Logan Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen. Directed by James Mangold. Rated R. Opens Friday citywide.
After 17 years onscreen and close to 200 years of life, Wolverine is looking pretty tired. The character’s bone-deep weariness is the main subject of Logan, the third and allegedly final solo Wolverine movie for star Hugh Jackman. Jackman has played Wolverine in more movies than any other actor has played any other superhero, and Logan is the culmination of his deep connection with the role, a melancholy, downbeat character study that’s unlike any other major superhero movie ever released. While Marvel pursues a mostly homogeneous tone and style for the movies and TV series it makes based on its comic-book characters, 20th Century Fox has recently shown a willingness to take bolder artistic leaps with its licensed Marvel characters (all connected to the X-Men franchise), in projects like Deadpool and Legion.
Logan focuses on just two familiar X-Men: The title character, the angsty mutant with the healing factor and the retractable claws, and his telepathic friend and mentor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart). Set in 2029 (although, as always, the continuity of the X-Men films is loose at best), Logan finds its main characters living in a world where mutants are all but extinct, for reasons that are never entirely clear. Director and co-writer James Mangold (who also helmed 2013’s underrated The Wolverine) isn’t interested in world-building, instead focusing on how the two aging former heroes adjust to life in a world that doesn’t need or want them anymore.
Logan’s self-healing ability isn’t what it used to be, and Xavier’s mental state is breaking down. They’re hiding away in a warehouse in Mexico when they discover a young girl named Laura (Dafne Keen), who possesses mutant powers remarkably similar to Logan’s. She’s on the run from some generic bad guys (the movie’s forgettable villains are a major weakness), so the three characters eventually end up on the road together, searching for a safe haven. The taciturn loner who reluctantly protects a vulnerable young woman is a common storyline for Westerns, and Logan directly connects itself to the genre with background clips from Oscar-winning Western Shane.
While the relationship among the central trio is strong, with impressive performances from all three (newcomer Keen holds her own with the two veterans), the lengthy plot heads off on too many detours, and the serious tone, while refreshing, gets a bit numbing over time. That extends to the incredibly brutal violence afforded by the movie’s R rating, which is bracing at first (considering how bloodless and consequence-free most violence in superhero movies can be) but almost rote by the movie’s end. Mangold works so hard to reject superhero-movie conventions that he sometimes loses his way. Wolverine’s weariness extends to the entire film, making for a mournful, minor-key send-off.