Top Ten Opening Scenes in Movies

The best movies ever made are usually defined by the strength of their individual moments.  As many of them stick to the basic three act structure of storytelling, the viewer will commonly find that a movie hits it’s high points at crucial junctures in the story; sometimes with a crossroads for a character’s development, sometimes with a harrowing motivating incident, and also sometimes with a shocking twist at the story’s climax.  Some movies even find their best moments in charming plot sidetracks that reveal more about the characters.  But, one thing that proves to be a crucial part of a story’s success is not so much how it progresses, or even finishes, but rather how it begins.  A strong opening statement from the very first scene could itself be the very thing that makes a movie go from good to great.  An opening scene does the most important job of establishing tone and character into the movie.  It’s the point of the movie that tells the audience exactly what they are about to get into, even if much of what follows is not what they expected.  And there are so many ways that a movie can get off on the right foot.  A movie can throw us right into a hectic moment of action (like the opening of 2015’s Mad Max :Fury Road), it can shock our senses (like the murder opening of 1996’s Scream), it can throw a moment of absurdity our way (like the migrating coconut debate from the opening of 1975’s Monty Python and the Holy Grail), it can make a statement directly to the audience (Ewan McGregor’s “Choose Life” monologue from 1995’s Trainspotting), or it can soak us up into the atmosphere of it’s world (the prologue from 2001’s The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring), all in the first couple minutes.  And it’s these moments that help to give a movie an identity.  What follows bellow are my top ten choices for what I think are the greatest opening scenes in movie history.  They run the gambit of being either just a fantastic opening shot or a full lengthy sequence, but what they all have in common is that they made a profound statement that set the bar high for each of their selective movies, and stand alone as singular great cinematic achievements in their own right.



Francis Ford Coppola’s multi-generational epic begins not with a bang, nor a extravagant set piece, but rather it begins in a quiet, dark room where old men discuss business.  And yet, you could not have asked for a better start to one of the most compelling films ever committed to celluloid.  Coppola plunges us into this world of Mafiosos and the criminal underworld by showing us the characters in their own element.  In this opening scene, we meet Bonasera, a desperate man who has come to the home of Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando), the “Godfather” of the powerful Italian Mafia family.  In his plea to the don of the family, seeking vengeance for the rape of his daughter, Coppola keeps the camera tight on his face and slowly zooms out to slowly reveal who he is speaking to.  It is a simple camera trick, but one that is beautifully executed by cinematographer Gordon Willis.  And it’s simplicity is what makes it so profound.  It’s made all the more powerful by how well Coppola and Willis use the light in the scene, or lack there of.  Beginning the speech with a complete blank screen also puts special emphasis on the opening words; “I believe in America.”  Subliminally it tells us the audience that this will be a quintessential American story, while at the same time revealing a world unseen to us as well.  It’s profound as a statement, but it also is one of the greatest character introductions we’ve ever seen in a film.  Without revealing Vito right away, we are able to learn from Bonasera the kind of power that Vito is able to command and the respect that he is able to summon.  Only after the long pull out do we see the man himself, and by then his legend is set.  It’s a deceptively simple moment and is iconic in every way.  It’s the kind of opening that you would expect to see from one of cinema’s greatest achievements.



Alfred Hitchcock always was a filmmaker who loved to show off all the things that could be possible in the cinematic medium.  Many of his films also like to build their mystery directly from the opening moments.  Without tipping his hand, Hitchcock leaves clues within a scene that will inevitably payoff later in the film.  You can see this in most of his greatest films like North by Northwest (1959), Psycho (1960), and Shadow of a Doubt (1943).  But, if you were to find the greatest opening to a film in his whole oeuvre,  it would be the spectacular opening sequence in Rear Window.  In the opening scene, Hitchcock shows off the amazing courtyard set that was built especially for this film (the largest interior set ever built at the time).  The scale of the set is impressive on its own, but the special quality of this opening scene comes from the way that Hitchcock pans across the scenery, showing us a small window into the lives of all the people who live in this complex, and all the little side-stories that they are living in at the moment.  But, it’s a point of view that’s still from a distance, and we learn towards the end of the scene that we are watching all of this from the apartment of Jimmy Stewart’s character.  The shot continues, revealing that Stewart’s Jefferies is wheelchair bound with a broken leg, and the shot then scans across his own apartment, showing us more about his life, including the accident that left him with a broken limb.  It’s an immersive way to open a film, showing so much without a single line of dialogue.  Not only does it show off the amazing set in a spectacular way, but it gives us so much information right up front, allowing us the audience to understand the characters and the world they live in before the story itself begins.  Few others could use these kind of tools of storytelling as well Hitchcock, and it’s a scene that perfectly illustrates his very voyeuristic view of everyday life.



Quentin Tarantino is a filmmaker who especially puts special emphasis on his opening scenes.  For a man raised on international and exploitation cinema, you would think that the idea of a movie that starts off in a big way would be one that’s clearly on his mind.  And throughout his body of work, you can find plenty of great, unexpected opening scenes.  There’s the restaurant robbery from Pulp Fiction (1994), the airport arrival in Jackie Brown (1997), the diner conversation from Reservoir Dogs (1991); none of which are exactly bombastic scenes, but they nevertheless do an excellent job of announcing themselves to an audience the way that Tarantino wants them to.  But, out of all of opening scenes from Tarantino’s filmography, I don’t think there has ever been a greater one than the opening to Inglourious Basterds.  Like the others, it’s a dialogue driven scene, but one that is so profound and brilliantly written, that it easily stands tall among the rest.  It, for one, introduces us to one of cinema’s greatest villains, Colonel Hans Landa, and establishes perfectly everything that this character is about.  With his calm, pleasant demeanor, he breaks down this French farmer who’s been harboring refugee Jews in his basement, and does over a kind conversation with a glass of milk.  Christoph Waltz is absolutely compelling in this moment, and I knew immediately after watching this scene for the first time that he was going to win an Oscar for his performance (which turned out to be true).  Tarantino himself has even stated that this is one of his favorite scenes too, and that he’s especially proud of it.   Who would have thought that a calm, dialogue heavy 20 minute opening sequence would provide one of the most chilling, suspense moments in cinema history?  It’s Tarantino at the height of his powers and proof that he can open a movie up like no other.



Here we find a opening scene that breaks from convention completely.  In this biographical film about the famed World War II commander, we don’t find ourselves looking into the general’s history, nor do we instead find him already in the thick of battle, like so many other historical films would have.  No, instead, this Franklin J. Schaffner opens up with a sprawling American flag, a small platform stage, and George C. Scott center screen in the role of General Patton in full regalia.  For the next six minutes, we see nothing else but this, and Scott delivers a speech not unlike how the real man would’ve to his battalions of troops during the war.  It’s an iconic image that perfectly establishes the mythic aura of the General, showing how he presented himself to the world, and how he probably wanted others to view him as well.  The remainder of the film breaks down the person that he was and shows us the more human side of the general, which is why this opening scene is so crucial for the film.  The movie is a great examination in the differences between man and myth, and you will never find a scene that helps to make a man look more mythic than the opening one here.  Scott is remarkable in this scene, bringing fire to every word of the speech (which was compiled by screenwriter Francis Ford Coppola from dozens of real speeches the general gave over the years.  I especially love how Patton flavors some of the language, going from poignant to vulgar effortlessly (like the famous “crap through a goose” statement).  It’s an often parodied moment that still holds up well today.  You’ll rarely find an opening scene that manages to leave such an impression while at the same time shows so little.



