Thursday, 30 March 2017

The Lego Batman Movie

(PG) ★★★½

Director: Chris McKay.

Cast: (voices of) Will Arnett, Zach Galifianakis, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson, Ralph Fiennes.

Is that Christian Bale or Ben Affleck? I can't keep up.

How much Batman is too much Batman?

The correct answer is "there is no such thing as too much Batman". But you could be forgiven for thinking we could be close to Peak Bat.

Including his role in The Lego Movie (and definitely counting The Lego Batman Movie), by the end of this year there will have been eight movies featuring Batman released in the past 12 years. That's with three different actors bringing three different versions of the Bat to the big screen. That's even more than Spider-man who, by the end of 2017, will have had three actors play him in seven movies over 15 years.

But as previously stated, there is no such thing as too much Batman (or Spider-man for that matter). So it seems fair that if the grown-ups can have their Batman, tearing his way through the dark and moody DC Extended Universe, then surely the kids can have their own Batman too, poking fun at his own winged existence in the hyperactive Lego Movie universe.

The Lego Batman (voiced in comedically gravelly fashion by Arnett) explores the loneliness and awesomeness of being the Bat. After yet another bout of smashing the baddies and saving Gotham, he returns to sit alone in (spoiler alert) Wayne Manor, raising questions about whether such an existence is healthy.

Fortunately The Joker (a surprisingly but pleasantly subdued Galifianakis) is on hand to force Batman to emote and stop pushing people away. Driven by an urge to have Batman admit The Joker is his #1 nemesis, The Joker hatches a plan to pit every villain Warner Bros can get their hands on to get Batman to grow as a human.

It's all very meta and self-aware, which is the film's greatest strength. In their quest to find a new way to look at Bruce Wayne's alter-ego, the writers (led by Pride & Prejudice & Zombies author Seth Grahame-Smith) have focused on the isolation the Batsuit creates, bashing that notion up against adopted sidekick Robin (Cera), butler Alfred (Fiennes) and new police chief Barbara Gordon (Dawson), who each want to make life easier and better for the lone wolf Wayne. Oddly for a film that is so unrealistic looking, it nails a certain weird realism in regards to Batman - that he lives a lonely, rage-fuelled existence driven by unresolved issues surrounding his parents' death. The Lego Batman Movie nails this idea better than pretty much every Batfilm except for The Dark Knight and Batman Begins.

There are in-jokes aplenty for hardcore DC fans, including a run-through of some of Batman's more obscure foes (Condiment King, Polka-Dot Man and Orca all get a mention). That, and an understanding of what makes the characters work and their relationships to each other, help keep the movie from tipping into parody. An affection for the source material is evident.

With that in mind, The Lego Batman Movie makes sure to reference what has come before (even going so far as to get Billy Dee Williams to voice Two-Face). There are visual flashes of Lego renditions of all the movies going back to Tim Burton's 1989 Batman, and even a screen grab of Adam West doing the Batusi. As much as this is a kids movie, it's definitely one for the Bat-spotters, which all goes toward helping make this good for all ages. After all, few other characters have been as all-pervasive in pop culture as Batman.

The jokes come thick and fast, and the voice cast is excellent. Arnett, who has been more enjoyable as a voice actor of late, wrings every bit of humour out of his performance, while Cera is a great foil as Dick Grayson AKA Robin. The talent comes thick and fast in this huge ensemble - as well as an all-star villain line-up that includes Lord Voldemort, King Kong, Sauron, the Wicked Witch of the West, the Daleks, and the Gremlins, there is also the DC who's who of Superman, Flash, Martian Manhunter, Green Lantern and dozens more Justice Leaguers, so keep your eyes on the credits to see who did what.

As with The Lego Movie, there is a clever finale that reminds you that, hey, this is all Lego (CG Lego, yes, but you get the picture). But similarly to its predecessor, the animation style is a love-it-or-hate-it venture. In its battle sequences, which are many, The Lego Batman Movie is a blizzard of movement where it can be hard to discern what is happening. Director Chris McKay throws everything at the screen and often it is too much, especially in a medium (ie. Lego) where there are no flat surfaces. 

