"Logan" is rumored to be the last Wolverine movie that we'll see from Hugh Jackman. Lucky for fans, it's also the very best.
"The Wolverine" director James Mangold has re-teamed with Jackman for an intense Western that re-introduces the brutish X-Men as a cowboy, wracked with remorse and reckoning with redemption. No, there's nothing so literal as Stetson hats and spurs, but "Logan" does boast galloping horses, suspenseful shoot-outs, and a black hat baddie (Boyd Holbrook) with a gold tooth and a Southern drawl that spits threats thick and squarely like chewing tobacco. Here, Logan is a lawless man, one who'll risk everything for a society of which he knows he can no longer be a part. And so sings his tragedy.
Set in a not so distant future, "Logan" presents a very different Wolverine than we've seen before. His arrogance is gone, replaced by age, his signature swagger replaced with a humbling limp. His hair is streaked with grey, face wrinkled, and flesh streaked with gnarly scars, showing he's not healing like he used to. Yet, Logan is still a force to be reckoned with, as Mangold shows with an opening brawl that pits the hung-over hero against a gang of gun-toting carjackers. Thanks to the rare R-rating awarded this superhero movie, no punches are pulled. Blood sprays not only from the shotgun blast to Wolverine's chest, but also from the skull-puncturing blows his claws inflict. Yet, this is no battle for justice. He's just trying to preserve his livelihood. See, Logan is a limo driver.
With gritted teeth, he claws through rides with drunken bridesmaids who flash their breasts, and yowling frat boys who cheer at border patrol agents. All to scrape together money to care for Professor X (Patrick Stewart), who is tucked away from the world, just south of the Mexican border. There, in a rotting industrial lot, the once mighty mutant leader spins his wheels and mutters nonsense, his powerful brain impeded by natural deterioration and the sedatives Logan slips him. Something terrible has happened to the other X-Men, something neither dares speak of. With no new mutants having been born in the past 25 years, it seems these two old friends are on the brink of extinction, looking back together on their lives with regret. Then an odd little girl named Laura crashes into their lives, bringing hope but also the wrath of hell.
The first act of "Logan" establishes a bleak landscape for our harried (and hairy) hero. The second kicks off with an eye-popping action scene that unveils the rip-roaring mutant powers this steely child possesses. When a cyborg band of bounty hunters called Reavers descend on Logan's safe house, sparks fly, tires squeal, blood flows, and an unlikely trio is forged and forced North. Reluctantly, Logan sets forth on a rescue mission to get Laura -- and Professor X -- to a sanctuary in Canada. Along the way, there will be ferocious fights, heavy losses, rattling shocks, and a shaky bond built between a snarling loner and a sneering child.
The casting is sensational. Holbrook brings a slick and sickening menace to his vicious villain, but more crucially, it's a rich joy to see Jackman and Stewart onscreen together once more. Freed from the constraints of family-friendly rating restrictions, there's a rawness to Logan and Charles Xavier's relationship never fully explored before. F-bombs spit forth signifying relatable frustration and real rage. Having spent near decades watching Stewart and Jackman in these roles, scenes where their characters speak in shorthand as they confront their shared history and grim future hold a dizzying dramatic weight. Respecting the films that have come before, Mangold has dug deep into these characters to give Jackman's Logan a superb final act, electric with emotion and grounded in grit.
Remarkably, little Laura (Dafne Keen) plays into this perfectly. Rather than pitching Laura into a cozy archetype like girly-girl, precocious quipster, or tomboy, Mangold lets her linger in something strange and mysterious. Nearly mute, this petite warrior communicates mostly through grunts, howls and dark, penetrating glares. She's a feral child, whose wildness reflects Logan's past and occasional breaks from humanity. Newcomer Keen brings a mesmerizing intensity that marvelously matches her storied co-stars'. All this gravitas makes "Logan" enthralling, while the gore of its fight scenes makes its stakes gut-wrenchingly clear.
Movies like this are why the R-rating is so valuable. Freed from the MPAA's squeamishness over blood, "Logan" is able to display the full force and fury its protagonist's powers can wreak. Conversely, the damage done to Wolverine's body is no longer sold through grunts and red-stained wife-beaters, but through gory makeup that will make fans cry out in terror. While Fox's R-rated "Deadpool" played with the expanded limits with a gleeful desire to shock, "Logan" uses its increased violence to land the threat of death and its fatality like no other superhero movie has dared. The result is a powerful, poignant, and provocative film that will make your pulse race, your heart ache, and your head spin.
"Logan" opens March 3.