One of the most popular creative ways that some filmmakers like to open their movies up with is the single, long take.  What’s great about these shots is that it establishes the atmosphere of a scene far better than a more heavily edited sequence would.  The only problem is that these scenes are hard to pull off, especially when they get more complicated.  Some of the best examples of these complicated openings include the 7 minute introduction of the Hollywood studio from Robert Altman’s The Player (1992) and the 13 minute opening shot from earth’s orbit from Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity (2013).  But, if you were the find the greatest movie opening using a long unbroken take, it would be the granddaddy of them all from Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil.  With this 3 1/2 minute sequence, Welles set the bar high for this kind of cinematic trick, and all the other filmmakers who have used this technique have all aspired to come close to this scene, with only a few managing to match it.  It’s an astonishing complex scene for it’s time, starting on a close-up of the bomb itself, we see it placed within the trunk of the car, and from then on we follow the trek of the vehicle through the streets as it makes it’s way to the border checkpoint.  All the while, the camera also catches the introduction of our two leads, Charlton Heston and Janet Leigh, who follow close behind the vehicle, establishing them into the story and helping to connect them with what’s going to happen.  The camera finally cuts once the explosion is heard, and by then, so much groundwork has been laid for the unfolding mystery.  It’s an amazing cinematic moment and one that shows how well Orson Welles style remained strong over the years.  To this day, it is still the high water mark for this kind of opening shot.



Christopher Nolan had already earned raves for his first venture into the world of the Caped Crusader with Batman Begins (2005).  When a sequel was green-lit, and it’s was discovered that the iconic villain The Joker would be involved, you could understand why Nolan felt that he had to up the ante this second time around.  With The Dark Knight, Nolan insisted on shooting select scenes with IMAX cameras, which would bring even bigger scale to the already extravagant marquee sequences.  And of these moments, the real stand out is the opening bank robbery sequence that introduces us to the Joker.  It’s an all around amazing opening, utilizing the full potential of the IMAX image.  From the opening flyover to the final reveal of a caravan of school buses, it’s a sequence that takes us for a ride and perfectly sets up the adventure that we are going to have for the remainder of the film.  But the opening’s best element is how it builds up the reveal of the Joker himself.  Heath Ledger remains hidden behind a mask the entire scene, appearing anonymous with the rest of his crew, until he has ensured that all of them have been taken out, leaving him the last man standing.  Then, being confronted by the wounded bank manager (played by William Fichtner), he finally shows his grotesque clown face under the mask, giving us one of the most iconic introductions in cinema history.  It’s an amazing way to establish an already iconic character into this new retelling.  Nolan would also give the villain Bane a strong introduction in his follow up sequel The Dark Knight Rises, but this sequence is still the better of the two.  With a chilling performance by Heath Ledger and spectacular IMAX cinematography on display, this was perfect way to open up a movie in a big way.



Stanley Kubrick is another director that puts special emphasis on the opening scenes of his movies.  Whether it’s using an atmospheric introduction like the “dawn of man” sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), or a scenic “god’s eye” view like the opening credits of The Shining (1980), or a non-sequitur moment like the haircuts from Full Metal Jacket (1987), he makes very deliberate decisions when it comes to starting off his movies in the right way.  But, for the greatest opening to a Kubrick film overall, you can’t find anything better than the opening shot from A Clockwork Orange.  This sequence is defined solely by one singular image, and that’s of actor Malcolm McDowall in the role of Alex DeLarge staring menacingly right down the barrel of the camera lens.  It’s an unsettling stare that remains unbroken for the entire minute and a half of the shot.  From the extreme close-up, the camera slowly zooms out revealing the full tableau of the Korova Milk Bar in one of Kubrick’s trademark camera moves.  Even while more of the scenery is revealed, the focus still remains on the central figure of Alex, spotlighting him in the scene and establishing his importance, which will play out through the movie.  Like Patton before, it’s an opening shot that stands out as an iconic image on it’s own, defining the movie we are about to watch right from frame one.  What is also so remarkable from this scene is how well Kubrick makes it work with such stillness, with the only movement being a sip of milk from Alex and the camera itself.  Add to this the chilling synth version of “Funeral Music for Queen Mary” and you’ve got one of the most unsettling and brilliant openings in movie history.



Disney’s animated films have always tried to start off their films in a big way, usually through a lavish musical number.  Most are memorable in their own right, but I don’t think you will ever see a stronger opening than the one from The Lion King.  Even the very first frame of the movie is epic on it’s own, with the iconic sunrise being punctuated by the powerful “NAAAAHHH” chant of the chorus.  From that stunning image, we see what the sequences main purpose is all about, and that’s to establish a sense of place for this picture, which is the stunning beauty of the African Savannah, and all the amazing creatures that call it home.  The sequence is beautifully presented with the accompaniment of Elton John’s now legendary tune.  Even before we meet any of the main characters, this movie has already transported us and put us into another world.  Of course, the sequence saves it’s most epic moment for the reveal of the iconic Pride Rock, where the characters of Mufasa, Rafiki, and of course infant Simba are introduced.  And finally, it ends on one of the most iconic images Disney has ever brought to the silver screen; that of Rafiki holding the baby Simba up high for all to see, with a ray of sunshine beaming down on them.  No animated movie before or since has ever announced itself as strongly as The Lion King has.  It’s kinda hard to believe that in it’s early development, The Lion King was considered the B-picture at the studio.  When this sequence finally came together, I bet that distinction wore off quickly because this is an A-quality opening to a movie.  It’s almost too strong of an opening sequence, because Disney tried for many years after to replicate it’s success and failed.  With beautiful visuals, a stirring song, and a powerful statement right from the beginning, this is the animated opening that’s king of them all.



Director George Lucas had to prove a lot of naysayers wrong when he set out to create a return to the old sci-fi serials of classic Hollywood.  What seemed to be a silly space based adventure in the beginning  proved to be in the end a stellar cinematic achievement.  With earnest direction, groundbreaking visual effects, and a stirring John Williams score, Star Wars proved to be a great success, and all those successful features can be found right there in the opening scene.  After the triumphant theme starts with the opening title and the introductory crawl (a nod to the classic serials) we pan down from the vastness of space to the see the colossal horizon of a planet beneath us, and from above a small spaceship comes into from.  This alone would’ve been nothing too special for audiences (especially those who had already seen 2001), but what follows the ship is our first  glimpse of what we know now as a Star Destroyer; a massive fleet ship that is so vast that even the widescreen panorama can’t quite capture it’s true scope.  This is the moment that announced to the world that Star Wars was no silly B-Movie, but instead a true force to be reckoned with.  It’s an amazing combination of visuals, music and audacious vision, which thankfully continues all the way through the picture.  From there, the movie plunges us right into the action, with little time to waste explaining it all.  We soon are introduced to this world’s character which includes the droids R2-D2, C-3PO, the fearless Princess Leia, and of course the menacing Darth Vader, who gets the most iconic introduction of all.  You could say that an empire was built alone right here in these crucial opening minutes, and that is enough to put it near the top of this list.



