James Mangold’s Logan, the third and latest stand-alone Wolverine movie, is a strange contradiction: It’s both the most violent film in the series and the most sentimental one. When it’s not showering you in blood, it’s trying to make you spill tears. It’s much more comfortable with the former than the latter. The last time we saw Logan in a significant role was 2014’s X-Men: Days of Future Past, where we got a backwards glance at our razor-clawed antihero’s time-traveling exploits during the ’70s. Here, we get a peek into the future…and it’s not a pretty picture.
The film opens in 2029, when Logan is hiding in plain sight as a grizzled, down-and-out limo driver. We see him punching the clock ferrying drunk girls to bachelorette parties and other menial assignments well below his super-powered skill set. He tugs on a pint bottle of booze and looks like the 2017 Mel Gibson, which is to say, exhausted. At least, until someone wrongs him and his shirt comes off and he reveals what is undeniably the film’s best special effect: Jackman’s impossibly pumped-up physique. At 48, he’s so ripped and inflated, he looks like a party-favor balloon animal. It turns out that the future is a dark time for mutants like Logan. There aren’t many of them left. And the ones who are still alive and kicking are in bad shape, like Patrick Stewart’s Charles Xavier, who’s frail and going mad with some sort of degenerative brain disease. Logan looks after him while keeping him hidden in the Mexican desert.
The two of them (along with Stephen Merchant’s beanpole albino, Caliban) are the last of a dying breed. Or so they think, until they learn of an evil scientist named Dr. Rice (Richard E. Grant) who’s breeding a new generation of pre-teen mutants in a lab as future killing machines. One of them, a feral-looking little girl moppet with adamantium claws not unlike Logan’s makes her way to our heroes, who have to protect her from Rice’s henchman (Boyd Holbrook, very good at being very bad) and get her to a mutant amnesty rendez-vous near the Canadian border. All of this is a complicated way of getting to a very familiar set-up: It’s a makeshift family-on-the-lam movie, with Xavier as the sickly, slightly daffy grandfather; Logan as the reluctant hero son; and Dafne Keen’s Laura as the endangered child they both need to protect in order to give their lives meaning and atone for past sins. It’s a formula that anyone who’s seen Sigourney Weaver and Newt in Aliens or Arnold Schwarzenegger and Edward Furlong in Terminator 2 knows well— it’s a high-octane action flick with a protect-the-cub emotional subtext.
Logan is essentially a road movie, but it’s a dark one (and a very long one). More than ever, Jackman’s Logan seems like he’s at an existential dead-end, and he’s never exactly been a barrel of laughs to begin with. Mangold shoots the film in a grungy, south-of-the-border Peckinpah palette. There isn’t a lot of hope in the movie. The stakes aren’t grandiose, no one’s saving the world. They’re saving this one special—and very, very violent child (although there will turn out to be others like her). Since Laura’s mutant physical gifts are so identical to Logan’s, there’s a melancholy to their relationship. She’s the daughter he never slowed down enough to allow himself to have. The loner has to learn to put someone else first. It’s both as manipulative and hokey as that sounds, but occasionally it works well enough that you might find yourself getting choked up against your better judgment. B-