Movie review: 'Logan' tells Wolverine story with surplus grit, ambition

Hugh Jackman stars as Logan/Wolverine

Hugh Jackman stars as Logan/Wolverine Ben Rothstein

The first hint is the title.

There’s never been a Batman movie named Bruce, a Spider-Man film called Peter. In this supposed final chapter — “supposed” because comic-book series never truly end — the mutant formerly known as Wolverine has more yesterdays than tomorrows and is as haunted by the past as he is uncertain of the future.

So if the most famous of the X-Men rarely gets called by his mutant name these days, it’s because Logan rarely functions as a traditional superhero movie.

Holed out near the U.S.-Mexico border, Logan (Hugh Jackman — who else?) is keeping a low profile as a limo driver under yet another assumed identity. Old habits die hard, of course, and so the film begins with an explosion of violence that instantly earns its rare R rating. If ever you wanted to know what it would actually look like when Wolverine impales a low-level baddie’s face with those claws of his, Logan would like to reward you for your patience.

Logan’s out-of-the-way hideout is also home to Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and Caliban (Stephen Merchant), perhaps the least imposing mutant we’ve ever seen: His powers are seemingly limited to an aversion to sunlight and the ability to track others of his kind. Their domestic malaise is interrupted by the arrival of a little girl who doesn’t speak but does have dangerous powers and a coterie of bad guys on her trail.

No new mutants have been born in some 25 years, making this newcomer special in a way that even Logan can’t claim to be. “Maybe we were God’s mistake,” he says of their plight. Taking place in a world where many of our worst fears have come true — it’s hotter, it’s overpopulated, and a passing reference suggests that tigers have gone extinct — James Mangold’s film aspires to the likes of Children of Men and even Shane, which is directly invoked several times over. It doesn’t reach those lofty heights, but Logan’s unconventional ambition is refreshing in a genre whose movies usually exist solely to set up the next sequel.

Xavier, salty in his old age and having fun with the role in a way he’s never been allowed to before, is as sagacious as ever. The father/son dynamic we see between him and Logan both lightens the mood and raises the stakes — the Professor has been sedated for years now, as the combination of his deteriorating mind and his unmatched psychic powers is potentially catastrophic. He urges our conflicted hero to ferry the young girl to safety, knowing it might be the last mission they go on together.

With unkempt gray hair and bloodshot eyes, Logan reluctantly accepts. Before, his world-weariness often seemed an overreaction to what actually took place in these movies, a comic-book affectation meant to appeal to angst-ridden adolescents. Here it finally feels like the proper response to the world around him and to the person he’s become. In previous X-Men films, you were likely to forget Wolverine’s real name; here, you might find yourself forgetting Logan’s mutant name.

Director: James Mangold
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen
Rated: R
Theater: Now playing at area theaters