Now this is a rarity, a review of a superhero film. Previously I’ve seen a few superhero films, I could give a list – mainly X-Men, as I grew up with the cartoon as a child. Only a few months ago I caught Deadpool (2016), yes I’m a bit slower when it comes to the costumed characters. When I heard this film in the same breath of the Western I was more interested in seeing Logan (2017) billed as being Hugh Jackman‘s final outing as the angry clawed loner. Also to be the first and possibly worthy film for the character – which I can’t really comment on.
I can however draw on my understanding of the Western in relation to Logan, which will take up the majority of my time here. So let’s get under, saddle up and ride on out. Or in Logan/James Hewlett (Jackman) is a limo driver in the year 2029, living in Mexico. He is clearly tired and ravaged by time, the years haven’t been good to him. The once virile mutant filled with rage really doesn’t want to get into fight, he’s become reluctant to draw out the adamantium that have become more of a curse than before. The feeling of immortality has long faded, age and time is catching up with him. Much like in The Gunfighter (1950) – Johnny Ringo (Gregory Peck) who wants to lay down his gun, tired of killing and running, wanting a normal life. His celebrity has long-lost it’s appeal, now a target for young wannabe’s hungry for that trophy and title “I shot Johnny Ringo”. Wolverine/Logan is our gunfighter who has gone into hiding, nursing Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) whose suffering with dementia, needing medication to keep him lucid. Any drop in dosage can unleashed his now uncontrolled mental abilities can be felt on an almost planetary scale – it’s just not worth thinking about.
So if Logan is the gunfighter, Xavier is the elderly parent who once took him under his wing, brought him up to be the man he hoped to be like. It would be wrong to compare Xavier to a Walter Brennan character who acted as the older sidekick whose life experience’s are shared with our hero. We also have a mutant tracker, an albino Caliban (Stephen Merchant) is the unwitting sidekick who keeps both in check. We have the first of our principal characters in place now.
The film begins as it means go on, setting the tone, its hard language and bloody violence, not through Logan wanting to deliver it. Coming from a place of self-defense of self-preservation, showing that there is a place for violence in the comic book universe beyond imaginary buildings and cities being blown up in a computer. The violence leaves little to the imagination, even quick editing we are still left feel slightly queasy at the body parts being cut into and off into multiple victims throughout the film. It’s also the first time that I’ve heard Stewart swearing and as coarsely. I’m reminded of Unforgiven (1992) that sees violence rise from the embers of once prolific gunfighter William Munny (Clint Eastwood,) who picks his gun up hopefully for the last time, a big pay off that will support his family. Turning back to an old undisturbed part of his life, thought to be tamed by his dead wife. What we see is a resurgence in those aggressive emotions, the death of his friend Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman) a line has been crossed, up to this point he’s been rusty with his rifle, not able to mount a horse without assistance, a shadow of his former self. Logan is Munny just with a adamantium skeleton – no need for the rifle here.
The films director (James Mangold) has been pretty blatant in his sources of inspiration – namely Shane (1953), the titular gunfighter played by Alan Ladd who enters into civilisation if only briefly to free a town from the strangle hold of Ryker (Emile Meyer) threatening the homesteaders who were trying to make a life for themselves. Then there’s the annoying kid Joey Starrett (Brandon De Wilde) who looked up and adored the man with a gun, who could handle it with such finesse and skill it put his own father Joe Starrett (Van Heflin) to shame, he was not the man who he wanted to look up to. That was something he had to learn and accept. The acts of violence that Shane commits are held back to the end of the film, allowing us to see this strong stoic figure who only shoots when he really needs to. This skill is more than just that, it’s a form of defense that stops him functioning in society. He ultimately has to ride on away from the homesteaders who have chosen a peaceful life. The link’s seen in a few scenes Logan, we see it literally on TV, supposed to be nearly 100 years old (76 years, but whose counting). Showing that it still hows the power to hold the attention of an audience. The scenes carefully chosen to include Shane.
Our Shane is clearly Logan whose followed by his own kid (spoiler!!) a young Mexican girl – Laura (Dafne Keen) herself on the run from an army of men and mutant who want to capture her. Her own existence is very similar to Logan’s, through no fault of her own plagued by this mutation that has been engineered, thanks to mad scientist – Dr. Rice (Richard E. Grant), a connection to the X-Men cannon. One of a new generation who are on the run, the gunfighter of the Marvel universe start even younger. No need for guns, they were born with their own gifts (if you can call them that.
Away from the Western connections and themes we have that of family, having only Xavier and Caliban as Logan’s family, its dysfunctional, a father figure who has become the receiver of care. Family isn’t something that comes naturally to him, the violence in him does not allow it to really happen. All he’s ever had has either left him or been killed. With the unwanted arrival of Laura his world starts to change, his perspective on life, he softens up towards the end if only reluctantly. She also acts as a way of the character carrying on in future films and the wider Marvel comic universe which I know little about. Here she’s just a child, but one with more than her share of issues to conquer in order to function. The baton’s passed here as characters die, passing them onto new ones.
