Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen, Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant. Directed by James Mangold. Rated R. 137 minutes. 2017.
(This review was originally published at Joel on Film.)
The Logan of Logan is beat-down, bruised, and utterly, completely resigned to the fact that the world has no use for him anymore. The film that features him, the third solo venture for the superhero, takes on a similar attitude, although there shouldn’t be sense here of selling the film short. This is not a grim or oppressive movie, even if the cinematography is rugged and the tone is mournful. The terrific thing about the screenplay by Scott Frank, Michael Green, and director James Mangold (who directed another of the spin-offs featuring Wolverine and returns here with a far superior take) is that it exists entirely on the level. There isn’t any silliness here, other than the inherent kind that has spawned any of the comic books that inspired these characters.
Even that kind of silliness has been forcibly mutilated into something repellant this time, as the adventures shared by Logan, once known as Wolverine in happier times, have become the source of stories that will eventually become legend and then, no doubt, myth. They’ve even been given their own Dead Sea scrolls in the form of comic books, which Logan thumbs through with disbelief, coming upon the stories of the deaths of his old friends that have been re-worked into histrionics and spectacle in the frames of the graphic novels. His dismissal of them as tripe is a sort of roundabout commentary: If Logan was real, as this film undoubtedly treats him, then these scenes of destruction were tragic, not worthy of the distancing effect that drawing them into a comic book might have.
It’s 2029, and Logan, once (and, reportedly, never) again played by Hugh Jackman in his best performance as the character, is one of the last remaining mutants. An event, unstated but referred to in hushed, reverent tones, wiped the planet of the rest, but perhaps Logan’s ability to heal himself from quite literally any injury or affliction gave him a genetic immunity. Whatever the case, he has isolated himself and Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), his old mentor and teacher who is now nearing three digits in age, along the Texas-Mexico border, guarded by an albinic mutant named Caliban (Stephen Merchant) who can track other ones. Logan is now protective of his old protector, who has contracted a degenerative brain disease that, coupled with his telepathic abilities, has caused the government to categorize his brain as a weapon of mass destruction.
Logan, who has taken to driving around clients in a limousine that will inevitably be used as a getaway vehicle at some point, is implored by a stranger (played by Elizabeth Rodriguez) to protect a young girl named Laura (Dafne Keen) from forces who would kill the woman and kidnap the girl. A quick escape is necessary, and so Logan and Charles are to escort the girl to a safe zone in North Dakota, while shaking off the head of the facility organizing the abduction, Dr. Rice (Richard E. Grant), and the henchman-in-charge (played by Boyd Holbrook, who nicely chews the scenery with his exaggerated Southern accent). It turns out, though, that Logan isn’t so special even now, as Laura exhibits many of his traits and the villains showcase their own weapon, which is another kind of callback to Logan’s past. Some of the material with these villains is a bit routine, but thankfully it’s window-dressing here.
The film is also the first to feature a treatment of Logan’s superpower as a genuinely threatening weapon of brute force, with his signature knuckle-blades slashing and dicing and stabbing with appropriately gruesome results. The action sequences hit with the requisite strength of Mangold’s considerate staging, which makes sense of movement and geography while glorying in the quick-cutting style that enhances Logan’s combative abilities. Every confrontation between Logan and Rice’s minions is swift and brutal and pile-drives most of the action sequences that dominate the PG-13 superhero landscape these days. Fortunately, there is more on the mind of the director and his fellow screenwriters in Logan, which has more on its mind than tedious plot. There’s a sense of weary tragedy here, and that’s more than enough to set this film apart from and above the same, old same-old.