This busyness on the screen is so full on that in the slower, quieter moments the film struggles to keep momentum. This is no in-between - it's either everything moving all the time or nothing. You get used to the animation style eventually, but you sometimes wish they would just chill out and stop going so overboard. 

These gripes aside, The Lego Batman Movie is the best combination of Batfun and Batseriousness since Tim Burton was in charge. And as good as Affleck is, this leaves Batman Vs Superman for dead, although that is damning the film with faint praise.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Beauty & The Beast: 1991 vs 2017

1991 version

(G) ★★★★★

Director: Gary Trousdale & Kirk Wise.

Cast: (voices of) Paige O'Hara, Robby Benson, Richard White, Jerry Orbach, David Ogden Stiers, Angela Lansbury, Bradley Michael Pierce, Rex Everhart, Jesse Corti, Hal Smith, Jo Anne Worley.

The age old story of one woman's love for a buffalo.

Upon its release in 1991, Beauty & The Beast marked a turning point for Disney.

Buoyed by the success of The Little Mermaid two years earlier - the House of Mouse's best film since The Jungle Book in '67 and the start of the so-called Disney Renaissance - the animation company had some wind in its sails once again. That renewed confidence is evident in Beauty & The Beast. While remaining true to what had come before, it is also a signpost pointing toward the future.

On the one hand, it's very much cut from the fairytale cloth of Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, while retaining the goofiness of, well, Goofy and his style of talking-animal Disney comedy. The humourous sidekick Le Fou, the horse Phillippe, and the talking household paraphernalia all speak to the Walt era of Disney.

The classic Disney look is there too, although there is an extra level of depth and detail to the artwork. Note the slow zoom into the castle in the opening shot, with layers of foliage moving in and out of focus - this is just the first hint of what's to come. This newfound capability is courtesy of a fledgling company called Pixar, who introduced a new computer animation production system (CAPS) which Disney effectively road-tested on previous film The Rescuers Down Under. Pixar were also responsible for the CG backgrounds in the ballroom scene - a masterfully animated combination of the old and the new which showed the producers could see what was coming and weren't afraid of it.

The old and the new can also be found in Belle, a heroine who is brave, intelligent and independent, but still a romantic whose favourite book tells of a Prince Charming. Disney was moving forward but ensuring one foot remained in the past, something it continues to do with great success to this day - just look at how Frozen and Moana hark back to the "princess musicals" such as Beauty & The Beast while being thoroughly modern, especially with their heroines.

One of the unsung heroes of Beauty & The Beast is screenwriter Linda Woolverton. Of all the major film awards it was nominated for, only one was for Woolverton's script. The screenplay is so lean, tight, pacy and punchy, that even the special edition (which adds the song Human Again) is only 90 minutes long. There is barely a wasted second or piece of surplus plotting, and the whole thing crackles with energy. The entire set-up for the film, narrated by Ogden Stiers (who pulls double duties as Cogsworth), is wrapped up in a couple of minutes and its a good indication that there will be no stops on this service.

The only toilet breaks here are in the songs, but you'd be missing out. While the title track (which has the absolute shit oversung out of it by CĂ©line Dion and Peabo Bryson in the credits) is probably the best known, the opening Belle and the humourous Be Our Guest are the standouts. Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, who also penned songs for The Little Mermaid and Aladdin until Ashman's death in 1991, were a match made in heaven (Beauty & The Beast is dedicated to Ashman).

It's often mentioned Beauty & The Beast was the first animation to be nominated for the best film Oscar, but what's not noted is that 1991 was a comparatively weak year. That's not to take anything away from Beauty & The Beast - it's a worthy nominee - but in a stronger year it's doubtful it would have made the top five. Silence Of The Lambs was a worthy winner, The Fisher King, Barton Fink and Thelma & Louise were notable omissions, and of the other nominees for best film only JFK is spoken of with any reverence (when was the last time you heard anyone rave about Bugsy or The Prince Of Tides?).

Still, Beauty & The Beast broke new ground while recapturing the spirit of Disney traditionalism. A more modern heroine, the incorporation of CG elements, and some Academy respect, combined with figuring out the essential qualities that made their past classics so classic helped pave the way for the House of Mouse's future, and indeed, the next few decades of animation.


