Movie reviews: Logan reinvents classic western Shane

In Logan, Wolverine unleashes his wild side while Bailey is the dutiful dog in A Dog's Purpose

Hugh Jackman's Wolverine is not the indestructible mutant he once was in Logan. PHOTO: 20TH CENTURY FOX
The bond between a dog and its master (played by KJ Apa) is explored in A Dog’s Purpose (above).PHOTO: UIP

This is the Wolverine movie that unlocks the explosive violence that was always inside the Marvel character but, frustratingly, never let out.

In Logan (M18, 137 minutes, opens tomorrow, 4/5 stars) , baddies do not flop to the ground like dying ballerinas. They get lopped like trees, one limb at a time.

The adrenaline-pumper of a movie owes a debt to Deadpool (2016), an experiment in M18-rated film-making that proved that an adult audience for Marvel heroes existed.

Logan (Hugh Jackman) is a drunk who lives on the United States border with Mexico. Set about a decade from now, the world is free of mutants. Logan is a survivor and protects the sickly Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Caliban (Stephen Merchant, his gangliness put to great use here).

A desperate stranger thrusts into his care a girl, Laura (Dafne Keen), who, defying the odds, has mutant powers. She is hunted by a team of assassins led by the cyborg Pierce (Boyd Holbrook).

The bond between a dog and its master (played by KJ Apa) is explored in A Dog’s Purpose (above). PHOTO: UIP

The template here is similar to Wolverine movies of the past and also to Deadpool's: The underdog hero, a super-soldier, is pitted against a horde of men with guns.

Director James Mangold (The Wolverine, 2013; 3:10 To Yuma, 2007) discards the plasticky digital look of The Wolverine and its predecessor X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) in favour of hard-edged car crashes and fight carnage.

In another daring stab at realism that pays off, the characters live in a world where X-Men comics exist as mythologised biographies.

Mangold, story creator and western buff, lifts the film's main story thread from Shane (1953), about a reluctant gunslinger called to action one last time. A middle section in which Logan protects a farmer and his family from harm is a mini-western in itself.

But it is never about the templates you steal, but what you do with them.

The motif of family, with Professor Xavier as wise grandpa, Logan as angry dad and Laura as weird daughter, all on a journey to a promised land, is addressed delicately. Yet it is always present, in this intimately human and exciting story about a man trying to rise to the myth he sees in a child's eyes.

Animal instincts are also at the heart of A Dog's Purpose (PG, 101 minutes, opens tomorrow, 3/5 stars)but here, the drive is much, much mellower.

Bailey, who is reincarnated into various breeds from the 1960s to the present day, is more human than dog, with his thoughts voiced by Josh Gad.

Through each incarnation, Bailey's core stays the same: He is endlessly giving and devoted. Contrast this with White God (2015), a Hungarian film that positions its anthropomorphic pooches as a slave class yearning for the violent overthrow of masters.

Director Lasse Hallstrom (Hachi: A Dog's Tale, 2009; The Hundred-Foot Journey, 2014) makes no attempt to dilute the narcissistic idea contained in W. Bruce Cameron's best-selling novel of the same name, that an animal is little more than a vehicle for the fulfilment of one man's destiny.

As Cameron is also screenwriter here, Hallstrom could not hide this squishy mish-mash of New Age spiritualism and Buddhist beliefs even if he had wanted to.

The director's gorgeous images go some way towards making that message go down easier.

But that is where his restraint ends: When it is time for doggies to go to heaven - and they do, with alarming frequency - he gives the tear ducts a thorough workout.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 01, 2017, with the headline 'Animal instincts'. Print Edition | Subscribe