Quickies: ‘Logan’ and ‘Kong: Skull Island’

[NOTE: Recently I went to my local multiplex to catch a couple flix that I’d heard good things about. I just wanted to say a quick word about each, and I think that’s enough for both.]

Logan poster

“A monster lies in wait in me,
A stew of wounds and misery,
But fiercer still in life and limb,
The me that lies in wait in him.”

– Clive Barker, Tonight, Again

At this point, I think it’s safe to say that the X-Men film series has become one of the most defining of the genre. Like Batman and Superman, the film entries for Marvel’s favorite mutants have come to define the best (X-Men, X2, First Class, Days of Future Past, Deadpool) and worst (X3, Apocalypse, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, The Wolverine) the genre has to offer. The fact that Wolverine’s solo flicks have been universally despised thus far could stand as evidence that the character is vastly overrated.

Fortunately for him, making two crappy films means the third one has nowhere to go but up. With a plot based on the Old Man Logan storyline, we find our eponymous hero in a distant future where mutants are all-but-dead, Prof. X is senile (a bad thing to be when you’re the world’s most powerful psychic), and Logan himself is rotting from the inside. Having put his heroics far behind him, he now spends his days and night alternatively drinking himself to death and driving a town car. When he comes across a young mutant girl who reminds him of himself, he’s forced to face a part of his life he never wanted to experience again.

There are a few things about Logan that irked me. The first of which is that it continues the X-Men films’ (based on the comics inspired by the Black leaders of the Civil Rights Movement of the ‘60s) unfortunate tradition of making people of color expendable. There’s also the film’s use of an adamantium bullet that contradicts the way it’s worked in previous films. And don’t get me started on the digital de-aging (first used by Hollywood in, of all things, X-Men 3) that’s already begun grave-robbing dead stars.

But… other than that, it’s not bad. Oddly enough, I’d describe it as the comic book western that Jonah Hex could, nay should, have been. It takes the classic trope of the gunslinger coming back for one last job and applies it to a world where people are – well, “were” in this story – born with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. I wouldn’t call it perfect (the ending leaves something to be desired), but it’s nice to see Hugh Jackman send his highest-profile character out on a good note. He only took the role because Dougray Scott got injured. Seventeen years later, you can’t imagine anyone else in that hair.

Logan GRADE:                   B

Kong Skull Island poster

“Fuck Grape Ape and Magilla!
I’m a killa
Magilla Gorilla, ain’t a killa
White boys like Godzilla
But my super-nigga named King Kong
Played his ass like ping-pong.”

– Da Lench Mob, “Guerillas in Tha Mist”, Guerillas in Tha Mist (1992)

So… this is really happening, eh? We’re really doing this?

I mean, I get it: the Marvel Cinematic Universe proved how great (read: “lucrative”) it can be to have an interlocking multi-media franchise, now everyone wants a piece of that action. But whereas it makes sense to see competition from Marvel’s longtime rival DC (whose DCEU films have all sucked), it makes less sense to force that model onto other franchises. Even the Universal Monsters, debatably the grand-daddy of cinematic franchises, have failed to resurrect that brand – be it with Coppola’s Dracula and Kenneth Branagh’s Frankenstein (and their ill-conceived quasi-spin-off, Van Helsing); or the recent trainwreck that was Dracula Untold. Hell, even Marvel’s “orphan” characters – Fantastic Four and pre-2016 Spider-Man – have tried and failed to set up their own worlds (the film I review above this one speaks for itself).

Yet studios persist. After the unexpected success of 2014’s Godzilla, the folks at Legendary pictures decided to snatch up all the US rights to all of Toho’s famous radioactive beasts so’s they can bash each other in state-of-the-art CGI. They even got America’s very own big hairy hero to get in on the fun. Now, with a remake of 1962’s King Kong vs. Godzilla scheduled for 2020, cinema’s favorite ape (Clint Eastwood co-stars notwithstanding) gets a brand new origin flick to get audiences amped up. I’ll say this: it’s a better lead-in than Batman v. Superman.

This version finds his home of Skull Island located in South-East Asia. With the war in Vietnam coming to a close, Army squad pilot Packard is actually remorseful that he won’t see any more action. As such, he jumps at the opportunity to escort a team of researchers to the storm-infested island. When they arrive, they find a less-than-warm reception from the island’s inhabitants. Some of those inhabitants walk on two legs, some walk on four legs, and one rules from on high.

Let’s be honest: we all like the V.rex battle scene from Peter Jackson’s King Kong, but what else has it got going for it? Even before he pumped The Hobbit full of horse steroids, King Kong was exemplary of Jackson’s new tendency to extend classic properties beyond reason. Kong: Skull Island takes the opposite approach with varied results: it’s mercifully shorter than Jackson’s, but has nothing truly distinctive about it. The former showed how a once-iconoclastic film-maker found his head lost up his own ass; the latter is the competently-made second volume of an ongoing series that’s already been planned out through the next decade.

Let me say again that Kong: Skull Island isn’t at all bad, but I can’t remember a thing about it other than its title.

Kong: Skull Island GRADE:           C+

And what do YOU think?

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