2017 version

(PG) ★★★½

Director: Bill Condon

Cast: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Kevin Kline, Josh Gad, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Audra McDonald, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson.

One woman's love for a buffalo ... now in hi-res.

Which brings us to the 2017 version of the western world's most beloved tale of Stockholm Syndrome.

(I'm fairly sure this wasn't mentioned back in 1991, but I've heard the Stockholm Syndrome thing mentioned recently because this is the time we live in. I don't say this by way of criticism or dismissal, I'm just saying. What does it mean? I don't know. But the fact is that's what the fairytale features, and so that's what the film features. There's also a little bit of the Florence Nightingale Effect going the other way too. What does that mean? I don't know. I'm not judging. I'm just saying. But will kids walk away from this thinking "ooh, if I kidnap someone they'll fall in love with me"? Doubtful, unless you're teaching your kids wrong to start with. Will your kids walk away thinking "there's more to people than just looks"? Probably, because that's the real message here.)

(Also, while I'm at, there are a couple of allusions to homosexuality in this and OH MY GOD IT WILL TURN YOU KIDS GAY IF THEY WATCH IT! Ha. Of course it won't, you fuckwit. It's 2017, for fuck's sake. Grow up, you ignorant douchebag.)

Anyway, here we have the latest live action remake of Disney's back catalogue of classics. Unlike Alice In Wonderland or Pete's Dragon, this sticks very close - beat for beat to be honest - to the 1991 version. This is a good thing. Those doing the remaking are obviously aware of what worked last time around and are sticking with that.

That includes the songs as well as the story. The first and biggest criticism to be levelled at the 2017 take is that it's added more songs and more story, the lean 90 minutes blown out to 129 minutes. Some of the extra minutes are necessary. The breathless pace of the animated world doesn't translate directly to live action, and characters such as Le Fou (Gad) and Belle's father Maurice (Kline) grow into more than the goofy cliches of '91.

But the new songs - particularly How Does A Moment Last Forever and Evermore - add nothing (it would have been preferable to see some variation of Human Again in the mix than those). As for the added story elements, did we really need to know what happened to Belle's mother? Or the Beast's mother for that matter?

What the live action version nails is its real life realisations of the characters. Watson makes Belle Hermoine 2.0 but it works. Evans is perfectly cast as the increasingly devious Gaston, Kline is great as Maurice, while the voice cast of the household objects is excellent (McGregor's dodgy French accent notwithstanding).

The look of the film is good too. It has the same magical realism of the live action Cinderella, but with a darker edge to match the story. The Beast occasionally looks a bit CG (mostly when he walks), but mostly he is a convincing creation.

If there's one thing the 2017 version does better, its humanise the Beast. The '91 version leans on the goofiness too often, while in this take he feels like a real character, which seems to be thanks to the script.

In general, B&TB2017 hits the marks it needs to but can never beat the '91 version. It does some things well, but ultimately this beast is more bloated than it needs to be.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Manchester By The Sea

(M) ★★★★

Director: Kenneth Lonergan.

Cast: Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges, C.J. Wilson, Kyle Chandler, Michelle Williams, Gretchen Mol.

Definitely not a film about a coastal shop selling bed linen.

When films claim big awards for their actors as opposed to the film itself, the film tends to live on in the shadow of the actor.

As great as you might think The Revenant is (personally I thought it was overblown and pretentious), it will forever be the film Leonardo DiCaprio finally (and deservedly) won the best actor Oscar for. As good as The Theory Of Everything and Lincoln are, they revolve in the memory around their shining stars Eddie Redmayne and Daniel Day Lewis. Ditto for Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side and Charlize Theron in Monster (in fact, do you hear these last two films talked about at all these days except in reference to their Oscar-winning actresses?).

Manchester By The Sea is likely to suffer the same fate. It is a solid, beautiful and poignant film, but it lives and dies on the strength of Casey Affleck's restrained Oscar-winning role. Affleck's turn alone is the thing that elevates it to greatness, despite it having so many great elements, and as such, it will be remembered for his performance.

Affleck plays Lee Chandler, a socially awkward recluse who is drawn back to his hometown (the titular Massachusetts seaport) following the death of his brother Joe Chandler (played by Kyle Chandler - I had to spell that one out so it didn't seem like a mistake).

