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With comic book movies dominating the box office, entertainment editor John Turnbull takes a look at two very different superheroes — the dark and brooding Logan and the surprisingly upbeat Lego Batman.

Logan

(Directed by James Mangold)

Let’s get this out of the way to start — you don’t need to have seen any of the other X-Men movies to enjoy Logan. This is handy, as this franchise has more bad movies than good, particularly if you consider the Wolverine solo movies. It breaks down like this; X-Men was okay, X2 was good, X-Men The Last Stand was not. X-Men Origins: Wolverine wasn’t great, The Wolverine was worse. 2011’s reboot X-Men First Class was a return to form, sequel Days of Future Past was fun but confusing, while last year’s X-Men Apocalypse was disappointing to say the least. Last, but by no means least, was breakout hit Deadpool, which paved the way for more R-rated superhero movies.

Which brings us to Logan. Very loosely based on the Old Man Logan storyline, the movie sees the titular character retired from the superhero game, driving a limo and generally trying to stay out of trouble. The X-Men are all dead, with the exception of Professor Charles Xavier, now in his nineties and facing a degenerative brain condition. Logan himself is losing his healing powers, drinking too much and basically waiting to die — a plan that is derailed when he meets a young mutant with powers eerily similar to his own.

Moving from the realm of family-friendly action flick into a far darker place, Logan is exactly as violent as a movie about a bloke with claws in his hands should be. Rather than killing people bloodlessly off screen (as he has in previous movies, cartoon series and so forth) Logan sees the titular character lopping off limbs with wild abandon, stabbing bad guys through the head and taking an insane amount of punishment. In case this isn’t enough, Logan’s young charge Laura is even more feral, equipped with the same powers as Logan but with none of his restraint, resulting in a number of scenes that will leave you stunned.

Both Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart have said that Logan will be their last X-Men movie and it’s a fitting farewell to them both. Jackman is magnificent as the broken, jaded Logan, while Sir Patrick brings equal measures of gravitas and pathos to his portrayal of the aging Professor Charles Xavier. The barbed interplay between characters brings moments of joy to an otherwise dark film, helped in part by the casting of lanky Brit Stephen Merchant as mutant tracker Caliban. On the bad guy side, Richard E. Grant plays the manipulative Dr Rice with scenery chewing glee, while Boyd Holbrook brings a suitable amount of menace to bionic dickbag Pierce.

While the adults of the film are excellent, credit must go to young actress Dafne Keen as new mutant X-23 — known to her few friends as Laura. With a performance that ranges from vulnerable to animalistic, Keen imbues the character with a remarkable amount of depth, and seems a perfect choice to continue the Wolverine story if the movies decide to follow comic book canon.

The Lego Batman Movie

(Directed by Chris McKay)

In an age when superhero movies are a dime a dozen, Lego Batman is in a league of his own. Dark and brooding, yet not adverse to rocking out or playing dress-ups, Lego Batman has far more humanity than Ben Affleck’s recent ultra-right wing take on the character ("If there is even a 1% chance that he is our enemy, we have to take it as absolute certainty" — thanks Bat-Trump!), closer in tone to the campy Adam West than the growly Christian Bale.

Eschewing the "origins" approach and introducing a Batman at the height of his awesomeness, The Lego Batman Movie pits the mini Dark Knight against his greatest enemy… Superman. No, just kidding. Of course, The Joker is the big bad guy in this movie, accompanied by a list of B, C and D list villains as long as your arm. Aside from obvious choices like The Riddler, Penguin and Bane, viewers are treated to obscure bad guys from Crazy Quilt to Condiment King, along with refugees from the 60’s TV show like Egghead and King Tut.

It’s all a lot of fun.

A standout of the original Lego Movie, Will Arnett’s Batman, is hilarious, often both the smartest man in the room and dumb as a hammer at the same time. Ralph Fiennes brings a sly humour to loyal butler Alfred, while Michael Cera is as eager as a puppy as the pants-free Robin. Ensuring that this isn’t a Lego sausage-fest, Rosario Dawson portrays new police Commissioner Barbara Gordon, while the Bat-Computer is voiced by Susan Bennett is credited in her better known persona of Siri. That’s right ... Batman uses the Apple app to run the Batcave.

On the dark side, anarchic comedian Zach Galifianakis seems a great choice for the Joker (perhaps not as perfect as Mark Hamill, but anyway) and is supported by an extensive voice cast including Conan O’Brien as The Riddler, Billy-Dee Williams as Two Face and Jemaine Clement as Sauron. For those wondering what a Lord of the Rings villain is doing in a Batman movie, other bad guys include King Kong, the Daleks, and Voldemort, using the Lego medium to neatly sidestep copyright issues — if it’s a Lego character, it can be in this movie. Well, pretty much. You won’t see Captain America or Iron Man here, because there are some universes that even Lego can’t cross…

It’s obvious that director Chris McKay, and writers Seth Graeme-Smith and Chris McKenna are big fans of the Batman character, as they go out of their way to pack the film with sly references and visual gags only longtime fans will appreciate. This is not to say that The Lego Batman Movie won’t appeal to the all-important family audience, as themes of teamwork, responsibility and the importance of family are woven throughout the picture.

The Verdict

Superhero movies have come a long way since Christopher Reeve made you believe a man could fly and Halle Berry did whatever the hell she was doing in Catwoman. Often accused of being formulaic, comic book movies span genres from heist flick (Ant Man) to political allegory (Batman vs Superman) and mind-bending spiritual journey (Doctor Strange). To be fair they’re not all great, but both Logan and The Lego Batman movie raise the bar in different ways.

Probably the most violent comic book movie to date (including the frequently rebooted Punisher franchise) Logan is a visually beautiful and emotionally moving film — fathers of daughters will be hard-pressed not to roll a tear at the shattering but inevitable conclusion.

At the other end of the spectrum, Lego Batman captures the fun inherent to the superhero genre, not afraid to laugh at itself while communicating messages of acceptance and the value of true friends.

Logan — 9/10

The Lego Batman Movie — 8/10

Enjoy what you've just read? John Turnbull's books are now available on Amazon and Kindle. Take a journey deep into the disturbed psyche behind columns including Screen Themes, Think For Yourself, New Music Through Old Ears and JT on NXT. There’s supernatural thriller, Damnation’s Flame; action/romance, Reaper; black comedy, City Boy; and travel guidebook, Bar Trek: Europe.

Damnation's Flame is now also available in the IA store. Free postage!

You can follow JT on Twitter @blackmagicjohn.

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