The other entries on this list are defined by either masterful cinematic techniques, exceptional displays of writing and performance, or through singular iconic imagery.  This scene makes it to the top purely just for the visceral impact that it leaves on the viewer.  Steven Spielberg opened his war epic with a 20 minute recreation of the D-Day invasion of Normandy by Allied forces.  We are put there on the ground, seeing the battle unfold from the soldier’s point of view, and witnessed mostly from the perspective of Tom Hanks’ Captain Miller.  In this sequence, we see the true brutality of combat, with soldiers dying left and right all around the periphery of the camera’s frame.  It captured war in a “you are there” way that no other film had managed to before, and this is how Spielberg chose to open his movie.  The reason it remains so powerful is because of this witness point of view.  Hanks acts as our eyes, drawing our attention to the horrors around us in the scene, some of which is still horrifically graphic.  But, apart from the impact it leaves, you also are left marveling at the way it is crafted.  Spielberg used handheld photography to give the movie a documentary like feel (much of which he shot himself), and every explosion and blood spurt feels genuine, and not like something done for a movie.  It blurs the line between reality and make believe better than any other war movie I’ve ever seen, and presents war combat in probably the truest sense possible; even capturing the triumph of winning the battle honestly.   To pull a scene like this off in the middle of a film alone would be quite an achievement, let alone having it be the opening to your film.  It’s one of the greatest cinematic moments ever and easily the greatest movie opening in history.

So, there you have my choices for the greatest opening scenes in movie history.  Despite the fact that these movies are elevated by the strength of their opening moments, it doesn’t necessarily mean that every great movie needs a great opening.  Can any of you recall the opening scene from Rocky (1976), or Casablanca (1943), or even Psycho (1960)?  Maybe you do, but you would never consider them one of the highlights of the movie, and honestly neither of those films needed to open in a big way.  Nevertheless, a great movie is still made even better by an opening scene that stands out.  You have scenes like the opening of Star Wars and the “Circle of Life” that already set the bar high for the rest of the movie to live up to and the fact that they do make you appreciate the film even more.  There’s also the openings that instill imagery that will never your mind like the opening shots of Patton and A Clockwork Orange.  And then you’ve got moments of just pure cinematic power like Saving Private Ryan’s Omaha Beach scene.  All of these did the best thing that a movie could have asked for which is to establish a strong foundation on which the rest of the movie could comfortably build from.  In many ways, your beginning may be the hardest thing to create for a movie, and these films in particular offer some perfect guides with regards to how to do it right.  If you grab the attention of your audience within the first few minutes, than you have a better chance of holding on to them for the remainder of the movie and there lies the value of great opening scenes in the whole of cinematic history.

Beauty and the Beast (2017) – Review

The “tale as old as time” is a story that will seemingly always be around in our culture.  Beauty and the Beast has seen numerous incarnations over the years ever since it’s first literary introduction and was likely just as prolific a narrative even before then.  The story and message behind it are universal to every nation and culture, and that’s the idea that love transcends beauty and that a person should never be judged by their physical appearance alone.  It’s the narrative basis behind every opposites attract story we’ve ever seen, as well as a definitive example of a redemption story-line arc that we also find very common in our pop culture.  But the story itself remains popular in it’s purest form through pretty much every type of media.  We all enjoy seeing the beautiful Belle find the pure soul buried down inside the twisted form of the Beast and help him find his humanity once again, ultimately allowing him to return to his natural form.  With it’s fairy tale elements and universal appeal, this story has naturally been a beloved one for filmmakers.  Jean Cocteau made his famous French production, and it’s become one of the most influential movies ever made.  But perhaps the best known version today is the 1991 animated feature from Disney.  Disney’s Beauty and the Beast was groundbreaking in itself, capturing the essence of the original fairy tale, while at the same time giving it a modern sensibility, with particular regard to the depiction of a more independent and free thinking heroine in Belle.  The movie would go on to be a high water mark in animation and would also go down in history as the first animated feature to receive a nomination for Best Picture at the Academy Awards.  Since it’s release, the animated Beauty and the Beast has left it’s mark on the classic story, and has gone on to influence many more adaptations, including this most recent one that takes it’s cues directly from this version.

Disney is in an interesting spot right now.  After many years of producing successful animated features, they’ve built up an impressive library that stands on it’s own.  But, while they still continue to release new animation every year, they have in recent years discovered that there is a nostalgia market that they can capitalize upon through the power of aura surrounding their “Disney Vault” of classics.  This has sometimes been a sword with two ends for Disney, because while they do make a lot of money exploiting their classics of the past, they also run the risk of cheapening their brand over time.  You definitely saw this a lot in the decade long era of Direct-to-Video sequels that the studio was putting out; a practice that, while profitable, ultimately cheapened the Disney name.  Now, Disney is mining the vaults once again, only this time they are taking their animated classics and giving them lavish live action make-overs.  This too has resulted in mixed results.  On the one hand, some good adaptations have resulted like 2015’s Cinderella and 2016’s Pete’s Dragon.  On the other hand, you also get misfires like Maleficent (2014) and Alice in Wonderland (2010).  The big risk with these types of productions is that they need to create an identity all their own in order to justify their existence; otherwise, all it’s going to make us think about is that we’d rather be watching the original animated classic instead.  The stakes are even higher when it’s an adaptation of one of Disney’s most beloved properties, which is the pressure that is put on this new adaptation of Beauty and the Beast.  Let’s face it, this new adaptation has some mighty shoes to fill, so the question is it a beauty in the making or is it forever doomed to be a Beast?

The story is familiar to everyone who’s seen the original movie, but it also does surprisingly deviate at times for both good and bad reasons.  We are introduced to Belle (Emma Watson), who is ridiculed by the villagers of the small provincial town she calls home because of her independent spirit and her refusal to conform to their outdated ways.  Her days in the village are made even harder by the sexual advances made by her overbearing admirer Gaston (Luke Evans), who has just returned from battle.  He is accompanied by his companion LeFou (Josh Gad), who has his own latent desires towards his brawny friend.  Belle’s creative spirit is still supported by her artistically inclined father Maurice (Kevin Kline), who promises to bring her back a rose every time he leaves town.  On one such trip, he finds himself lost in the woods, where one area seems to be perpetually snowbound.  Within, he finds a massive castle where he finds shelter.  Upon entering, Maurice finds that it is enchanted, with the household objects coming alive and talking to him.  He tries to escape, but remembers that he still needs to find a rose for Belle, to which he finds one in the castle’s gardens.  Once he picks one, he immediately is nabbed by the castle’s master; a hideous looking Beast (Dan Stevens).  Upon learning of her missing father, Belle sets out to find him.  Upon reaching the castle, she finds Maurice held captive and pleads with the Beast that she’ll take his place.  Now a captive, Belle adjusts to life in this crumbling castle, and acquaints herself with the enchanted staff, including the candelabra Lumiere (Ewan McGregor), the mantle clock Cogsworth (Ian McKellan) and the tea pot Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson).  And from them, she learns of the curse put on the castle, and how it’s all tied to a singular wilting rose that when it loses it’s final petal, it will doom them to this state for all time.