The return not only finds Lee grappling with being named as guardian for his teenage nephew Patrick (Hedges), but also struggling with issues from his past that have left him an unwieldy, pent-up, shell of a man.

Lonergan's film is an exploration of grief that offers no pithy solutions or platitudes, instead portraying it as a never-ending, never-mending faultline that runs through your life from the fateful moment onwards. It's a gut-punching, heartbreaking movie, with Affleck's Lee in the epicentre. He has serious loss in his life he has never properly dealt with and it festers in him like a cancer, bursting out at inappropriate moments and in inappropriate ways. He has been running from it and his return to Manchester-by-the-Sea means it is going to hit him head on.

Affleck's performance captures these ideas perfectly. It's not showy or actorly but rather naturalistic, understated and subdued, drawing you into Lee's world completely. The film's narrative is similarly underplayed. It poses a mystery early on, and after it exposes it, the hook is in seeing how the characters, particularly Lee, deal with it now he's back in town.

Hedges is good in support, and combined with the strong script makes Patrick a real teen, determined to continue with his day-to-day life but still deeply unsettled by the loss of his father. The rest of the supporting cast is also powerful - the under-rated Kyle Chandler is excellent in his role, which is limited to flashbacks, Williams is fantastic as Lee's ex-wife, and Mol is great in her handful of scenes, one of which includes a neat cameo from Matthew Broderick.

The slow-burn pace and quiet tone of the film will annoy some, but more off-putting are some overly dramatic musical choices and the occasional weird patch of dialogue. For the most part, the script is spot-on, but every so often a line sticks out. Similarly the soundtrack choices sometimes make themselves too pronounced. As for the pacing, it must be argued it is perfect for the subject matter, and the film unravels at exactly the tempo it should.

Minor gripes aside, Lonergan has tackled his subject with sensitivity and beauty (the backdrop of a north-eastern US winter is stark but pretty), and with Affleck in the driver's seat he has found a perfect role for the under-appreciated actor.

Friday, 17 March 2017

REWIND REVIEW: Footrot Flats - The Dog's Tale (RIP Murray Ball)

(PG) ★★★★

Director: Murray Ball.

Cast: (voices of) John Clarke, Peter Rowley, Rawiri Paratene, Fiona Samuel, Peter Hayden, Dorothy McKegg, Billy T. James, Brian Sergent, Marshall Napier, Michael Haigh.

Pets should rarely be kept in the fridge.

America had Charles M Schulz and Peanuts, France had Goscinny & Uderzo and Asterix, and New Zealand had Murray Ball and Footrot Flats.

As representations of their respective nations, each is telling. Peanuts was a good cross-section of American post-war society when it began in the 1950s, ranging from the ultimate example of "nice guys finish last" in its downtrodden hero Charlie Brown through to the dumb bully Lucy, who is constantly keeping the everyman down.

Meanwhile Asterix emerged less than 15 years after WWII, as France was continuing to reclaim its identity and rebuild, having suffered the indignity of the invading Nazis. Hence it throws back to a time when a group of "indomitable Gauls" hold out against the all-conquering Romans.

And New Zealand had Wal Footrot and Dog. In the wit of Ball and his characters lay a prime example of rural Kiwi (and Aussie for that matter) humour. New Zealand farming was predominantly more modern than Ball depicted it to be circa 1980, but it spoke to a certain romanticism for the land, and in a country with a population the size of NZ's, it seemed just about everyone had relatives who lived on a farm, so almost everyone had an understanding of what Ball was banging on about. Like Australia, New Zealand rode on the sheep's back, and Footrot Flats was a proud portrayal of the strugglers who shore that back in between weekends of playing rugby (or footy or cricket) and heading into town for fish and chips.

When Ball's comic strip hit the silver screen, every man and his dog (ahem) turned out to see it in New Zealand (it was a box office hit in Australia too). Footrot Flats - The Dog's Tale was the first Kiwi feature-length animated film and held the record for being the most successful local movie at the NZ box office from 1986 through to 1994's Once Were Warriors.

