May 27, 2017

Why "Logan Noir" Works as More Than a Silly Gimmick

Scene from Logan Noir
What's so special about black and white? In an era where cinema embraces the color spectrum, even using it cleverly to indicate visual themes, the simplicity of black and white photography should seem juvenile and outdated. Yet there is something to watching movies in this manner. As is the case with director James Mangold's altered version of Logan (dubbed "Logan Noir"), the absence of color makes the movie more nostalgic and emotional. Gone is the familiar colors. What's left is the performances and the cinematography depicting Logan (Hugh Jackman) on a struggle to get a child named Laura (Dafne Keen) to safety in Canada. But does removing the specificity to Logan make the story better? Yes and no. Logan Noir is a unique experience for fans of the original, though hopefully it won't inspire more copycats anytime soon.
It could be because early cinema was limited to black and white photography, but it's easy to associate the lack of color with an old school style of film making. It was a time when actors could dress in garish colors for the sole purpose of having different textures of grey within scene. There was as much an art to making black and white photography beautiful as there currently is to making colors pop in certain ways. Still, the lack of color creates the fading sense of a relic; something that is pure and reflects different values than the "advanced" mentality of color. It would be difficult to suggest that one version, provided both are available, than the other - though each viewer brings their own preference. In the case of Logan Noir, audiences get to have a second go at the hit movie and try this out for themselves. 
The one thing that immediately helps Logan Noir stand out is that Mangold borrows heavily from western iconography. The film goes so far as to reference the classic Shane while placing several scenes in the desert, various characters wearing cowboy hats, and Marco Beltrami's score leans heavily into harmonicas and western guitars. Even the presence of country icon Johnny Cash over the closing credits singing "When the Man Comes Around" shows how much Logan is supposed to be a Shane stand-in. The argument could be made that he's more in line with Clint Eastwood - nihilistic and needlessly reckless - with the film even at times recollecting his western masterpiece Unforgiven. Still, all of these characters are longing for a bygone era of when the cowboy was a strong silent type, like Gary Cooper. This was when they were displayed on screens in black and white. Logan the character is the closest that modern superheroes are likely to get to their own classic cowboy, so it makes sense to drop him into the familiar setting and have him long about the days when X-Men had started the millennium off on the new path for cinema.
By putting him in black and white, Logan becomes a classic cowboy. Gone are the colors of the modern era. All that's left is his naked soul, trying to come to terms with his inferiority. The black and white photography adds drama to the scene and leaves the character almost in a metaphorical rear view window. This isn't the end of the X-Men franchise, but Jackman won't be around. He has joined many actors before him in retiring their most iconic role. Somewhere in the grey colors is a deeper examination of his soul. There's no vibrant red to make the blood look gruesome. Logan Noir creates exactly what the film needs to work: nostalgia. It looks at its contemporary setting with a retro lens, placing it into a greater canon. There's not likely to be another acting achievement on par with Jackman's Logan, so this is the right type of film to foolishly throw into a reminiscing gaze.


The only real conflict is that the title of this special edition is misleading. The title Logan Noir would suggest that the film is a detective story with a femme fatale. While there have been desert noirs before (see: Touch of Evil), the shift in Logan based solely on photography doesn't add these elements to the film. There is no shot that depicts Logan imprisoned in a window's reflection. Beltrami doesn't humor Logan with any music that would suggest noir. While it is true that the black and white photography emphasizes aspects of the film that would mistake it for noir  at points, it distrusts Mangold's initial vision, which largely played off of the cowboy mythology. There is no real element of noir here. Logan doesn't solve a crime, though it does have at points a pale heart worthy of noir's best. Still, Logan Noir's only fault - and one that will hopefully not mislead audiences in detrimental ways - is its name.
So, what makes Logan Noir worthy of the black and white treatment even over other Marvel movies? To be honest, the answer isn't that clear. The photography is gorgeous and it elevates the movie in ways, but it would be difficult to suggest that it's the definitive version. Still, Logan marks the end of an era in a time where eras are in the upswing. Also, movies like Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, whose color spectrum is part of its amazing appearance, would be greatly destroyed by this adaptive treatment. Few films have the texture worthy of transferring this way. 
It also doesn't help that it would seem like a gimmick. Logan Noir, as successful as it is, is nothing but a gimmick. Even if the big superhero movies like Captain America: Civil War or Batman v. Superman took this approach, it would feel false. Logan gets away with it for the sole fact that it fits thematically into the film's richer texture. There's nothing in Civil War that is nostalgic and demands romanticizing characters in a bygone way. Likewise, Batman v. Superman doing this would be contradictory to its overall atmosphere of making a modern Batman and Superman while using photography that is reminiscent of an old way of thinking. Maybe this would seem egregious with X-Men or X2: X-Men United, but with Logan it feels like an appropriate gimmick, even one that works very well.
There's a lot that's hard to argue against Logan Noir. It literally doesn't change the movie, though it may shift perception. Its only real fault is that the lack of color removes certain details that blend heavily into the photography. Beyond that, it feels innovative in ways that only Logan could get away with (see also: the famous Deadpool short that played before the film in theaters). The issue now is back to the viewer. There are two versions of Logan out there to enjoy. Neither is necessarily superior to the other, but both create a different subliminal understanding of Logan as a character and legacy. It's up to you to decide which version is better.

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