Throughout this movie, there are plenty of nice throwbacks to the original story as well as some welcome references to Cocteau’s classic.  However, the majority of the film is a retread of the Disney animated feature, and there lies much of the problem with this movie.  It lacks an identity that helps it to stand on it’s own.  It’s a problem that Disney has had to struggle with when adapting all of stories from their own library.  What I have found from watching many of these live action adaptations is that the best among them are the ones that go out of their way to be their own thing.  What made Cinderella work as well as it did was the fact that it used only a few scant things from the Disney original (like character names and a scant famous phrase here and there) and mix them in with a largely original take on the same story, hence making it stand more solidly on it’s own.  Pete’s Dragon made an even more remarkable transformation, overhauling the style completely and turning a goofy, saccharine 70’s musical into a tear-jerking, emotional indie drama, and in turn, making it work even better.  Also, despite some story nitpicks that I had about it, last year’s Jungle Book remake by Jon Favreau still managed to successfully carve out it’s own identity.  The worst kinds of these movies are the ones that purposely mine the nostalgia elements of these beloved movies, but offer up nothing better in return.  Sadly, Beauty and the Beast is one of these films.  In fact, I dare say it may be the worst one of these movies to date; yep, even more pathetic than the much maligned Alice in Wonderland.  I was really shocked by how badly this movie missed the mark.  The adaptation is terrible, the production is a mess, the performances by the cast are mixed at best, and overall all it made me feel was a complete sense of disappointment all the way through.

It’s not a good sign when you’re watching a movie, and all you can think about are the things that could’ve been done better with it.  The movie comes to us from director Bill Condon, whose career as a filmmaker has been a mixed one.  For one thing, he was the Oscar-winning mind behind the critically acclaimed Gods and Monsters (1998).  On the other hand, he is also the guy you can blame for bringing the universally loathed final two Twilight movies to the big screen.  One thing that I noticed about Bill Condon as a director is that he’s at his best when he makes a small, reserved dramatic film, like with Gods and Monsters, Kinsey (2004), or Mr. Holmes (2015).  But, give him a broader subject and a more lavish budget to work with, and he somehow completely mismanages it.  That’s the case that sadly happens with Beauty and the Beast.  The movie is a very shoddily directed, with some moments feeling completely disjointed.  There’s a scene where Maurice is lost in the woods and confronted by wolves, and like the worst kinds of action movies, the editing is so frantic and jumbled that I couldn’t get a handling on where the action was taking place and what was happening to the character.  The story itself also suffers quite a bit.  Remember the nice bit of flow that the original animated film had from scene to scene.  Well this movie clumsily force feeds you plot contrivances and unnecessary character business that makes the whole experience feel inconsistent.  Another major issue is the padding done to the story.  I understand that part of justifying the production of this movie was because it no longer needed to be bound by the limitations of the animated medium, including it’s shorter run-time, but what is added to this movie to bring it to 2 hours offers nothing of substance.  There’s even a horribly contrived new magical item, apart from the rose and the enchanted mirror, introduced into this version that, quite frankly, breaks the plot entirely.  Without giving it away, I seriously question it’s existence.  If it has this kind of power, wouldn’t it have been useful to use later in the plot?  Nope, it’s entirely forgotten by the end.

But, the most upsetting part of the movie is how poorly it deals with the iconic characters that were so beloved in the animated feature.  In particular, this movie does a real disservice to the supporting cast of enchanted objects.  Disney did an amazing job taking the nameless inanimate objects that inhabit the Beast’s castle from the original story, and turned them into clearly defined personalities that stood out on their own in the animated feature.  In this film, the same characters are pale imitations of their animated predecessors, and I think that’s largely due to the awkward transition they made from expressive hand-drawn animation to rigid CGI animation.  The new designs of the characters, quite frankly, are pretty ugly and it distracts from any kind of character development that they have.  Couple this with a screenplay that cares little about setting these characters apart and you’ve got a portrayal that really does insult the memory of these beloved characters.  What’s worse is that it wastes an amazing cast, made up of heavy hitters like Ian McKellan and Emma Thompson.  There is such a thing as a movie being overproduced, and the needlessly garish CGI enhancements put on these characters and the rest of the movie in general is proof of that.  The movie has production value to it, but it’s so aggressively thrown at you that you just don’t care by the end.  I was particularly disappointed by the staging of all the iconic musical numbers, because they are so poorly blocked and overly saturated with unnecessary flourish.  It’s amazing to think that the animated feature is the one that takes the subtler approach.  Disney thought that perhaps by throwing away all limitations they could make this film feel even grander, but sadly all it does is spotlight the artificiality of it all even more.  Animation is of course all artificial, but it’s one that remains consistent within it’s world and gives the imitation of life a much more bigger sense of reality.  Belle’s triumphant mountaintop moment, for example, feels so much more powerful when it’s all animated, and not filmed against a green-screen; quite poorly I might add.

Despite all my complaining up to now, I can’t say that everything in this movie is bad.  However, the good stuff that is here can be counted on one hand.  I will say that like most other classic adaptations of this story, the film’s most successful execution is of the Beast.  Actor Dan Stevens does do a pretty credible job taking on this difficult role and gives the character a surprising amount of charisma.  It’s even more remarkable that he stands out at all, particularly when he has to act through a CGI crafted mask to make him look like beastly.  I’m not a fan of the redesign, because it’s too closer to human-like than previous Beasts, and really pale in comparison to the iconic animated version which was such an amazing design.  But, the delivery that Stevens gives helps to make the design shortcomings feel less important.  I also thought that there were some surprisingly good performances from unexpected roles as well.  Kevin Kline gives easily the film’s best performance as Maurice, and that’s only because he’s the only subtle one in the entire cast.  Luke Evans and Josh Gad are also surprisingly effective as the villains, Gaston and LeFou.  There is actually better chemistry between these two than there is between Belle and the Beast in this movie.  It’s almost like the actors are coming from a different movie entirely, where their character histories are more clearly defined.  It helps you to buy them as the characters, even when you realize that they are a little uncharacteristically cast; especially Evans, who’s not quite a big enough actor to portray the man as “large as a barge.”  The controversial addition of a gay subtext to the character of LeFou is also not a big deal, and barely is important at all in the story.  My only complaint is why didn’t Disney just create a gay character from scratch instead of retroactively changing an already established one to be gay, let alone a villainous one?  Still, they are solid standouts in an otherwise mixed cast.  Emma Watson perhaps represents the movie’s mixed results more than anything.  She looks the part, yes, and does have her moments; but, you can tell that a lack of serious musical training has left her at a disadvantage and despite her trying her best, you can sense the struggle in her performance more than any other in the movie.

