Spoiler alert: I’m a red-blooded American male, which means I like to spend my Sundays watching football, or looking at scores while I work (I’m a good employee besides that). Now that my favorite sport is on hiatus until September, I usually pass the time on those days at my job. But every once in awhile I get a weekend off, which means it’s movie time. This week, I picked two films that show you that underneath all the dumb snark, I’m still a stupid boy that likes blood and guts.

Logan

    They did it. They actually did it. For 17 years Fox has peddled out decent, yet unthreatening installments of the X-Men franchise. Those pictures were almost always fun, and occasionally interesting (X-2) or even great (Deadpool), but always felt more like glorified TV episodes setting up the next adventure at the end. Now they decided to do the impossible and kill Wolverine.

    Maybe Fox played the long game and planned this beautiful, cathartic movie all along. Or maybe they decided something like Logan was needed to give their mutant movies a jolt after last summer’s dreadful borefest X-Men: Apocalypse. Whatever their motivation was, this take on the Marvel comic will stand as the very best film of the series.

    Calling this a story about superheroes is almost false. Logan is about a broken man on the run from hunters before finally realizing his time is up. The action scenes are well-directed, but are more effective because the human drama in-between is so moving.

    Hugh Jackman has been portraying this character for nearly two decades, with no time spent phoning it in. But he has never felt more alive on-screen than he does here. His version of an elderly Wolverine (moonlighting as a chauffeur with his real name, James Howlett), has a disgruntled nature that now comes with swearing and gore, courtesy of a shiny new R-rating. That might’ve seemed like a stunt to bring in older audiences, but it suits the character just as well as it did Deadpool last year.

    Wolverine is portrayed here as Clint Eastwood with claws, and it’s impressive how easily Jackman fills those shoes. His suave and theatrical nature often seeps through roles even when he doesn’t want it to (2011’s Real Steel), but in this he completely remakes his screen persona. Watching this, undoubtedly his Unforgiven, I imagined Jackman doing other late-period Eastwood films such as In The Line of Fire or The Bridges of Madison County. He reveals an ability to underlie grunts and profanities with a desperation to remain in control. As he closes the door on one era of his career, he might’ve just accidentally opened the door to another.

    Don’t discount the other performers here too, they’re all top-notch. Patrick Stewart is undoubtedly the highlight playing sagely Xavier with a vulnerability previous X-Men films never explored. Newcomer Dafne Keen does so much by saying so little for most of the movie, while Boyd Holbrook plays a showy villain without going over the top (which is harder than it sounds). 

    This is not the typical set-up for a comic-book flick. Mutants are essentially extinct, with Logan acting as a caretaker for a deteriorating Xavier and an albino mutant (Stephen Merchant) that can track his own kind. They all live in a warehouse in Mexico quietly living out lives that will eventually result in death.

    Then a girl named Laura comes along that needs to be escorted to Canada. Logan says no, content to live out his years miserably. But he’s forced to move with the girl and Xavier when a government agent (Boyd Holbrook) attempts to capture them. Then, the road trip begins, and Logan ascends to a level of quality I’ve never seen out of an X-Men film.

    In fact, calling this a superhero movie is somewhat disingenuous. It’s more of a modern western wrapped in intimate family drama.  Xavier addresses Logan in a disappointed tone like a father talking to his son, frequently reminding him that Laura is his “daughter” (she was made with Wolverine’s genetics). A dinner with a family of farmers features sharp dialogue that could’ve belonged in a Billy Wilder film. Normally long stretches without any action doom movies of this sort, but it has the opposite effect here; Logan becomes more compelling as you spend more time with its characters.

     The R-rating also comes in handy cause it finally allows director James Mangold to finally unleash the brutality of the Wolverine character. Limbs are sliced off with regularity, and blood spatters all over the screen again, like an old-fashioned western (it’s no coincidence one scene has Xavier watching Shane, the story of a gunfighter doing a suicidal last job).

    This might be an odd thing to point out, but the death scenes here are all incredibly well-done. A massacre of the innocent farming family Logan has dinner with is the most horrifying, and drives home that these spandex movies are, at their heart, much more serious than we’ve even realized. I don’t consider myself a fan of the X-Men movies, but even I was moved by how Mangold allowed Wolverine die a lonely death making a singular sacrifice on-screen. After years of the-world-is-ending plots, it’s refreshing as can be. 

    It took 17 years to get a comic book film like this, and it was worth every day we had to wait. 

 

    John Wick: Chapter Two

 

    Keanu Reeves is 52 two years old. In his thirty year Hollywood career, he’s done teen comedies, high-octane action movies, experimental sci-fi, sports flicks, romances and even a documentary about directing film versus digital. Never has a done a film so dumb, yet so enjoyable as John Wick: Chapter Two.

    I say this as someone who has seen the first chapter. It took everything we loved about Reeves on-screen (the wooden acting, stilted dialogue and heavy action) and enveloped it in a fascinating world of assassins. It was also an incredibly stupid movie about a man who goes on a rampage cause some thugs kill his dog and steal his car.   But isn’t that why we love Keanu Reeves As the films around him descend into B-Movie depths, he always brings his A-Game. 

    This time, Wick finds out a crime boss named Santino (Riccardo Scamarcio) who helped him retire has come back with a job. Since he’s a man who knows how to kill people, Santino wants him to kill his sister so he can take a seat on a high table made up of crime lords. John initially says no, but took a blood oath when retiring that he now has to honor. He took that oath for his wife Helen, and then she died of a disease. As Reeves might say if he was still playing Johnny Utah, bad luck, man

    I kid Keanu, he’s about as terrific as he can be here. That might sound like a backhanded compliment, but I mean it. He nails the scenes where all he does is kill, and even his stilted line delivery helps give the impression that this is a man that doesn’t want to do what he does. Reeves has been back-dooring his way into roles that fit him for thirty years, so why stop now?

    I imagine it takes a certain type of person to enjoy this movie, and that probably includes me. That means I enjoy excessive blood and guts supported by a plot that’s more absurd than clever, surrounded in a world that I like.

    The plot really needs no description beyond what I already gave, besides adding that a lot of people die. Laurence Fishburne makes an amusing cameo as a man in-the-know that Wick needs for help (hmmm…didn’t that happen in The Matrix?). Ruby Rose plays tough hitman (hitwoman?) that speaks only in sign language, a cool quirk that makes you nod and think “huh, that’s cool”) and the film ends on a note that suggests a sequel where everyone is out to get John Wick. I was pleased that they fleshed out the universe that they hinted at in the previous installment as well.

    Director Chad Stahelski (who also directed the first movie) gets about as much creative killing and gore as he can here. Hitmen are fully armed, yet engage in practical fist-fights with the guns as they attempt to punch and fire at each other at close range. It’s a cliche to shoot first, ask questions later; these characters shoot first, and shoot later. No questions allowed.

    Really, is this the kind of movie that needs questions? People get mad at others, those disputes result in death, and we cheer as the violence goes on. Some could say that means we’ve devolved as a culture. I call that garbage. Entertainment like this has been around since cavemen bashed each other's heads in with clubs, and became large scale when the Romans introduced gladiatorial combat. That's to say nothing of the enduring popularity of westerns and war films.

    Let’s not act like a movie chock-full of death can’t be entertaining, as it totally is here. I recommend John Wick: Chapter Two, but I also suggest you don’t care about being seen as stupid for liking it.