Some of this success is down to its all-ages appeal - families drove long distances to see this film, making rare trips to town for it. Much of its humour is of the slapstick variety, whether it be a goose's attempts to bite Wal "on the prickle" (actually his butt, despite what you might be thinking) or Dog's attempts at heroism. It's all very Looney Tunes in places, right down to the unnecessary "comedy" sound effects.

As well as being kid-friendly (although there are plenty of terrifying things about the Murphy farm, notably the crocopigs and the rat leader Vernon), it had a fair bit for the grown-ups. Wal's dream sequence about becoming an All Black features some choice moments, while his ill-fated date with Cheeky Hobson is great and includes a weird moment where Wal pries baked beans from out of Cheeky's bosom. In spite of (or because of) its weird moments, it's funny for all ages. It should also be noted that John Clarke was an inspired choice to voice Wal Footrot, who wasn't a million miles away from his iconic NZ cross-media character Fred Dagg. Clarke joked at the time that the casting call was out of himself, John Gielgud and Meryl Streep, but he got the role because he had a shorter commute.

As director, Ball was reportedly meticulous, ensuring the animators got his style just right. His perfectionist streak paid off because the film looks like his comic strips come to life, with the added bonus of Richard Zaloudek's sublime backdrops, which give the film a surrealist edge due to their impressionistic qualities.

Equally surreal is Dave Dobbyn's score. Dobbyn, who took on the gig after Tim Finn turned it down, excels as much as he stumbles. Parts of the score haven't aged well, worst of all being a couple of songs that turn the cartoon into a musical (the tracks Let's Get Canine and Vernon The Vermin). But beyond those are the absolute gold of You Oughta Be In Love and, of course, this:

This was my little brother's favourite movie growing up and rewatching it 30 years on, it's not hard to see why. As farmer's sons, it spoke to our sense of reality - there's nothing Disneyfied or sanitised here. Dog eats dags, is nearly shat on by a sheep, and almost drowns in the sheep dip, all within the first few minutes. This was real farming, but it was a cartoon.

It has aged badly in places, but Footrot Flats - The Dog's Tale is a wonderful snapshot of what the comics captured and why Murray Ball was not only a national hero in NZ, but also an icon to farming communities all around Australia. For all it's slapstick silliness, it's a fantastically pacy and enjoyable piece of rural '80s nostalgia.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Kong: Skull Island

(M) ★★★

Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts.

Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, Terry Notary, John C. Reilly, Shea Whigham, Toby Kebbell, John Ortiz, Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Thomas Mann, Jing Tian.

David Attenborough's Planet Earth II is packed with surprises.

Like Dracula, Frankenstein's monster, and Batman, King Kong never dies - he just gets rebooted every once in a while, ready to be wheeled out once again for a new generation.

We're going to be seeing a lot more of the 100-foot-tall ape in the future as Skull Island is the second film in Legendary Entertainment's "Monsterverse", the first being Gareth Edwards' excellent Godzilla from 2014 (Godzilla: King Of The Monsters comes out in 2019, followed by Godzilla Vs Kong in 2020).

These are CG-heavy multi-million dollar Hollywood versions of the stodgy old Toho Studios monster movies of the '50s, '60s and '70s, which cost under a quarter of a million dollars and featured men in rubber suits smashing miniature sets. These will be big-budget bonanza that will probably make Pacific Rim even more look like the pile of crap it was.

Vogt-Roberts' Kong reboot has more in common with the Toho films than the 1933 King Kong original, and the 1976 and 2005 remakes for that matter. There is no New York showdown, no climbing the Empire State Building, and only a minimal amount of the "beauty and the beast" motif that played out in those versions. This one goes to the jungle and stays in the jungle - capturing Kong is out of the question. Skull Island is all about survival.

Set in the final days of the Vietnam War (cue obligatory Creedence Clearwater Revival-heavy soundtrack), Bill Randa (Goodman) leads a team to explore the freshly discovered titular land mass under the guise of mapping and exploring it before the Russians do. Among his team are a tracker (Hiddleston), a photographer (Larson), a geologist (Hawkins), various other faceless scientists, and a helicopter squadron-worth of soldiers led by the battle-hungry Lieutenant Colonel Packard (Jackson).

There are plenty of surprises in store for them on Skull Island, including Kong, but he will be the least of their worries.