This movie made me think a lot of the recent Ghostbusters reboot, and how that movie also failed at carving out it’s own identity while also trying to milk the nostalgia that it was built upon.  Like it, you have a movie that has all the hallmarks of a beloved classic, along with talent that can bring a lot of new things to the material, and yet, it just falls flat on it’s face.  Believe me, I didn’t want to see this movie fail as badly as it does, just like I didn’t want to see a lackluster Ghostbusters.  But, the sad result is that these movies just come across as shameless cash-grabs in the end.  Disney has proven other times that they can make the formula work, as they have with Cinderella and Jungle Book.  I think this one hurts so bad because it’s an adaptation of such a beloved classic.  With the others, you could see a foundation where something fresh could be built upon and even improved in some cases.  With Beauty and the Beast, it seems that the animated film just sets too high a bar to cross.  Not that I don’t think it could ever be done.  With better direction, staging, and a more subtler approach, I think a live action remake could’ve worked.  Disney already proved that they could take the same film and bring it to the Broadway stage with all the charm and wonder intact.  That’s another thing that puzzled me while watching this; the hit Broadway musical successfully expanded the story with new musical numbers, and yet none of that was used here, instead opting for newer songs written just for this movie, none of which are memorable in any way.  Why couldn’t the Broadway show have served as a suitable basis for an expanded film production?  Whatever the case, I’m sad to say that this film adaptation is one of the bigger disappointments in recent Disney history.  The best thing I can say at this point is that it does make me appreciate the original animated feature even more.  Unfortunately, this trend of mining the Disney Vault is not going to end soon, with Jon Favreau’s adaptation of The Lion King and Tim Burton’s Dumbo coming up in the years ahead.  My best hope is that each of these adaptation at least makes an attempt to be it’s own thing and not a pale imitation of the movies that came before them.  In the case of this one, there is sadly no handsome prince underneath the skin of this monstrous beast.

Rating: 4/10

Off the Page – Watchmen

Comic books have been an especially reliable source of material for Hollywood these days.  Marvel and DC have been in a heated battle for box office supremacy, with their collection of heroes and rogues turning into the matinee idols of our current modern age.  And sure, there is a lot to draw from given the countless amount of stories that have been written for the comic medium for nearly a century now.  It wasn’t until recently, when Marvel took upon developing their cinematic universe, that comic book movies resulted in a business model that has generated billions of dollars in grosses.  Now, comic book movies are mainstream, with even the most obscure of comic characters like Hawkeye or Rocket Raccoon become household names.  The downside of this is that comic book movies tend to become formulaic as a result; with studios wanting to take fewer risks as they invest more and more money into these potential blockbusters.  What this leads to is an increasing disconnect between what we see on the big screen and what we usually find on the page from the original source comics.  Comic books live by their own set of standards, and it’s usually a lot more open to challenging and evocative stories and characters.  There’s usually a lot more violence, sex, and profanity found in even some of your standard trade comics, and avenues taken by some of the most popular charcters that you wouldn’t normally see them do in the movies.  Comic fans usually embrace these riskier stories, and they hold the film adaptations to a higher standard as a result.  Filmmakers find many interesting ways to work around the risks of adapting some of the more problematic comics by making movies more inspired by the comic books instead of making straightforward translations; Marvel’s recent Civil War is a perfect example of this.  But, when the source comic is as highly acclaimed and renowned as a single piece, as many graphic novels are, the liberties taken tend to become more of a problem.

There is a significant difference between what we see as a comic book and as a graphic novel.   Comic books are short form stories, sometimes tied together in a serial fashion,  meant to be consumed by the audience as quick, action packed entertainment.  Graphic novels on the other hand are developed as deeper, long form stories that are often about headier subjects.  Essentially, they are novels told through comic strips.  Many of the most beloved graphic novels have taken on stories that you would never see on you average comic book stand, such as Art Spiegelman’s Maus, which re-imagines the horrors of the Holocaust with Nazi cats and Jewish mice; or Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, which portrays an autobiographical tale of the author’s coming of age in Iran in the aftermath of the Islamic Revolution.  But perhaps the most prolific graphic novelist of all time is English writer Alan Moore.  Praised for his often revolutionary and provocative style, Moore’s body of work has been a huge influence of the medium as a whole.  Moore’s heyday in comic writing was in the 1980’s, where he not only excelled with his own original work, but also crafted some of the most celebrated stories ever for icons such as Batman (The Killing Joke) and Superman (For the Man Who Has Everything).  His more political works, however, are the novels he’s best known for, such as V for Vendetta. Naturally, with a body of work as celebrated as his, it was inevitable that Hollywood would come calling.  What is interesting about Moore’s approach to film adaptations of his own work is that he is both the most accommodating and the least cooperative of authors.  He permits filmmakers to adapt his work, but he always refuses to take part in their making, even refusing any screen credit.  This leaves the people responsible for bringing his work to life with the extra responsibility of doing it justice because they have to work without the guidance and approval of Moore himself.  And perhaps the film adaptation that presented the hardest challenge to date was of Moore’s iconic 12-part behemoth, Watchmen (2009).

“We are all puppets, Laurie.  I’m just the puppet who can see the strings.”

The creation of a Watchmen movie was no easy feat.  Developed for years after the publication of Moore’s novel, Watchmen saw many interested parties come and go.  Even Terry Gilliam of Monty Python and Time Bandits fame seriously considered adapting the comic, until he abandoned it after famously stating that he thought that the novel was un-filmable.   Some serious consideration of an epic TV miniseries on one of the cable networks was also considered until eventually Warner Brothers and DC comics (the publisher of Watchmen) landed on a screen adaptation that they were pleased with.  Up until this point, screen adaptations of Moore’s novels had been mixed; from good (From Hell), to mediocre (the Wachowski’s V for Vendetta), to just outright bad (The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen).  But critical praise for DC’s The Dark Knight (2008), which was heavily inspired by The Killing Joke in it’s portrayal of the Joker, convinced Warner Brothers to take the risk of adapting Alan Moore’s epic.  There was only one crucial issue; who would they get to commit to such an undertaking.  They found their director in Zack Snyder, who had just recently received raves for his work adapting another famous graphic novel, Frank Miller’s 300, with almost obsessive faithfulness to the original comic.  By giving an exact page to screen translation, and done in an economical way (filmed against green screens with CGI rendered environments), Snyder had gained the confidence of studio brass with his work on 300, and it was believed that his same style of film-making would carry Watchmen through to the end.  But, being faithful visually to the graphic novel is much different than being faithful to it as a narrative.  What resulted was a mixed bag of a movie where some things worked and a lot of other stuff just didn’t.  You would think it would be easy to just carry over the comic pages like a storyboard for a movie, but adaptations are more complex than that, and the movie Watchmen provides an interesting examination into how such a translation can work.

“This city is afraid of me… I’ve see its true face.”

