2.5 stars (out of 4)
For his last outing as Wolverine, Hugh Jackman might as well hold up an old-fashioned X-Men comic book and then use that metal claw to rip it to pieces. His parting shot is not a safe escapist haven for kids or, for that matter, an adult expecting a lively Marvel adaptation. It’s an ultra-violent slow burn of an R-rated drama that pays direct homage to classic nihilistic American westerns. Nobody is going to break the fourth wall with cheeky quips: Unlike Deadpool, this picture is deadly serious.
But just because a comic book flick takes the dirt road less traveled doesn’t mean it’s a cinematic work of art. A narrative — even a dark one — must still deliver on emotional levels and effortlessly make its point. The villains need to pierce the heart. In that sense, the intense Logan isn’t quite as important as it thinks it is.
In the X-Men universe, the self-healing mutant hasn’t been seen for more than a second since 2014’s 1970s-set X-Men: Days of Future Past. Cut to a near-apocalyptic 2029. Wolverine (given name: Logan) now looks as grizzled and weary as Mel Gibson on the 2016 awards circuit. He’s hiding in plain sight as a limo driver, preferring to mind his business. But it takes all of two grisly minutes to establish the ferociousness that lurks within. He also shuttles meds back to a secret compound along the Mexican boarder. That’s where a mentally ailing Charles Xavier, i.e., Professor X (Patrick Stewart) is squirreled away and shouting about his telepathic visions. The rest of Logan’s peers are presumably dead — their names are never uttered — while new mutants haven’t been born in decades.
That’s why Logan is shocked when a feral young girl named Laura (Dafne Keen in a gripping and difficult debut performance) arrives on the scene. Though not his biological daughter, she shares his moodiness as well as an ability to spring a metal knives out her hand and unleash genuine terror. She has cyborgs on her tail, so the three of them get out of Dodge in a heart-pounding vehicle chase scene. Destination: A mutant safe house in North Dakota that Laura has read about in, uh, an X-Men comic. How’s that for meta?
The film loses its way during the 20-minutes-too-long journey. For all the breathless talk about how Logan transcends the superhero genre, there’s nothing groundbreaking about a road trip movie in which adults try to elude the bad guys to protect a super-special child. Just last year, Jeff Nichols’ Midnight Special had the same plot (with a boy in the backseat instead of a girl). There are more than a few deja vu experiences tied to T2: Judgment Day and Mad Max: Fury Road as well.
Out of Jackman’s nine appearances as Wolverine, this will be remembered as the one in which he breaks free of the PG-13 constraints. Logan doesn’t just rip his claw through a villain’s chest as the camera pans away. Now audiences can see him go animalistic as he tears people’s heads off and slashes them limb-by-limb. Same goes for his female mini-me. Every set piece seems to end in a bloodbath super-cut, with even good-hearted bystanders dying violently. And the point of this is what, exactly? We’ve seen this character on screen since 2000 and know full well he’s capable of brutality. There’s no need to turn the guy into a more hirsute version of Freddy Krueger. Extreme close ups of the gore — not to mention excessive use of profane language — smacks of macho self-satisfaction. And in the process, Jackman and director James Mangold (The Wolverine) have alienated their core young fans.
Perhaps the end-to-end bleakness is a fitting send-off for the reluctant superhero. Jackman, now age 48, still has the bulging biceps of a 30-year-old only with considerably more wear and tear in his face. Here more than ever, the talented actor portrays Logan like a tortured cowboy who’s sacrificed too much of himself for the (mostly) greater good. Indeed, there’s a reason the 1953 Western Shane figures prominently into the plot. There is a crusty heart underneath all those scars. And for that, Logan deserves to ride peacefully into the sunset.
(Logan opens in theaters Friday, March 3.)
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