Taking little but the great ape from Cooper and Wallace's brilliant 1933 original, Skull Island styles itself as more of a war film, like some kind of wacky Apocalypse Now with a skyscraper-height simian thrown in for good measure instead of an overweight Marlon Brando. It's packed with explosions, gunplay, beast-on-beast battles, and one particularly eerie shoot-out sequence set in a gas-shrouded animal graveyard.

But is it any good? The short answer is kinda. The longer answer is Skull Island is a slightly infuriating mix of different shades of dumb - there's plenty of dumb fun, which is great, but there are also some groan-inducing, forehead-slapping moments of dumb too, most of which are in the script department.

It works best when it embraces the insanity of it all, such as seeing Jackson stare down Kong amid a burning lagoon of napalm, or any of the moments featuring Reilly's slightly bonkers castaway Marlow, or any of a number of inventive deaths the island's inhabitants throw at the hapless humans.

Stuck in the middle of this enjoyable idiocy is Hiddleston's steel-jawed hunter and Larson's anti-war photographer, both of whom are too serious by far. They get the majority of the terrible lines - at one point Hiddleston says, completely straight-faced, "Does any man really ever come back from war?", which would be fine in a gritty war drama but not mere minutes after running away from a giant monkey or some kind of skull-headed snake thing. It's when the film shifts between Hiddleston's gravitas and Reilly and Jackson's absurd insanity that the magic is lost and it goes from dumb fun to just plain dumb.

Reilly is the pick of the quality cast, his usual oddball inclinations more than welcome. Jackson is also good because he gets what Skull Island should be - in fact, he could have gone even further over the top as the army man who goes all Captain Ahab on Kong (you get the feeling he's only a few moments of fury away from yelling at someone to "get this motherfucking ape of this motherfucking plain!"). Goodman also understands how nuts it all is, adding a nice level of wild-eyed twitchiness to his mission instigator Randa.

Aside from Hiddleston and Larson being the serious pair in the middle of a silly storm, the biggest problem with the cast is there's too many of them. While you need cannon fodder (or Kong fodder), too many characters hang around (and even survive) for no good reason. Hawkins is only there for exposition and could have been cut, while Jing Tian adds absolutely nothing except for probably appeasing the Chinese co-financiers.

What it overcompensates for with the cast, it makes up for in looks. The cinematography and effects are worthy of its mammoth US$185 million budget. A few obvious CG sets aside, there are some eye-catching sequences (the gas-shrouded graveyard sequence and the fiery showdown between Packard and Kong in particular) and the creatures of Skull Island are wonderfully realised.

Kong in particular looks the goods. Less realistic than Andy Serkis and Peter Jackson's 2005 big gorilla, this version is an upright-walking missing link brought to life by Terry Notary's motion-capture work and billions of pixels. And unlike Edwards' Godzilla, Skull Island doesn't keep its star attraction under wraps for too long, which takes some of the mystery out of proceedings but gets the audience barracking for Kong from early on.

Ultimately, this is not a patch on 2014's Godzilla (stick around post-credits for the obligatory hint at the next mega kaiju showdown), nor is it as good as Peter Jackson's King Kong. But it's kinda fun and kinda dumb, and works more often than not.

Sunday, 5 March 2017


(MA15+) ★★★★

Director: James Mangold.

Cast: Hugh Jackman, Dafne Keen, Patrick Stewart, Boyd Holbrook, Richard E. Grant, Stephen Merchant, Eriq La Salle, Elizabeth Rodriguez.

"You've got some red on you."

Given this is supposedly Hugh Jackman's last outing as Logan AKA Wolverine, it's worth remembering how close we came to having someone else in the role.

In an alternate universe, Mission: Impossible 2 didn't run over schedule and Dougray Scott retained the role of the clawed mutant, potentially delaying (or completely erasing) Jackman's big break (in that same universe Stuart Townsend is Aragorn and Tom Cruise is Iron Man).

We'll never know what Scott would have made of the role, but it's hard to argue against the idea that we would have been robbed of one of the great marriages of comic book character and actor - surely Jackman's Wolverine is up there with Heath Ledger's Joker and Robert Downey Jr's Tony Stark.

