Just when I thought I had Logan fatigue to the point of not caring if I ever saw the muttonchopped clawmeister ever again, along comes the best “Wolverine” movie of all.
James Mangold’s darkly entertaining and surprisingly layered “Logan” is a brutal, bittersweet and bloody sendoff to one of the most enduring characters in the “X-Men” universe. The smart and bold script affords Hugh Jackman the opportunity to reinvent his portrayal of Logan/Wolverine, and the result is one of the best performances of Jackman’s career — and one of the most impressive superhero movies of this decade.
Set in a bleak near future in which the X-Men have all but disappeared from the planet and Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters is no more, “Logan” is as much a Western as it is a sci-fi thriller. Let me count just some of the ways:
• Our heroes are ragtag “outlaws” on the run from a relentless posse.
• Horses. We get horses in this movie. At one point, the horses get loose! We have to save the horses!
• A decent and God-fearing family is fighting an uphill battle against a ruthless and greedy band of local criminals who are trying to ruin them and drive them off their homestead.
• For much of the film, Jackman’s Logan sports a full beard and a somewhat dated hairstyle that makes him look like Clint Eastwood circa “Pale Rider” and “The Outlaw Josey Wales.” (Even though Eastwood’s Westerns are of course set in the 19th century, the actor usually sported hairstyles in keeping with whatever year in which the movie was filmed.)
• There are multiple visual and dialogue-driven references to the classic Western “Shane.”
Most important, “Logan” just has the tone and the pacing and the feel of a Western — a very violent Western in which guts are spilled and heads are severed and characters both evil and good are sent to their Maker after being blown apart by shots to the torso and to the head at medium-close range.
The opening scene, in which a drunken, battered Logan rises up against some carjackers who picked the wrong victim, leaves no doubt as to the brutal nature of “Logan.” Whereas in most previous “Wolverine” movies, the violence was largely bloodless and of the CGI variety, this time there’s a visceral punch to our senses every time Logan’s claws come out and start piercing and slicing and dicing.
It’s the year 2029. Logan is scraping out a living as an Uber-type limo driver. He’s almost always drunk or hung over or a combination of both.
Patrick Stewart’s Charles/Professor X is living out what appear to be his final days near the Mexican border, in a rusty, toppled-over water tank that has been turned into a makeshift lab. An albino mutant named Caliban (Stephen Merchant), suffering from his own demons, helps Logan look after the ailing Charles, who can remember things only in flashes, suffers from seizures that literally shake the ground — and has to be strapped down for his own good. Logan’s visits to Charles are all about injecting him with drugs to ease his suffering and put him to sleep. They’re living out the final chapter of the sad and tragic demise of the X-Men.
Enter a frantic, desperate woman named Gabriela (Elizabeth Rodriguez from “Orange Is the New Black”), who tracks down Logan and pleads with him to transport a young girl named Laura (Dafne Keen) to North Dakota.
Turns out Laura, who doesn’t speak, is something of a mini-Wolverine. She’s got the metal claws and the superhuman speed and some nifty fighting moves, and she’s not afraid to lash out when she or someone she loves is threatened.
Gabriela claims Laura is the result of a secret medical experiment to breed an army of super-mutants. There are other children like her, on the run, making their way to a supposed safe camp in North Dakota.
Logan isn’t buying the story and he doesn’t care to get involved, but circumstances leave him on the road with Charles and the little girl, trying to make their way up north while staying one step ahead of the ruthless, sadistic Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) and his posse of killer henchmen.
Director Mangold places much of “Logan” in wide-open, sparsely populated locales, where the big cities and big problems of the world are referenced but not visited. We’re on the road, in the woods, at a home in the country, at lonely gas stations and convenience stores. Even when Logan reluctantly commits to protecting Laura and honoring Charles’ wishes, it’s clear he’s been battered and bruised inside and out so many times, all he really wants to do is drink and forget and drink so more and try to numb anything resembling human feelings.
For all its moodiness and melancholy, “Logan” is also a rip-roaring action film — and it’s wickedly funny at times as well.
Stewart, who has been playing his character on and off for nearly two decades, gives his usual Shakespearean, magnificent performance. Young Dafne Keen is fierce and endearing.
And Hugh Jackman sharpens his claws in every sense of the word and delivers killer work.
20th Century Fox presents a film directed by James Mangold and written by Mangold, Scott Frank and Michael Green. Rated R (for strong brutal violence and language throughout, and for brief nudity). Running time: 141 minutes. Opens Friday at local theaters.