The big problem with adapting a novel like Watchmen is just the overwhelming mass of story.  Watchmen was published in 12 separate issues over a year between 1986-87, and then compiled together later as a complete book.  And each individual issue has enough story to fill an entire hour worth of screen-time.  The story covers much of the themes that has informed most of Alan Moore’s work, which is the deconstruction of the super hero mythos, and what it means to be a hero, and where violence is justified for the greater good of humanity.  Watchmen is the most overt statement made by Moore about all these issues, and it’s done with quite a compelling story.  The novel let’s us follow different generation of masked vigilantes known as the “Watchmen,” whose heydays have long passed them by and are now working outside of the law for what they believe is for the best of society.  The only problem is that their methods are increasingly problematic and do more harm than good, making them social pariahs.  The book takes it’s title from the classic Latin phrase, “Quis cutodiet ipsos custodes?” or “Who watches the Watchmen?”  It’s a story that calls into question where authority lies, and what do we do when power is unchecked.  This is reflected in varying degrees through the flawed characters within the story; the by the book Night Owl, the emotionally broken Silk Spectre, the autocratic Ozymandias, the nihilistic Rorschach, the manic Comedian, and the ethereal Dr. Manhattan.  Each of these characters is brought to moral crossroads through the actions they take and the novel does an exceptional job of devoting enough time to understanding who these characters are and what forces both external and internal made them who they are.  It’s an exploration of personal and societal dramas that you can’t possibly work entirely into a two to three hour run-time without losing a lot in translation.

I think what plagued the Watchmen movie the most was the fact that it was limited by the confines of cinema.  Even with a nearly three hour run time, Watchmen still feels like it just never breaks past the surface.  It’s presenting the story, but it never delves any deeper.  A lot of the story’s themes had to be streamlined and character moments dropped in favor of more action oriented scenes, which studios tend to value more.  As a result, we get a movie that has the look of Alan Moore’s Watchmen, but doesn’t have the same emotional impact, or is as thought-provoking.  Some of the edits were understandable, like the comic within the comic Tales of the Black Freighter, which was meant to serve as a parallel fable to underline the psyche of some of what the main characters were going through.  You lose some of the introspection without the Black Freighter, but you gain better pacing as a result.  Other things cut from the story prove far more problematic, especially the look into the history of the Watchmen.  We learn so little about the founding members, and the ones we do meet, including the original Night Owl and Silk Spectre, are so ill-defined that they are no where near as interesting as they are in the comics.  This makes one of the novel’s most shocking moments, the murder of Hollis Mason (the first Night Owl) feel sadly weak in the film, because we are so little invested in his story. The film’s socio-political message also gets short-changed in the translation, with Cold War politics taking a back seat most of the time, and questions of misuses of authority becoming less important than watching the main characters kick ass throughout the movie.  That, in of itself, is the biggest insult to Alan Moore’s story, because it misses the point of how the people behind the masks are imperfect people and that their judgments are just as flawed as anyone else’s, making their authority all the more problematic.  When you take those same characters and given them choreographed fight scenes that make them look cool, you’ve kinda lost the narrative.

“I didn’t mind being the smartest man in the world.  I just wish it wasn’t this one.”

Not everything about this movie is a failure though.  You can tell that the filmmakers do have an appreciation for the novel, and the faithful adherence to the symbols and iconic images within the novel help to make it at least recognizable as an adaptation of the story.  Can’t say the same about anything in The League of Extraordinary Gentelmen (2003).  Where the movie also succeeds surprisingly well is in the cast, at least for the most part.  In particular, the movie does deserve credit for it’s perfect casting of Rorschach.  Character actor Jackie Earle Haley looks like he was born to play the role, and he takes full command of every scene he is in.  His Rorschach is Moore’s creation come to life in every way, complete with the harsh raspy voice and volatile personality.  The iconic mask is also really well executed in the movie, with the inkblot shape constantly changing form throughout the movie.  But the biggest surprise is how well the movie portrays Dr. Manhattan.  The blue skinned, god-like super being known as Dr. Manhattan may have been the reason why other filmmakers abandoned the project, because he is such a difficult character to translate to the screen.  The comic even differentiates him from the others by making his speech bubble unique in appearance.  Casting actor Billy Crudup in the role may have been an unusual choice, but with a calm, scientific tone of voice, his performance actually works amazingly well.  I’ve always wondered what Dr. Manhattan would sound like, and Crudup’s understated delivery just feels right.  A person with unlimited power would speak in that matter of fact, reserved kind of way.  The motion capture animation of the character also is some of the movie’s best effects work.  Patrick Wilson and Malin Akerman are serviceable as Night Owl and Silk Spectre respectively, but nothing special.  Jeffrey Dean Morgan also shines in his brief moments as The Comedian.  If there is a disappointment at all in the cast, it’s Matthew Goode as Ozymandias, who just feels flat and uninterested as the arrogant antagonist of the story.

The movie and the book also have the glaring difference of very contrasting ideas about how to use the visuals to tell their story.  Zack Snyder has his many problems as a storyteller, but no one can take away his status as a strong filmmaker.  He is indeed capable of delivering some beautifully composed images in his films, and he does have a strong grasp on how to best use extensive visual effects in his movies.  However, he also has the reputation of putting too much emphasis on visuals and not enough in the story, making the former feel more hollow as a result.  His direction works best with something like 300 (2007), which is a story made for the sole purpose of showing off the visuals and little more.  Watchmen on the other hand puts much more emphasis on the story.  While artist Dave Gibbons does provide some amazing visuals in the story, like Dr. Manhattan’s clockwork tower on Mars or the Comedian’s bloody demise, his artwork is much more in the service of Moore’s text and less meant to be it’s own thing.  Most of Watchmen‘s panels look no more different than your average comic, and that’s intentional.  Moore and Gibbons were making a critique of the super hero genre made within the same style.  Snyder dispenses with this idea and flourishes his film with his own excessive style, which sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t.  Dr. Manhattan’s rebirth is adequately realized on screen in a stunning, epic moment, and so is the realization of his tower.  Where the movie does loose some luster is in the depiction of Ozymandias’ fortress in the Antarctic.  What should have been a stunning contrast between the warm glow of the inside of the fortress and the harsh coldness outside is unfortunately lost through Zack Snyder’s muted color palette.  It’s the point in the movie that felt the most lacking to me compared with what was on the page, and considering that this is where the film’s climax takes place, it increases the unsatisfactory response to the movie as a whole.  Was Zack Snyder the wrong choice of director?  Well, he wasn’t a great choice, but considering how few others would even attempt this adaptation, I suppose he’s the best that this movie could’ve hoped for.

“What happened to the American Dream?  It came true!  You’re lookin’ at it.”