While eternally grateful for Jackman's belated casting, the films Wolverine has appeared in have been a mixed bag. We've had two good original X-Men films and one bad, two good X-Men prequels (with Wolverine only getting a cameo in one) and one average one (with a slightly longer cameo), and one terrible Wolverine spin-off movie and one predominantly okay one.

Thankfully, finally, just in time for Jackman to hang up the adamantium claws, we get a bona fide great Wolverine movie. Much has been made of Logan's MA15+ rating, and the fact it's an "adult" superhero movie somewhat in the footsteps of Deadpool. This is indeed a contributing factor to Logan's excellence - no more bloodless violence dished out by a bladed rage monster. There will be blood, promised Jackman, and he and Mangold deliver.

But splashings of claret (and the dropping of f-bombs) aside, this is an adult superhero movie because it treats its characters seriously and with respect. It has little to do with the Old Man Logan comic that fans may have been expecting but instead crafts a sensible story about a man running out of time, and with nowhere left to run, who finds he may be the only hope someone else has. This is The Dark Knight of the X-Men universe. It's sombre and serious but not in a daft or OTT way a la Batman Vs Superman.

The story is set in the year 2029, where Logan is one of only a handful of mutants left. A shadow of the invulnerable beast he once was, he spends his nights driving limos and his days caring for the ailing Professor X (Stewart) with help from fellow surviving mutant Caliban (Merchant).

Into this tedious existence comes Laura, a young girl with remarkable powers and a whole host of bad guys on her trail. Against his own better judgement, Logan and Professor X hit the road in the hopes of getting Laura to safety while avoiding getting killed.

The film is a road movie and a one-last-job actioner but at its core, Logan is about death and the fact that it catches up with everyone. And when it does catch up with you, much like in the Johnny Cash song When The Man Comes Around which plays over the credits, the question will be posed as to what your life has been worth. Logan is about Wolverine getting one last shot at something close to redemption, as much as it's about the filmmakers ensuring Jackman gets the Wolvie film he deserves. It's redemption all round.

The big talking point for fans is the violence because of how it shapes the tone of Logan, making it more in line with the darker aspects of the character. It's visceral and initially alarming to see this much-loved mutant stick his blades through someone's head, given how bloodless and tame his previous appearances have been, but it's necessary. After all, as previously mentioned, this is about death, and right from the opening confrontation we understand just how high the stakes are in Logan.

It might sound bizarre to say this for those of you who dismiss superhero movies as "just superhero movies", but this is one of Jackman's best performances. He knows the character like the back of his bespiked hand, so the joy is in seeing him take Wolverine into new directions - more vulnerable, angrier, nihilistic, and more dangerous than ever before.

Stewart is also excellent as the 90-year-old version of Professor X. He has always given his all for these films, and doesn't disappoint here. Merchant is solid in the role of Caliban, but the show-stealer is Keen as Laura. Her character is a terrified and mystified ball of rage and Keen handles the physicality and emotional sides with equal aplomb.

Good villains are hard to come by in superhero films and most of the baddies here won't leave an imprint on your memory. Grant's Xander Rice is merely a catalyst and Holbrook's Donald Pierce is mouthy and okay, but it is the film's physical threat - an unlikely but welcome twist - who is the most interesting.

The smaller size and scale of the film is a refreshing change from the things-falling-from-the-sky-style superhero movie we've been seeing a lot of lately (Suicide Squad, Dr Strange, Age Of Ultron, Avengers etc...). It suits the character, creates a welcome tone and style to the film, and adds to the intimacy and punch of it all.

It's also beautifully shot, excellently scored, but there are flaws, mostly of the plotting variety. There are a whole bunch of super-powered individuals here that rarely use their powers and some characters with surprising skill sets given their backgrounds. These particular plot holes become increasingly frustrating by the film's end.

These issues aside, Logan is the Wolverine movie fans have longed for, but more importantly it's the Wolverine movie Jackman deserved.

(For the record, I doubt this will be Jackman's last time donning the claws. The rise of Deadpool makes it seem incredibly likely that a Wolverine cameo (or, Stan Lee willing, a team-up movie) will happen. If anyone can get Jackman to strap on the claws once more, it's Ryan Reynolds. Please, someone, anyone, make this happen.)