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The  Battle of Dunkirk is one of the miracles of World War II. Probably most Americans don’t know about it because the battle took place in 1940, before America entered the Second World War. By 1940, Adolf Hitler was at the height of his power: European countries were falling before his armies like dominoes, and by the end of May, they had forced the British and the French right up to the English Channel -- and then stopped.

Historians still debate why, but the common sense answer is obvious: why waste soldiers and materiel when dropping bombs and firing machine guns from the air is easier, faster, and conserves manpower? 

The days that followed gave the British a chance to get some of their men out, and in a magnificent display of patriotism, just about everyone in England who had a boat -- fishing vessels, yachts, small pleasure crafts -- went over in a rescue mission unparalleled to this day: more than 300,000 French and British soldiers made it out alive.

In his film, Christopher Nolan pulls out all the stops. Instead of giving us a traditional narrative, in which we have characters whom we come to know and a cohesive storyline, Nolan splits into three narrative threads: some the action takes place over a week, some in a day, and, in the case of the aerial sequence, one hour. We are given the utter madness, chaos, and danger of war. Hardly any of the characters are named; things are happening too fast for anyone to introduce himself. 

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You don’t expect your eyes to start watering in a superhero movie, especially one as swift and violent as “Logan,” but that’s what happens when you have a director and writers who care as much about craft and drama as they do about fight scenes and chases.


This film concerns people. There’s no CGI; emotions are raw and real. Explosions are few and far between. The characters have to interact with each other. Some have mayhem on their minds. Some are learning what it is to care about others and to develop a heart under all their adamantium. Forbes magazine rightly compares this film to “The Dark Knight,” and their critic sees possible Oscar nominations, including Best Picture. I’m inclined to agree. Now that DC has given quality up for crap, it’s good to see Marvel finally smartening up.


Action fans certainly won’t be disappointed, but director James Mangold is going for more here. Set in 2029, Wolverine is getting old, and his powers are waning. It’s harder to push the bullets out of his chest than it used to be, and healing takes longer. He spends his days taking care of Charles Xavier, now in his 90s, and he’s not what he used to be, either. In fact, without medication, he’s downright dangerous. They, and an albino mutant named Caliban (Stephen Merchant) are hiding in an abandoned complex in the Mexican desert, just south of El Paso. On most days, Logan makes money by chauffeuring a limousine for wedding parties and prom nights. Then some local thugs try to strip his car. Bad idea. Logan even tries to talk them out of it at first. The beauty of that, besides the fight choreography, is that this incident is what sets the story in motion.


In this world, mutants have been pretty much eliminated from the human race, but a young mutant (and mute) girl named Laura is one of the exceptions, and she has become a commodity which a large genetics company wants back. They’re willing to to dangerous lengths to get her. But she believes she has a destination where she will be safe, and Logan agrees to take her there. The chase is on!


I have to single out young Dafne Keen here. (Did they have to spell her name that way? God, I hate that.) She’s the daughter of actor Will Keen, and acting is clearly in her blood. She has to balance her innocence and her unusual childhood with power than can be terrible to behold. Even without speaking, Keen holds her own against Jackman, who gives his best portrayal of Wolverine yet. She’s touching and frightening, often at the same time. Keep an eye on her.


“Logan” is more of a road Western than anything else. A clip from “Shane” turns up along the way, and Mangold uses some of John Ford’s locations. In its sense of the ending of an era, “Logan” also has echoes of Clint Eastwood’s “Unforgiven.” Both those films concern the cost of violence, which may be a first for a superhero movie. For once, we actually see the destruction one of those fights leaves behind, and we see what the first responders have to deal with. That alone gives "Logan" a deeper dimension.


You’ll never see Patrick Stewart better. His scenes with Jackman are pure gold, and their banter is wonderful. The film’s “R” rating means that the characters can talk and act like adults, and they do. Seeing Logan, of all people, trying to get the old man to take his medicine and to see Xavier acting like a little kid about it, is human and funny. These are two professionals having a good time, and they’ve let the audience in on it.


Yet, once the action is done, what we have left is humanity and sadness; Laura gives us a touching tribute to Logan with a single gesture that had the audience I was in at the edge of tears. This film does not have the marketing department's fingerprints all over it, and nobody's trying to sell any toys. Both Stewart and Jackman have said this is the last time they’ll play their X-Men characters, and we will miss them.

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