How the mighty have fallen in “Logan.” It’s the year 2029 and Professor X (Patrick Stewart) is far gone in dementia, his frantic ravings only interrupted by the administration of powerful drugs. Logan, aka The Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), is a bearded, haggard and gimpy shadow of his former self, drinking heavily and coughing frequently, his legendary recuperative powers much diminished.
Of the other X-Men, there is no trace (some unexplained calamity has decimated them), other than a fragile Caliban (Stephen Merchant), barely functional in the role of Professor X’s caregiver.
There is throughout this latest X-Men picture a foreboding feeling of farewell to all that. Which is only fitting, given that this is the final picture in the franchise in which Jackman and Stewart are playing these iconic roles. Both men have declared in interviews that they’re hanging up the adamantium claws and the psionic powers that have been their characters’ defining features since the franchise was launched in 2000.
The characters are going out with a wheeze, the toll of years of battling evildoers crushing them physically and spiritually. But in Logan’s case, he’s also gripped by a volcanic rage against the dying of the light. When roused from his funk and stirred into a final frenzy of action, he deploys those shining claws with such berserker-fueled ferocity (many are the heads and torsos graphically impaled) that this is the first “X-Men” movie to go out into the world with an R rating. (All previous “X’s” have been PG-13.)
Director/co-screenwriter James Mangold (Scott Frank and Michael Green share screenplay credit) has a special affinity for Wolverine, having directed Jackman in 2013’s eponymous “The Wolverine.” Instead of putting the emphasis on superhero super powers, Mangold delves deeply into these characters’ human-scale vulnerabilities.
At the start, Logan is an embittered husk, filled with remorse, looking back on a career where “I hurt people,” and “bad (profanity) happens to people I care about.” So he’s tried to stop caring. Except he can’t. He, along with Caliban, is Professor X’s caregiver, at one point even tenderly carrying the wheelchair-confined man upstairs to tuck him into bed.
And he is drawn, very reluctantly, into caring for and defending a mysterious young girl mutant named Laura (Dafne Keen), who he discovers possesses the same adamantium claw-deploying capabilities as he does. Turns out they’re genetically connected, and though she also possesses a raging personality to match his own, he becomes her protector.
A mad scientist (Richard E. Grant) and an army of mechanically and genetically enhanced bad guys chase the trio across country, with fights and bloodshed frequently marking their progress.
Laura is mute for most of the movie, and Keen, in her feature debut, conveys a remarkable range of emotion via her large soulful eyes. For their part, Jackman and Stewart give perhaps the most heartfelt performances that they’re ever brought to an X-Man movie. Though the tone of the movie is pervasively downbeat, they’re both going out on a very high note.
☆☆☆☆ out of 5
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen, Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant, Richard E. Grant.
Director: James Mangold
Running time: 2:21.
Rated: R, for strong, brutal violence and language throughout, and for brief nudity.