There's something sad and strange about "Logan," James Mangold's latest live action adventure of Marvel's adamantium-clawed mutant and the last to feature Hugh Jackman in the title role.
No one shows up in black leather or spandex. There is no big portal in the sky, no Omega-level final boss to defeat in the end. The standard X-Men trappings are barely there -- there is no Blackbird, Cerebro, Mystique, Magneto. There's a meandering quality to the narrative that sometimes feels like the story is going nowhere.
When the credits come up, you know it's a send-off. And yet, there's an ache there, too -- a sense of tragedy after all the violence.
The year is 2029 and mutants have been wiped out of the planet. Logan/Wolverine (Jackman) is a chauffeur who drives around wealthy Texans and debutantes near the Mexican border. He keeps Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) doped up and hidden away from the world in a water tower near the border. Logan also keeps company with the mutant-hunting Caliban (Stephen Fry), who acts as Xavier's nursemaid.
Into his life comes a woman (Elizabeth Rodriguez) who wants Wolverine to help bring her daughter Laura (Dafne Keen) to North Dakota. Logan wants nothing to do with Laura and her mother, especially after receiving a not-so-subtle warning from cyborg enforcer Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook). All he wants is to get enough cash to buy a sunseeker boat and sail off for the horizon. Will Logan get his boat? Or is there one more mission for him to finish before he can finally find peace?
Violence has always been part and parcel of Wolverine's appeal as a comic book character. Ever since he went full berserker against Hellfire fodder in The Uncanny X-Men, Wolverine has been famous for dishing out swift, bloody justice to scores of X-Men villains.
In the X-Men movies and his own solo outings, Jackman heightens that appeal by showing that he is more than just a killer: he's a mutant whose healing factor can be a curse as it shows his seemingly limitless capacity for pain. Wolverine will heal from almost any wound but there is a physical, emotional cost to it.
We see the weight of the years taking a toll on Logan, in his limping walk and the wounds that won't fully heal. Even his companions reflect pain: Caliban hides from the light, both figuratively and literally, while Charles Xavier's diseased mind is prone to seizures - manifesting itself in mini-timequakes that function like a slow acting WMD. Laura/X-23 is like a wordless, more animalistic version of Wolverine -- her rage mirroring Logan's.
Worse still, the promise of Xavier's dream is crushed by the reality of their circumstance.
"What a disappointment you've become," Xavier tells Logan at one point, and we feel it like a slap. Xavier's dream is a failure, and it is the world that bears witness.
Logan's journey takes him out of chauffered retirement and on the road as he, Charles and Laura try to escape Pierce and his band of Reavers, who have always fascinated me as they were the X-villains that successfully broke up the X-Men before the Jim Lee Gold and Blue era. Here, they're just faceless, paid mercs: living, walking cutlets for the abattoir.
Creepier still is the introduction of Zander Rice (Richard E. Grant) and his creation of X-24.
Logan, Laura and Charles avoid their many, many enemies while searching for Eden, an alleged mutant sanctuary in an X-Men comic book. It would be funny except Logan realizes that they're on a fool's errand.
And yet, still there's hope.
"Logan, you still have time," Xavier intones at one point in the movie - in a quiet scene that's like an oasis. When Logan takes Laura under his wing, there is a glimpse of redemption but not before he goes back to doing what he does best. And what he does best is very, very violent.
A word on the R rating: it's earned from the very first frame when Logan cusses, and reinforces it right down to the last gory kill. If the last Wolverine outings gave you a fear of sharp objects, this one will make you absolutely numbed by the violence. "Deadpool" may have been box office gold for the X-franchise but the R rating adds nothing else to the table except blood and curses. Wolverine finally goes full berserker here - stabbings, impaling, decapitation - it goes on and on. Strip away further, and there’s nothing there.
Perhaps that is the point of Logan the character - of a man steeped in wrath. Logan's berserker rage is legend but his history, at least in the comic books, has always shown the consequences of violence including a trail of dead wives and a son killed by his own hand.
"Logan" has something to say about the fate of men steeped in wrath and it's taken this long - 17 years and nine movies later - to finally say it.