Beware the light.

Review by C.J. Bunce

On first viewing of Logan, this year’s most critically acclaimed superhero film, a viewer may love it or leave it.  It’s not your typical Marvel Comics adaptation, full of f-bombs and the bloodiest of action and violence.  Yet it’s also a finely crafted final chapter to the successful X-Men film saga and a tribute to Hugh Jackman’s unprecedented nine-film run as Logan.  Last week 20th Century Fox showed a limited screening arranged by the director of Logan in black and white, called Logan: Noir.  The version is also included on the Blu-ray release available everywhere tomorrow.  If you haven’t seen Logan, skip the theatrical version and go straight to Logan: Noir and if you have seen Logan prepare for a completely different experience with this special edition of the film.

Logan: Noir would be more aptly titled Logan: Black and White, as this is not so much classic noir than a modern Western tale shown in black and white.  Thankfully writer/director James Mangold (Cop Land, 3:10 to Yuma, The Wolverine) carefully and elegantly filmed Logan with an eye for the stark contrasts that black and white film once regularly captured so well.  Parts of the film will reach into your chest and hold you breathless, revealing the full potential of a comic book based film–and more specifically a superhero film.

Its bleak, cold landscapes are evocative of a John Ford (Stagecoach, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The Grapes of Wrath) Western.  Its slow, calculated scenic pans are something Stanley Kubrick (Lolita, Dr. Strangelove) could only have hoped to have achieved in his early work.  Inasmuch as Hugh Jackman is a classic, Western, antihero archetype in his so-far-gone, washed-up, tired and grizzled Logan–former Wolverine of the X-Men–he appears far lonelier and resigned to a dismal, unrelenting future in black and white.  The cold contrasts in this Logan somehow create a vision more true to the Old Man Logan of the comic book source material.

The villains, borg Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) and Dr. Rice (Richard E. Grant), who seem rather one-note in the theatrical release, seethe in more darkness, too.  The dinner scene where Logan, Charles Xavier (Sir Patrick Stewart), and Laura/X23 (Dafne Keen) temporarily adopt a family is more poignant.  It may seem absurd to compare, but the journey taken by Logan and young mutant Laura is an eloquent, albeit disturbing, parallel and update to director Peter Bogdanovich’s 1971 tale of traveling father-daughter con artists, Paper Moon.  If you liked Eleven in Stranger Things, you’ll love the gunslinger-esque performance of Keen here.  And the film’s moral and political themes play well visually, evoking a war film like The Bedford Incident.  More so than in the color version, the opening scene with Stewart’s aged Charles Xavier is stunning, operatic, soulful.  This future world shares much with John Ford’s era-defining Grapes of Wrath–a comparison not so easily made in the color version.

As for black and white cinematography in the post-color era, to quote the sun-fearing mutant Caliban (Stephen Merchant), “Beware the light.”  Director of photography John Mathieson’s understanding and use of lighting is up there with the work in Young Frankenstein, Paper Moon, and Schindler’s List, and would stand up with original era black and white films like Elmore Leonard’s 1957 3:10 to Yuma and the 1948 dark Western Yellow Sky.

This trailer for Logan: Noir provides an idea of what you’ll find in this edition:

(If only they’d used some tracks from Johnny Cash, too!).  Pre-order the Blu-ray of Logan, including Logan: Noir, now here at Amazon.  It’s a must-see for fans of not only the superhero genre, but fans of Westerns and film aficionados, too.

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