(Video On-Demand, July 2017) The X-Men series has been inconsistent lately, so it’s both a surprise and not a surprise to see Logan end up in the top tier of superhero movies. This third and far superior third volume in the incoherent Wolverine trilogy dares to provide an end for one of its iconic characters. It may be rebooted in a future film, but who cares: Logan is self-contained, definitive and exceptionally well-handled as a mournful future western with low and personal stakes rather than a save-the-world blockbuster. Hugh Jackman is, as usual, quite good as Wolverine—this installment asks him to do far more from an emotional standpoint as one of the last mutants on an Earth that is glad to see them gone, far less powerful than ever before as his healing capabilities are slow to regenerate after fights. For writer/director James Mangold, this is a bit of a quiet triumph, departing from the usual superhero clichés in order to dig deep into the human condition. The action sequences are perfunctory, the future barely sketched (although with some nice background detail, such as driverless trucks) and the film does rely quite a bit on previous material … but it’s well packaged and strikingly different at a time when even major superhero spectacles feel like rote repetition. Logan takes the superhero genre in a different and welcome direction—hopefully it won’t lead to a copycat trend. In the meantime, enjoy the putative end to Jackman’s Wolverine… I’m sure it won’t last.
(In theatres, June 2010) A breezy summer action comedy doesn’t have to do much to charm me, but the mess that is Knight and Day tests the limits of my indulgence when it comes to those kinds of would-be summer blockbusters. It’s not that the film isn’t enjoyable: It’s good-natured, leaves its stars free to grin madly and does present an enjoyable escapist fantasy. There are interesting things to see in the action sequences, and a few laughs here and there. But something feels off about the way the film is directed and edited: Director James Mangold has an intriguing way of showing (or rather, not showing) what happens in the film, but this kind of experimentation doesn’t fit with the far more conventional thrust of the movie and is hampered by some fairly obvious CGI work. Furthermore, the editing is so choppy that it feels as if crucial connective tissue has been left out of the script or the final cut: Knight and Day feels rushed and borderline incoherent, in-between zippy changes of scenery, abrupt shifts in tone and characters whose unhinged nature seems more forced by dialogue rewrites than anything like psychological complexity. (Even the title almost defies explanation, and you have to squint really hard at the last lines of dialogue to figure it out.) So far removed from the moviemaking process, it’s tough for viewers to know where to assign blame: the script was reportedly re-written almost a dozen times, passing through a number of proposed stars before settling on Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz. Neither do too badly, although Cruise overdoes his preening while Diaz seems happy to squeal dizzily through much of the film. The result is about a third good, a third charming and a third mystifying: not exactly the ideal mixture for a formula movie that should have been an easy slam-dunk.