Director: James Mangold
Stars: Hugh Jackman, Dafne Keen
2 (out of 5) Globes
Professor X drops an f-bomb. Hearing a cuss word spring form Patrick Stewart’s mouth isn’t the first shock in “Logan.” That one comes early. Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine, who in his third solo outing (and ninth overall) just goes by Logan, gets into one of his traditional skirmishes. But when he breaks out his knuckle-blades and lunges for his opponents, his victims don’t just fall down like some bandit in an old Western who’s been bloodlessly shot. The blades go through one guy’s face. Another loses a limb. The whole thing’s a gory, bloody mess. Logan says f-words, too.
This could have just been a mere novelty, the comic book movie equivalent of the old Swearing Grandma routine. Worse, it could be “Deadpool,” the smug, aggressively self-satisfied R-rated annoyance that likely made this kid-unfriendly X-Men spin-off less of a tough sell. But it’s not only a novelty. For one thing, Wolverine/Logan is one comic book icon who always seemed like he needed to indulge in bad words and a little of the old ultraviolence. For another, “Logan”’s too sincere a picture to ever feel like it’s only about crass calculation — giving longtime fans the blood and guts and swear words (as well as pain and anguish and suffering) they always wanted.
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Thing is, it’s giving us that, too. To be frank, “Logan” is still a semi-awkward, slightly misshapen beast. It calls so much attention to the genre tropes it’s avoiding or subverting it might as well have been an episode of “Pop-Up Video,” only with bubbles that read things like “Look! No cities being destroyed!” or “Hey! The once-prim Xavier Charles just said, ‘I have to pee!’” In some ways, it’s not that different from “Deadpool” after all.
But it does try to so very hard. The story plays like the last Wolverine solo job, “The Wolverine” (only the “Rambos” have more confusing titles), if it had stayed as grim as its first act and not sent him off to Japan to fight giant robots. Instead “Logan” is a rogue-finds-redemption saga. All of a sudden it’s 2029, and Logan is still in a caught in a vicious cycle of pain. Mutants are no longer a thing, and our brooding anti-hero has taken himself off the grid, holing up in a warehouse in the middle of the desert with the now senile Xavier and an albino mutant played, gravely, by Stephen Merchant. No one’s doing very well, especially not Logan, who drunk-sleeps in a limo he rents out for rides, and who never got over all those awful things you may half-remember from movies that are 10 or even 17 years old.
Logan winds up running into a feral young girl called “X-23, or just “Laura” (Dafne Keen). She was raised in a lab in Mexico by a ghoulish company looking to harvest mutants as controllable weapons. She and her group of anchor babies escaped to America, but only so they could get out of his awful country, fleeing instead to Canada to an Eden that might not exist a la “Children of Men” or “Mad Max: Fury Road.” Logan’s reluctant to get involved, but only for vague reasons. “Everyone I love dies,” he growls, and we can only twiddle our thumbs waiting for him to change his mind and go full-“Shane” — a classic that repeatedly plays on television, should we not get its lofty intentions.
It’s too bad the filmmakers went with “Shane,” one of the least nuanced of the great Westerns. An even better fit for Logan would have an Anthony Mann or Budd Boetticher number — films like “The Man from Laramie” or “The Tall T,” where the good guys are tainted by their pasts and the monster that lurks within. But “Logan” never delves too deep into his dark side. When the blades come out, they’re used on hordes of faceless, anonymous baddies, each kill awesome, not upsetting. Since the first “X-Men,” Logan has been talking about how it hurts him every time they appear, but each fight here is ultimately weightless, more about goosing audiences who’ve always wanted to see Wolvie stab someone in the head.
A mid-film Vegas stint aside, “Logan” offers a world of dusty terrains and ramshackle motels and sprawling cornfields, of failure and self-hatred and inescapable fates. But sincerity can still be superficial, and it can still be calculated. A rash of innocent people who get gruesomely murdered towards the end of Act Two is disturbing, but not in a good way; they die to get a rise out of the audience, to prove again (as if it needed underlining) that this is definitely no “Thor 2.” A fair deal of “Logan” still hurts in a good way, and it closes on a moment of quiet poetry. But at the end of the day it’s still just a comic book movie bragging about how it’s no typical comic book movie. Yes, and?
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge