On one level, the surprisingly strong “Logan” is a movie created of the purest fan-service.
It’s easy to imagine director James Mangold and star Hugh Jackman — the latter of whom has, for 18 years, played brilliantly the mutant anti-hero with the claws of adamantium and a heart of gold — sitting down to plan this picture and deciding, hey, let’s give the people what they want: Wolverine putting his claws into and through things, often at high speed.
Heads, limbs, abdomens: All of them get separated from bodies or torn to pieces. A note to parents — “Logan” is far more violent than previous “Wolverine” or “X-Men” movies. This is a hard-R motion picture. The consequences of claw-related violence are visible. There is traumatic stuff involving little kids. Consider yourself warned.
Normally, this sort of thing would be more than a little eye-rolling. The R-rated “Suicide Squad” was a tedious mess; the grim ‘n’ gritty (yet PG-13) “Batman v Superman” somehow worse. On paper, an R-rated “Wolverine” movie should be just inane, extreme, gory violence for its own sake.
Except it’s not. With its mix of neo-Western and quasi-samurai tropes, “Logan” isn’t just the best “X-Men” movie in forever; it’s one of the best comic-book-sourced movies we’ve seen in some time.
It is a grim and dystopian 2029. Mutants, instead of being the next step in human evolution, seem to be more of a detour. Few are being born, fewer still are alive.
When Wolverine, aka Logan, isn’t driving a limo in El Paso and rocking that black suit-white shirt-no tie-no shave look known as “the Ahmadinejad,” he’s drinking himself blind or heading across the border to an abandoned Mexican farm to take care of his father figure, a seizure-prone and incredibly old Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart, covered in liver spots and swearing like a sailor). Xavier is a fugative from the law, and the X-Men are long gone.
Out of the blue, a Mexican nurse (Elizabeth Rodriguez) deposits a largely mute 11-year-old named Laura (Dafne Keen) on Xavier and Logan. As Xavier notes, she shares a lot with Logan. A lot. (Think “Lone Wolf and Cub” except the cub is also a tiny samurai.)
Pursued by a government agent/cyborg named Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook, looking for all the world like a male Kate McKinnon) and evil scientist Dr. Zander Rice (Richard E. Grant — when was the last time he played a good guy?), Logan, Xavier and Laura take to the road, trying to make it to Eden, a mutant refuge in North Dakota where others of Laura’s kind have fled, hoping to cross the border to Canada.
That is pretty much the whole plot, which is a welcome relief from such overstuffed superhero movies as “X-Men: Apocalypse.” Again, “Logan” isn’t shy about its sources — witness Xavier and Laura watching “Shane,” a movie Mangold ultimately leans a bit too hard on — but like the best genre fiction, it amalgamates them smoothly.
And while Stewart is typically excellent as the frail Xavier, Jackman remains a pulp wonder as Logan, one of the most popular comic book characters ever created.
He’s a killer who has only vaguely made peace with it, a man who has seen too much and done even more. His body, covered in scars where it once would heal in an instant, is slowly shutting down. This is probably his last battle, and he knows it.
A few scenes are a little too realistic — it’s awfully gut-wrenching and timely to see black and Latino kids running, literally running, through the North Dakota woods towards Canada, where they know they will be safe, while American agents try to kill them or enslave them.
But then, dire contemporary politics aside, the X-Men have always had an air of melancholy about them — the world hates and fears them and, when Chris Claremont was writing the book, their won-loss record was famously terrible for a bunch of superheroes. To be an X-Man is to know angst, and to be Wolverine was to be ever tempted by the beast lurking just below the surface. “Logan” honors all of that, bringing the character, or at least Jackman’s run on it, to a fitting conclusion.
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen
Rating: R for strong brutal violence and language throughout, and for brief nudity
Running time: 2 hours, 17 min
Theaters: Alamo Lakeline, Alamo Slaughter, Alamo South, Alamo Village, Barton Creek, Cedar Park, City Lights, Evo, Flix, Galaxy, Gateway, Hill Country, Metropolitan, Moviehouse, Round Rock, Southpark, Stone Hill, Tinseltown, Westgate. IMAX: Barton Creek, Bullock Museum, Gateway.