What the movie Watchmen shows us is that even something that seems destined for the silver screen in a visual medium like comics and graphic novels doesn’t always guarantee a successful adaptation.  In many ways, graphic novels are even harder to translate because the visual realization of the story is already there, making it harder for a movie to live up to that.  Alan Moore’s magnum opus is celebrated both as a critique of the super hero genre, and as a perfect representation of the genre itself.  It’s harrowing as much as it is provocative, and it has iconic characters that anyone working in the comic medium would love to have for their own.  In it’s thirty years, Watchmen has remained a high water mark in its field and still to this day is one of the best-selling graphic novels of all time.  I don’t think any movie could ever have come close to capturing what Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons captured on the page.  The movie exists purely as an example of how even the most earnest of adaptations can fail to capture the same kind of impact.  Was it necessary?  Well, you couldn’t expect for DC and Warner Bros. to just sit on the property.  The fact that Watchmen is not an incomprehensible mess overall is I guess a sign of some accomplishment.  It did nail some of the characterizations, and the fact that so much work went into at least preserving the imagery of what was on the page is worth something.  Much like Ozymandias, Zack Snyder took the unenviable burden of taking a job that would result in nothing but a harsh response, so that no one else would have to get their hands bloody in the aftermath.  He does add some nice new flourishes, including an outstanding opening credits sequence, but of his many other choices just seemed contradictory to what the story actually needed.  Graphic novels are by no means untouchable as sources for film adaptations, but the pressure to do them justice is almost always never worth the risk.  As Watchmen shows us, sometimes a story can be fully realized before Hollywood can ever get it’s hands on it, and any other attempt at it will always have to live up to a different standard.

“Rorschach’s Journal: October 12th, 1985.  Tonight, a comedian died in New York.”

Logan – Review

In the pre-Cinematic Universe era of superhero hero movies, you would often see a lot of turn over in the casting of all you favorite superheroes.  The 1990’s for instance saw no less than three different Batmans.  It was a time when brand recognition mattered more than the casting of the characters.  Why keep the same actor when it’s the character that’s the big draw?  Nowadays, there is a whole lot more care put into the casting of superhero movies, with the persona of the actor sometimes becoming a deciding factor in their selection.  You can definitely see that in the current slate of Marvel films.  Can you imagine anyone other than roguish Robert Downey Jr. as the wisecracking Iron Man, or charming Chris Evans as the naively pure-souled Captain America, or even suave, dapper Benedict Cumberbatch as the mysterious Doctor Strange.  Yes, the casting of these characters matter today, and audiences are more keenly aware now than ever when someone is out of place.  Just look at some of the worst casting choices for these kinds of films, like Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze, or Topher Grace as Venom, or more recently, Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor.  It’s a good thing in today’s film industry that so much more effort is placed on the construction of these characters to match more closely their print counterparts in order to meet the expectations of fans.  You could argue that the beginning of this era started all the way back in 2000 with Bryan Singer’s X-Men, where they not only took the characters more seriously, but even managed to collect top tier talent to portray them.  The cast of X-Men, with some minor exceptions, is largely praised for capturing faithfully the essence of their respective characters, and chief of all of the most highly praised casting choices for those films would be it’s breakout star Hugh Jackman as the iconic Wolverine.

When Bryan Singer cast the then unknown Aussie actor to play the metal clawed man-beast, I don’t think either he nor Jackman knew just how much of an impact that decision would leave on the character.  Hugh Jackman would prove to be the absolute perfect choice for the part, less physically (he never once has worn the iconic costume) and more in terms of personality. He’s gruff in all the right ways, but still manages to remain charming and assertive.  In time, Wolverine became the face of the franchise and it turned Jackman into a household name around the world.  The first X-Men was successful enough, but the franchise outdid itself with the follow-up X2: X-Men United (2002).  Then came X-Men: The Last Stand (2006), a huge mis-managed failure of a sequel.  In the aftermath, the series had to rethink it’s strategy, and one idea was to begin a series of origin films centered on each of the most iconic X-Men characters.  They again relied on their star to carry this franchise into it’s next phase, but unfortunately, the result was X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009), one of the worst superhero films ever made.  After this, X-Men went through another revamp, choosing instead to look into the past and see the formation of the team in X-Men: First Class (2011).  This put the franchise back on solid footing, but even still, Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine was kept as a common thread through everything.  With a great cameo in First Class and a key lead role in Days of Future Past (2014), Jackman’s presence gave this disjointed franchise stability it normally wouldn’t have.  In addition, a separate but interconnected Wolverine franchise emerged from the rubble of Origins and actually gave us a far superior sequel in The Wolverine (2013).  But, everything must come to an end, and Hugh Jackman now sees his after 17 years playing the same character over 9 movies, a feat that’s remarkable no matter how you look at it.  And that leads us to the release of his franchise swan song: Logan.

Logan, taken from Wolverine’s actual name, is a loose adaptation of the Old Man Logan Marvel comic event series that focused on Wolverine’s latter years.  The movie only uses bits of that comic’s story-line, along with bits of the “X-23” story-line as well, but it is largely it’s own original take on the material.  Set 10 years into the future, America has nearly wiped out mutantkind through medication and reproductive experimentation.  Only a handful of mutants remain, living discreetly either hiding their identity or living across the border, waiting for their time to come.  We find Logan (Hugh Jackman), working as a limo driver in borderland Texas.  He makes his home in an abandoned mill, where he looks after an increasingly senile and unstable 90 year old Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), alongside Charles’ care-giver Caliban (Stephen Merchant).  We find out that Charles’ telepathic powers are unstable and are capable of causing serious mental harm to anyone in the vicinity if he doesn’t take his medication.  One day, Logan is visited by a desperate Mexican lady (Elizabeth Rodriguez) who begs him to help her transport a girl she claims to be her daughter named Laura (Dafne Keen) across America to the Canadian Border.  Logan is reluctant, but once the woman is found killed, Logan is forced to look after Laura.  Soon, a shadowy group called the Reavers come to Logan’s compound looking for the girl, including their slimy leader Pierce (Boyd Holbrook).  While being attacked, Laura reveals not only a  mutant, but that she has the same abilities as Wolverine, including adamantium claws.  Stuck together, Logan, Charles, and Laura take to the road, hoping to reach the border before the Reavers can catch up to them.

Logan is largely meant to bring closure to the character of Wolverine, and in many ways it does bring the character (at least Hugh Jackman’s version) to a fitting end.  No other actor has come close to being as prolific as Jackman’s Wolverine, though some of Marvel Studios’ iterations are coming close.  You have to give him credit though for being really the first actor of this generation to not only portray the character on the big screen, but to also champion him like never before.  Since Hugh Jackman’s portrayal of Wolverine, we’ve seen a lot more actors carry the mantle of their selective heroes with pride and want to portray them for longer periods of time.  So, it’s fitting that Fox and Marvel allowed for Jackman to call the shots on his final chapter, including finally having the freedom to make this an “R-rated” adventure.  There’s no tip-toeing around the blood and gore in this Wolverine film.  When Wolverine cuts into somebody with his claws, it’s in full Peckinpaw-ish detail, complete with gallons of spilled blood.  Also, the movie gets to throw far more f-bombs our way.  It’s not Wolverine’s first time dropping the mother of all swear words in one of these movies, nor is it Charles Xavier’s, but the frequency has definitely increased.  All of these are great and all for the direction of the franchise, but does it translate into a solid movie.  Well, I have to say yes and no to that.  The creative freedom to finally be as gratuitous as the filmmakers want with the violence helps to make the fight scenes more viscerally interesting than ever before, but I felt that the story itself was severely lacking in many areas.  Plot threads are established but never fully realized; character motivations don’t make sense all the time; and there is generally awkward pacing throughout the movie.  None of this is Origins or Last Stand bad, nor are they as disappointing as last year’s lackluster X-Men: Apocalypse (2016), but they prevent this movie from being as good as it could’ve been as a result too.

