Ya gotta give ‘em this: the people who made Logan aren’t trying to pull any fast ones. They make it abundantly clear, from the very first scene, that this new X-Men/ Wolverine spin-off won’t be like the two that preceded it, and they do so by beginning with a scene of relentless brutality and self-conscious profanity. Our Logan — now a chauffer in El Paso, circa 2029 — is sleeping in his limo, which is, inconveniently enough, in the process of being stripped by criminals. (Unfortunately for the movie, it’s also a gang of Hispanic criminals, who pepper their interactions with the obligatory pendejos and cabrons.) But this is not a cartoon fight; it’s rough and bloody, filled with grisly, blood-splattered kills, and apparently somebody taught Logan the f-word.
Frankly, and it could just be the jarring incongruity from this franchise’s earlier installments — six X-Men movies plus the aforementioned Wolverine stand-alones — but the first quarter or so of Logan has the feel of a fourth-grader proudly throwing around the swears he just learned. Yes, Logan is a hard-R vehicle for a customarily PG-13 character, though his signature skill (dispatching people with his giant claws) did require some creative/selective framing and editing.
But it’s not just a question of surface, checklist elements; the overall tone and feel of this film is darker, grimmer, and more adult-oriented. We find this older Logan — and his former mentor Dr. Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), who has fallen even farther — living in a world where no new mutants have been born in 25 years. It’s a pretty grim country, complete with lunk-heads chanting “USA!” at a border fence, dystopian future, hahaha. But Logan is made aware of a breed of mutant children, being raised in a lab in Mexico city as soldiers and killers — including one, Laura (Dafne Keen), who is quite literally a junior version of himself. And she is fucking fierce.
Like the similarly structured and styled Children of Men, Logan is essentially a road movie, tracking our hero’s attempt to get this girl to safety, and perhaps shed some of his own cynicism along the way. It offers Jackman more meat than he’s ever had in this role (which he’s playing for the ninth time in 18 years), and he digs into it, carrying around a chip on his shoulder and a beard that he apparently borrowed from Mel Gibson. Even so, Logan can’t quite earn the heavy emotions they’re going for at the end, and there are other problems along the way: villain Boyd Holbrook is pretty intolerable (and not in the intended way), some of the plot mechanics are just plain lazy, and while the leisurely pace is admirable, the film certainly drags in spots.
But there’s much to admire here, both in concept and execution. Logan reunites Jackman with The Wolverine director James Mangold (Copland, 3:10 to Yuma) and co-writer Scott Frank (Out of Sight, The Lookout); it feels, in spots, like the movie they spent their lunch hours wishing they were making, rather than that one. And who knows, maybe it took screwing up (twice, after Gavin Hood’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine) for them to get the go-ahead from Marvel and Fox to take this riskier, more adult-oriented approach. (Or, more likely, it took the success of last spring’s R-rated, lower-budgeted, high-grossing spin-off film Deadpool.)
Either way, the idea of sifting the conventional comic book hero through this lean, mean Wick/Reacher man-of-action template is a good one – so good, in fact, that it’s easy to overpraise the mere notion, and there’s a high risk of appreciating what Logan is attempting more than appraising what it actually achieves. But credit where it’s due: this is a grown-up movie that’s a drama first and superhero story second, and while maybe you shouldn’t give points for effort, maybe you should when you’re talking about a subset of films as ruthlessly locked-in to their formulas as these. Films like Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man, Doctor Strange, and Deadpool get credit for just the slightest variations of tone and style while still adhering to the playbook of the form; Logan throws most of that out, and good on ‘em for that. “A man has to be what he is,” Logan is told. “You can’t break the mold.” Maybe. Maybe not.
Logan is out Friday.