revolves around a little girl that may be a new mutant that has escaped from the Mexican lab and Logan’s reluctant decision, at the behest of Xavier, to help her.
Logan is quite possibly the finest comic book film of all time, even easily surpassing what probably held that spot earlier, the original Iron Man with Robert Downey, Jr. It’s a daring work that rises above its genre and comes so close to fulfilling its preposterous artistic ambitions that in the end, it does just that.
Though a comic book film, the genres really fall into the categories of two of the most American of American types. It begins as a post-noir drama that exists in the underbelly of the world filled with moral decay and dark shadows. The story in the first third or so is basically a variation on Leon the Professional where a hired assassin becomes the protector and even mentor to an annoying little girl.
About halfway through it the movie becomes a modern day western complete with cowboy hats and shoot outs and final confrontations at high noon. The reference in the movie is Shane, that elegy to a west that never really existed except in film. However, the real cinematic allusion is closer to The Cowboys, a 1972 western in which John Wayne teaches a group of teens to drive cattle and take out the bad guys in a bloody showdown that was controversial in its time.
The result is the same. In The Cowboys and Logan the mentors die, but the children become adults before their time in a savage bloodbath of a baptism.
But what really makes Logan what it is are the unusually deep fleshed out characters that are vibrant and feel fully alive played by actors of talent and stature. Patrick Stewart returns as Xavier, frail and clinging to life as if he were in a Beckett play. Hugh Jackman is Logan, hanging on while falling apart, his fierce eyes full of rage and bitterness at the pointlessness of it all.
They find ample support from Richard E. Grant as the evil doctor (the dead giveaway as to how evil he is being his suave and butter melting accent) and Stephen Merchant almost unrecognizable as Caliban, burying his natural comic characteristics in a wave of self-loathing.
The screenplay is by Scott Frank, Michael Green and the director James Mangold. The dialog is first rate, fierce and uncompromising (who knew letting comic book characters say fuck could be so liberating). Mangold’s direction is taught and tense.
With Dafne Keen as Laura, the little girl everyone is after.
The Easter egg this time comes at the beginning rather than the end of the film, a fun Deadpool bit. It’s easy to understand why there isn’t one at the final fade out. No matter how serious, it could ruin the power of what came before.