My chief problem with this movie is the overall conflict.  The basic essential plot point of Logan and his companions getting from point A to B is effective enough, but the danger around them is at times unfocused, unexplained, and just flat out mediocre at times.  The villains in particular are this movie’s weakest aspect.  The Reavers, I hear, are some very interesting bad guys in the comic books, but in this movie, they are no different than any black-ops bands of mercenaries that you see in any other action thriller.  They are mainly there to be lambs to the slaughter for Logan and Laura for most of the movie, which does lead to some admittedly cool looking death scenes.  Boyd Holbrook’s Pierce is also disappointing as the antagonist, because he never shows any depth in character.  He’s just a smarmy asshole whose only purpose in the story is to hunt down our heroes.  We learn nothing about who he is or why we’re supposed to find him interesting.  He’s a far cry from far more interesting villains in this series like Magneto and General Stryker.  In some ways, I feel like the filmmakers themselves realized how weak the villain was in this, so they introduced some new 11th-hour villains late into the movie to liven things up, like a corrupt scientist played by Richard E. Grant, and even he adds completely nothing to the mix.  There’s also the addition of a “creature” meant to rival Wolverine late in the film that I felt was is completely unnecessary, is never fully explained, and by the end just leaves you confused as to why it was created.  The movie also suffers from a story that doesn’t quite know what it wants to be.  It works best when it just stays to the “on-the-run” story-line, but there are unnecessary plot deviations that ruin the momentum and go nowhere.  Charles Xavier for instance mentions a troubled incident in his past that caused him to retreat from the world, but it’s only given the briefest of mentions and almost seems to have been forgotten by the filmmakers, making it infuriatingly pointless.  It’s lackluster elements like this that spoil what could’ve otherwise been a great movie.

Where the film does excel is in the interactions between it’s leads.  Despite the film’s lackluster story, it does have a great heart at it’s center and that’s the bittersweet final days of it’s hero.  Jackman, as always, is exceptional as Wolverine here.  The great thing about this movie is that we get to see a lot more vulnerability from him here than we have before.  This is a version of Wolverine that is on his last legs; not able to heal as quickly as he has before, broken down from the heartache of seeing his species wiped out, and knowing that his long days are finally about to be numbered.  Jackman balances this with the things that he’s been best at in this series this whole time, which are brutal take-downs of his enemies.  You can tell that Jackman knows this is his final chance to bring real emotion out of this character that he’s played for so long, and he really does excel in the film’s more emotional moments.  This is the closest we’ve seen to actual introspective acting from this actor in this series; more embodying the heart and sole of Wolverine, rather than just looking the part.  The movie is also at it’s best when he gets to work off his co-stars.  Partick Stewart is also saying goodbye to his longtime role as Charles Xavier, and it is a touching performance; perhaps the best in the entire film.  Like Hugh Jackman, Stewart gets an honorable farewell here too.  However, the movie does belong to the scene-stealing Dafne Keen as Laura.  Portrayed with incredible intensity for a girl her age, she commands every moment she’s on screen, and does so in a mostly mute role.  She also manages to hold her own against her more experienced co-stars and helps to make them even better as a result.  Of all the new characters introduced in this film, she is easily the best one, and the movie’s one true triumph.  Her character helps to keep this from being an out right disappointment of a movie, and apart from seeing Jackman and Stewart say goodbye to their characters, she is definitely the main reason to watch this movie.

The movie doesn’t disappont with it’s visuals.  After the excessive use of bland CGI in X-Men: Apocalypse and the flat out terrible use of effects in Origins, it’s nice to see director James Mangold keep things simple for this film.  The fight scenes are mostly easy to follow and they get the most out of the extra bit of gore that this movie is allowed to have.  Not only do Logan and Laura get to cut into their enemies, they slice them to shreds, like a weed trimmer to a bush.   This is the most visceral we’ve ever seen the violence in any of the X-Men movies, or any superhero movie for that matter.  Even R-Rated Deadpool (2016) didn’t get away with this much. At the same though, the fight scenes here aren’t completely original either.  We don’t get any standout fight scenes like the bullet train sequence in The Wolverine.  All the ones in this movie are mostly interchangeable, except for maybe the excellent opening sequence or the one where Laura first shows her true abilities.  The final showdown in particular is a let down, mainly because of the choice of adversary that I’ve already discussed earlier.  In the end, it’s nice that Mangold and Jackman got the ability to really test the limits of gratuitous violence this time around, and they do make good use of it in the film.  If only all that freedom resulted in more interesting fight scenes.  Apart from that, the movie does have a nice melancholy tone to it, using the wide open spaces of the American prairie-lands to underline the isolation that these characters are experiencing.  At times, this is a very beautiful movie to look at.  The film excels during the quiet moments of reflection, when we the audience are allowed to soak in the atmosphere, and see the performers really shine through as the characters.  None of the more raucous moments are bad in any way, but more creativity could’ve been given to them in order to make this a more balanced movie overall.

Logan is by no means a bad film.  It does feature some passionate performances from a talented cast, and enables them to finally portray the characters the way they’ve always wanted to.  However, this is far from the best we’ve seen in this series.  I for one far more enjoyed the first two X-Men movies, as well as First Class and Days of Future Past.  Even it’s predecessor The Wolverine felt more consistent as a narrative and movie experience.  But, it is no where near as terrible as Origins or Last Stand, and it does hold up better than the boringly inconsistent Apocalypse.  What works best in this movie are the actors, because you can tell that they are trying their best to leave their iconic roles on a high note.  It’s the story that ultimately lets the film down, with a narrative that never really coalesces into a coherent plot, and is undermined by a underwhelming central threat.  I think another screenplay polish would have worked out some of the film’s shortcomings, taking out some of the more pointless character motivation and actually giving the heroes a real threat to go up against.  That said, if you are a fan of the X-Men franchise, then you’ll probably find this to be a worthwhile sit through.  Jackman and Stewart both conclude their iconic roles in a fitting fashion, reminding us all why we fell in love with their performances in the first place.  It’s really quite an achievement on Hugh Jackman’s part to have stuck with this demanding role for two decades, especially considering that Wolverine is a character that doesn’t age.  The question is, how will Wolverine survive without Hugh Jackman.  My hope is that Fox eventually relents and gives the rights to the characters over to Marvel Studios and Disney.  We probably will never get anything as bloody as this again, but a reboot by Marvel might finally help this character return to his roots; including possibly having him finally wear his iconic head gear.  Nevertheless,  Hugh Jackman will be hard to replace, and this movie works as a fitting, if underwhelming, love letter from an actor to the character that made him into a star.

Rating: 7/10