Twentieth Century Fox has brought the curtain down on its original “X-Men” franchise with the “Wolverine” spin-off “Logan” (***1/2 OUT OF ****), co-starring Hugh Jackson and Patrick Stewart. “Wolverine” writer & director James Mangold’s abrasive, slam-bang, but valedictory entry doesn’t resemble the usual, optimistic, hyperbolic, Marvel spectacle with a vibrant ending. Mangold and scenarists Scott Frank of “The Wolverine” and Michael Green of “Green Lantern” have formulated an often violent, profane saga set twelve years into the future. Jackman and Stewart claim this movie marks the last time they will portray Wolverine and Professor Xavier. Unlike earlier franchise entries, “Logan” arrives with an R-rating for its “strong brutal violence and language throughout, and for brief nudity.” Saying that “Logan” sheds the kid gloves that previous “X-Men”/ “Wolverine” movies wore amounts to an understatement. The “Kids in the Mind” website, for example, counted as many as 53 F-words and its derivatives, 24 scatological expressions, 9 anatomical names, and 6 minor obscenities. Although enough blood & gore flows for a half-dozen movies, the ferocity of watching various characters getting viciously battered as well as slashed and gouged constantly, usually with multiple blades skewering heads should keep squeamish audiences screaming and gorehounds drooling. “Logan” doesn’t confine its murderous mayhem strictly to its valiant heroes and slimy villains. This anything-goes opus slaughters innocent bystanders with relative indifference. The thing to remember about “Logan” is Twentieth Century Fox produced it rather than Disney Marvel, so it doesn’t resemble “Iron Man,” “Thor,” “The Incredible Hulk,” “The Avengers,” and “Guardians of the Galaxy.” Mind you, the “X-Men” movie franchise probably won’t vanish altogether since James McAvoy may still reprise his younger Professor Xavier, while a different actor will inevitably deploy those retractable, razor-sharp, adamantium claws that Hugh Jackman has wielded with such finesse in nine X-Men films over 17 years.
First, “Logan” takes place in the year 2029. Although everything appears contemporary, Mangold has inserted some thought-provoking, futuristic touches, such as self-driving tractor-trailer rigs that careen along the highways oblivious to the safety of other motorists. Second, the heroes and villains dress like ordinary people, and Logan and Professor Xavier are far older than we’ve ever seen them. They are hiding out when the film unfolds, and Professor Xavier suffers from degenerative brain disease. Indeed, Xavier relies entirely on Logan to protect him from unscrupulous people that want to seize the man with “most dangerous mind.” The two have sought refuge across the border in Mexico, and Logan works as a limo driver. He manages with considerable difficulty to keep Professor Xavier on medications that prevent him from suffering terrible psychic seizures. These seizures constitute the equivalent of earthquakes that can paralyze people in their shoes. Some audiences may be turned off by the commonplace reality with which Mangold and his writers have wall-papered “Logan.” Jackman’s grandpa version of the Wolverine is comparable to Frank Miller’s depiction of an older Batman in the graphic novel “The Dark Knight Returns,” except Logan is in far worse physical condition. Indeed, Logan can still slice and dice his adversaries like a Christmas turkey, but his healing powers have waned. A physician warns Wolverine that he may be suffering from adamantium poisoning. The first scene shows Logan awakening from a siesta in his luxurious 2024 Chrysler limo to find a gang of truculent border trash trying to steal his tires. Our hero approaches them, and a fracas erupts that leaves several either dead or wounded. Wolverine, however, emerges the worst for wear, staggering about clumsily as he slashes and gashes his aggressive opponents who blast away at him. He is often shown repeatedly guzzling liquor and dresses in a sloppy manner. Director James Mangold stages Logan’s hand-to-hand combat scenes so each battle has a chaotic and frenzied spontaneity. Nothing about the fights that ensue appear visually cool and kinetic as they were in earlier “X-Men” films. Sometimes, Logan looks like he is going to lose until he lets his rage fuel his ferocity.
Logan discovers that a desperate Mexican woman, Gabriela (Elizabeth Rodriguez of “Miami Vice”), has been following him. She has a group of mutant children with her. These children are not only trying to elude the henchmen, but they also trying to reach safety across the Canadian border. She pleads with Wolverine to drive them to their destination. He refuses to acknowledge her presence, but then discovers that an obnoxious enforcer, Pierce (Boyd Holbrook of “Run All Night”), with a mechanical hand and a cynical Southern drawl, from the Mexican research facility Transigen wants to recapture the children. These children are laboratory mutants on the lam. One of them, Laura (newcomer Dafne Keen), brandishes lethal claws like Wolverine; she may be reserved and pint-sized but those claws do her talking. She demonstrates her savagery when she beheads the Goliath-like henchman sent to seize her.
“Logan” boasts several exciting confrontations as Wolverine and Laura make mincemeat out of an overwhelming number of adversaries. The beauty of these scenes is that the hapless enemy doesn’t have a clue about their impending demise. Mangold and company generate one surprise after another as Wolverine and Professor Xavier flee from Pierce and his legion of hooligans on a road trip. Laura accompanies them and earns their respect as a devastating killing machine, and her combat scenes are extraordinary. Eventually, new nemesis Dr. Xander Rice (Richard E. Grant of “Hudson Hawk”), who wants the children captured, loosens his ultimate secret weapon X-24 that battles Wolverine to a virtual stalemate. The avalanche of tragic events that accumulate as “Logan” spirals toward its twilight of the gods ending may sadden some moviegoers. Furthermore, the dearth of backstory about the conspicuous absence of the other X-Men qualifies as “Logan’s” solitary shortcoming. As the wizened Wolverine, Hugh Jackman evokes sympathy. Patrick Stewart fares no less admirable as the dementia-afflicted Professor Xavier who struggles to come to terms with his murky past. Altogether, “Logan” is unforgettable! Incidentally, a hilarious skit with Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool serves as a prologue.