By JAMES DAWSON
Front Row Features Film Critic
The latest Wolverine installment “Logan” is sufficiently ultraviolent and expletive-laden to earn the sometime X-Man the only “R” rating ever received by any Marvel movie other than last year’s diametrically different “Deadpool.” But where “Deadpool” was a ridiculously over-the-top black-humor romp, “Logan” is so unrelentingly gritty and grim that it sometimes comes uncomfortably close to resembling such depressing DC Comics downers as “Man of Steel” and “Batman V Superman.” Make no mistake, “Logan” is markedly better than either of those interminable bores, if only because it has a trio of main characters worth caring about. Still, it’s hard not to wish the dismal affair were just a little less dreary.
Also, any fanboys (and fangirls) expecting this flick to be an adaptation of comics writer Mark Millar’s classic “Old Man Logan” arc are in for a disappointment. Although Hugh Jackman’s Logan (aka Wolverine, aka James Howlett) is definitely old, and there’s a road trip involved, that’s about it for any resemblances between those comic books and this movie. (A faithful adaptation would have been impossible anyway, because Millar’s story involved many Marvel universe characters who couldn’t appear in a Fox feature due to rights issues, but Millar himself had suggested ways the studio could have worked around that problem. Ah, well.)
“Logan” takes place in a future where no other mutants have been born for 25 years. “Maybe we were God’s mistake,” snarls an embittered and broken-down Logan, now reduced to scraping by as a limo driver who needs reading glasses.
Former X-Men leader Charles Xavier (the always excellent Patrick Stewart) is a senile, brain-damaged wreck. Logan has secreted the prone-to-psychic-episodes Xavier in a remote south-of-the-border hideout to protect the world’s most powerful telepath from outsiders, and vice versa. Xavier’s caregiver is the albino telepath Caliban, played with impressively pathetic desperation by Stephen Merchant.
A Mexican nurse (“Orange is the New Black’s” Elizabeth Rodriguez) begs Wolverine to take her and a mysterious child named Laura (a perfectly cast Dafne Keen) north, to escape the clutches of heavily armed commandos employed by the research lab from which Laura has escaped. After an excitingly well-staged and high-firepower car chase that earns extra points for cleverly subverting the standard crash-through-the-fence cliché, Logan, Xavier and Laura hit the road.
As the movie’s ad campaign makes obvious, there’s more to the deadly serious (and seriously deadly) Laura than meets the eye. Although Laura remains mostly mute, actress Keen conveys everything from surly dismissal to hopeless yearning to feral fury with her expressions alone. When enraged, she turns into a strictly no-nonsense equivalent of Hit-Girl, the relentlessly lethal character played for laughs in the 2010 superhero spoof “Kick-Ass.”
Jackman is so convincingly beat down and bummed out that he makes Logan’s previous movie mopings about lost love Jean Grey seem almost lighthearted. Life’s disappointments also apparently have expanded his (and Xavier’s) vulgar vocabulary. Logan’s second word in the movie is the “F” bomb, which reoccurs with such frequency that it actually becomes annoying, as if the filmmakers couldn’t resist taking excessive advantage of the license granted them by having an “R” rating.
Stewart gives the movie’s most touching performance, especially when we learn the horrific and heartbreaking secret that Xavier’s damaged mind can’t keep him from remembering. He also delivers one of the movie’s rare amusing lines. Referring to the moody and vicious Laura, he asks Logan, “Does she remind you of anybody?”
Returning director James Mangold (who helmed 2013’s “The Wolverine”) and screenwriters Mangold, Michael Green and Scott Frank offer up enough stabbing, slashing, amputating and beheading to satisfy even the most bloodthirsty videogame devotee. In the movie’s most stylishly brutal scene, a deafening white-noise psychic attack from the wheelchair-bound Xavier freezes everyone in the vicinity of his casino hotel room, including a host of heavily-armed bad guys that Logan slow-mo struggles to kill with his claws.
One major aspect of the film’s third act is disappointing, because it doesn’t have the same unlikely-but-acceptable credibility as what’s gone before. Having Logan mock what happens in a meta reference to X-Men comic books (which he insultingly refers to as “ice cream for bedwetters”) doesn’t help.
Still, the movie’s final image is unforgettable enough to be considered iconic, which makes up for an awful lot of overkill and ice cream along the way.