Let’s cut straight to the chase and not mope around the point. “Logan” – the final chapter in the saga of the X-Men’s Wolverine – is the best superhero-related movie since “The Dark Knight” nearly a decade ago.
But it may not be for everybody.
“Logan” is dark, violent and some might even say depressing. And it earns its R rating.
Directed by James Mangold (“3:10 to Yuma,” “Walk the Line,” “The Wolverine”), “Logan” is about as far from the hip humor of “Guardians of the Galaxy” or the fun fellowship of “X-Men: First Class” as Hulk is from Black Widow in a beauty contest.
Set in the year 2029, it paints a world where Logan (aka Wolverine), again played by Hugh Jackman, and Charles (aka Professor X), again played by Patrick Stewart, are living in dusty desolation near the Mexican border. Charles’ once-thriving institute for children with mutant abilities is a distant memory. In fact, it seems as if there are no more mutant children being born at all. Logan and Charles may be the last of a dying breed. No one wants or cares about mutants anymore.
Logan makes some cash as a limo driver and he has assistance from another mutant, the albino Caliban (Stephen Merchant, “Dream Corp LLC”), to help take care of ailing Charles, whose once-towering intellect is now plagued by seizures and creeping decrepitude.
Their routine of bare survival is disturbed when a woman named Gabriela (Elizabeth Rodriguez, “Orange Is the New Black”) barges her way into Logan’s life. She’s accompanied by a young girl, Laura (Dafne Keen from the Spanish-made TV series “The Refugees”), who she claims was part of a secretive experiment in Mexico City to breed and raise an army of warrior mutants. She needs to get the girl – who, like Logan, turns into a claw-bearing whirlwind of fury when provoked – to safety in North Dakota, where other young misfit mutants, unbeknownst to Logan and Charles, supposedly still exist. And she’s willing to pay big bucks.
On their tail is the charming but inarguably menacing Pierce (Boyd Holbrook, “Narcos”) and his crew of merciless minions. Will Logan sharpen his long-unused claws and help a couple of ladies in distress? How fast can you say “road trip”?
Mangold, working from a script he co-wrote with Scott Frank and Michael Green, paints a world on the edge of collapse that feels far from the usual universe of comic-book escapism. It’s a superhero world that feels the most like our own. It’s gritty, real and, in context, the violence makes sense – though its intensity might still catch some viewers unaware.
He displays a gift for staging action sequences – there’s a chase scene amid the dust in the desert that feels like a nod to the “Mad Max” movies – and Keen is absolutely winning as the defiant Laura. She spends much of her screen time in silence but manages to convey a wealth of emotions.
Stewart, as usual, brings dignity, humor and a depth of passion to a role he has honed to a fine point over the past 17 years, and Jackman is both vulnerable and valiant in impressive amounts. If this is indeed his farewell to the franchise, as he has said it is, it’s a rousing way to go out.
“Logan” is a comic-book movie that feels more like a dystopian sci-fi Western starring a guy and a girl who just happen to be able to turn their hands into cutlery.
You don’t have to be familiar with the Marvel universe or be an X-Men nerd to understand it. It works as a standalone adventure, though, and this should surprise no one, the conclusion leaves events open for more Laura-centric stories in the future.
☆ ☆ ☆ 1/2
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen.
Director: James Mangold.
Rating: R (brutal violence and strong language throughout, and brief nudity).
Running time: 137 minutes.