In this landscape of Disney remakes, unasked for Power Rangers reboots, uncalled for Fast and Furious sequels, and even a–oh, what the fuck?–R-rated, kitchen-sink CHIPS remake it may look like Hollywood has officially run out of ideas. Even a technically new idea like the sci-fi thriller “Life” looks cobbled together out of 100 “astronauts run across an alien species and are soon fucked” movies. [Is there a movie where astronauts run across an abandoned spaceship or alien life that doesn’t end with most of them getting killed?] But even if neither of these movies is original, both provide proof that franchise entertainment can provide something old in a very new way…
Logan…Set in the near-future, this R-rated Wolverine movie is closer in spirit to “The Wild Bunch” or an R-rated “Shane” than anything resembling a Marvel movie. We know we’re in for a different take on the X-Men icon in the first few minutes, when Logan—tired, retired, and unable to heal as quickly as he once did—kills a bunch of hoodlums trying to make off with the tires of his limousine. What Works: A haggard, alcoholic limousine driver seems like an odd profession for the immortal badass who’s had to stop global threats multiple times, and what makes this film work is the knowledge that “Wolverine” isn’t saving the world but Logan is (reluctantly) saving a little girl made from his stolen genetic material. Even better is Patrick Stewart’s Alzheimer’s afflicted Charles Xavier, whose uncontrollable mind is now a weapon that may go off at the worst times. One of the best action scenes in the movie is a casino showdown where most of the bad guys are helpless to defend themselves. What Doesn’t: None of the villains really pop, the action sequences towards the end begin dragging due to repetition, and the film’s first half has a bit more momentum than the second. Plus—and this is borderline blasphemous—but I have never really liked Hugh Jackman’s take on “Wolverine,” who always comes off as way too reluctant to save the world. People will argue that that’s realistic to the comics, but usually Logan just comes off as an asshole, and I said in my review of “The Wolverine,” is a reluctant hero really still relatable in a Comic-Con world where people are looking for reasons to be special? What I Would’ve Done Differently: Even the worst sections in this film or “The Wolverine” are better than the best scenes in any of the standard X-Men films. In my honest opinion, these last two Wolverine movies are the only truly good works the X-Men canon has produced, and I’m including FX’s kitschy, overrated “Legion” series too.
Kong: Skull Island…Set in a 1973 still reeling from the Vietnam War, “Kong” may not be as grand or as good as either the 1933 “King Kong” classic or the Peter Jackson remake, but it may be the most fun film ever produced in the “Kong” franchise, and dramatically more exciting than the 2014 “Godzilla” remake. “Kong” doesn’t have the freedom of Logan’s R-rating, but that’s also a good thing since pre-teen boys will likely love this film and making the action sequences bloodier and peppering in a couple dozen “fucks” wouldn’t have added a thing. What Works: An excellent supporting cast includes Shea Whigham, John Goodman, Samuel L. Jackson’s Vietnam warped commander, and especially John C. Reilly’s energizing castaway that provides goofball laughs throughout. Still, people really watch this movie for Kong and the other creatures, and he delivers the goods from the moment he see him smashing helicopters in a wild, memorable sequence. We see our stranded heroes deal with vicious spiders, large oxen, mysterious natives, and eerie lizard creatures, and all pack the visceral punch of a PG-rated Predator movie. What Doesn’t: Tom Hiddleston makes for a surprisingly bland lead, the film’s lead-up to “Skull Island” is too long and it’s safe to say the film doesn’t really begin until nearly thirty minutes in, and I’m sure Brie Larson didn’t think her first big role since winning a deserved-Oscar for “Room” would be something where she barely has a stand-out scene. What I Would Have Done Differently: This movie is clearly aiming higher than the standard-Dwayne Johnson film and even if it doesn’t use all of its great cast well, at least it has a great cast, opting for Oscar winners over the Fast and Furious crew.
Verdict: Both of these films are in that “B+” range and I would recommend either. “Logan” will probably play better at home, while “Kong: Skull Island” truly is a theater experience. I might see “Kong” in theaters if forced to choose, but that’s not saying “Logan” won’t be a better experience on HBO.