I’ll end where I began, I’ll probably never again review another comic book film, this however spoke to me, my passions, the ideas in the western are very strong. You could say the comic book super hero is just another gunfighter, their adventures chronicled in the pulp that made them. The dime novels of the 1800’s did the same for Buffalo Bill and Jesse James and numerous others, the legends were being printed, the truth being blurred with each publication, which is referenced also in the film with a subtle self-awareness that doesn’t take you out of the film. You could say it’s a Western, just with an angry guy you don’t want to cross.
Just over a week ago I watched Short Circuit (1986) which I really enjoyed, I got a lot out of it, a good film to end the day on. It lifted my spirits which is always a great bonus. I knew that Chappie (2015) was compared to the earlier film, I mentioned I couldn’t comment on the differences until I saw it for myself. Now I have and I feel very much the opposite. I’ve only seen one other of the directors Neill Blomkamp‘s films – Elysium (2013) which left me feeling cold, I couldn’t complete District 9 (2009) for much the same reasons. I had no one I could really connect to on-screen, at the end of Elysium I just didn’t care what happened, just out of respect for the film I finished it as I was so far in.
Turning back to Chappie I watched out of reasons of comparison more than anything. I was originally going to watch it at the time of theatrical release then the moment passed and reviews weren’t that favorable. So having seen Chappie eventually I can say I felt much the same way after Elysium. Starting out in a future that is much like that of Robocop (1987) if you get passed the prototype stage of the police robot, not the cyborg that we saw in Paul Verhoeven‘s future. They even sound like Peter Weller instead voiced by Paul Dobson to give the army their nondescript identity as they act as the robotic arm of the law, the buffers for the human police force which are clearly differentiated as the lower tier of the police force who in South Africa that has been now reducing the crime-rate. Things are improving at the expense of a reliance on technology. The first scene smack of Short Circuit, as they’re lined up to prospective buyers. With a montage of flashy media that you find in a Verhoeven film, helping to create the world of the film. It take a while to leave the comedy predecessor behind. Even the creator Deon Wilson (Dev Patel) of the police robot is working for the company, yet he knows and accepts what he has created. Going further with ideas to create sentience in a robot unlike Newton Crosby (Steve Guttenberg) who is unaware if their potential after an accident. Which we have to wait a bit longer for when scout 22 is brought back for the 2nd time for repair, only to be lined up for dismantling, the perfect prototype robot to test Deon’s new software.
That’s the first real comparison, the beginning of the film before coming into it’s own. The military is the police force. The real twist comes when a gang of criminals led by Ninja (Ninja) whose been given a week to raise 2 million dollars for another gang lead by Hippo (Brandon Auret). All the supporting cast’s played by South African’s making it more authentic. These gang members are all colourful characters that really stand-out on-screen, you can’t help but notice them.Not conforming the Hollywood image of the urban gangster, they still have all the bling though. The last of the criminal underworld that have all but been defeated by the robotic scouts. You could say that Ninja’s gang has found a weakness when they kidnap the creator Deon and his Scout 22, in hopes of training the robot to fight on their behalf.
Of course as we know from previous films, you teach a robot about life, they won’t do as they are told. More so Chappie (Sharlto Copley) as Scout 22 is named, reborn a baby, it takes time for him to find his feet. There’s a moment where I thought we would be going back to Short Circuit when he watches He-Man, which I thought would be the start of a nights TV teaching hi about life, a superhero who could teach him morals (albeit morals that sold action figures). Thankfully that is cut short for a go on the shooting practice. It’s all too much for the infantile Chappie who is runs to his mother figure Yo-Landi Visser (Yo-Landi). They form a strong mother/son bond which is more interesting than that of the creator and creation. As much as he wants the best for him, he is condescending, unaware of his growth away from him, becoming his own person. It’s his time with the criminals that does define him, his experiences with them shape who he is and the course he takes. The killer robot or law-enforcer grows beyond his program.
Away from all the personal growth we have the company that produced Chappie that employs Deon – chaired by Michelle Bradley (Sigourney Weaver) who is well cast but starts to fall into stereotype as tough 2 dimensional woman with no real personality beyond seeing profit. In cahoots with rival machine creator (Hugh Jackman) which looks a lot like the prototype in Robocop wreaked havoc in the boardroom. Jackman was plain irritating with his silly wannabe-mullet who could control his robot with a neural interface helmet.
When the subject of mortality is discussed the film really does enter new territory, Chappie realises his time is brief so will do anything to extend that, using the internet, his circuitry and existing technology to move his consciousness into another robot. Not until things go crazy and Moore starts unleashing hell, by making things a lot worse. This is where it starts to get messy as loose ends start to get tied up in ways you don’t see coming. The crime rate in the city goes up as result, but we focus on Deon and Chappie as they both now fight to stay alive. The result is a bit to be honest, I saw it coming yet there is no fight, it just happens, no discussion and it doesn’t fit, opening up another can of worms which don’t get answered.
In short its a mess of a film that tries to be different from it’s robot film predecessors that are both bold, original and fun. This is neither really, it’s too dark to really engage with. Maybe it’s more about the ideas, which sadly don’t get fully explored and there’s a lot of them. There is a good film in there, it just needs to be reshaped. It’s treading old ground mostly and saying little new which I am starting to do so I’ll end things here before I sound like Chappie.