Let's assume that adamantium gives you heavy-metal poisoning, that it's as bad for your system as depleted uranium. Even the uncanny healing powers of Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) are breaking down from the things the government did to his skeleton. It's not lupus. It might as well be.
Here we find Logan—a.k.a. Wolverine, one of the most iconic of the X-Men—moonlighting as a limo driver, taking high school kids to their proms. The passengers act like swine, sticking their heads through the sunroof, screaming "USA! USA!" at the Mexican migrants camped under a freeway offramp.
Logan is staying in an abandoned industrial compound in the Mexican desert as he saves up for a boat—tending Charles "Professor X" Xavier (Patrick Stewart), a most wanted fugitive. The seizures Xavier developed in old age caused his brain to be classified as a weapon of mass destruction. Now in his 90s, the professor has filaments of white hair sticking out of his once sprucely shaven bald head. He has a cataract in one eye. Shakespearean that he is, Stewart brings tragic grandeur to the part. Any director considering staging a modern dress production of King Lear should see Stewart zizzing around in an electric wheelchair, sleepless and raving. His head clearing, Xavier tells Logan, "I always know who you are. Sometime, I just don't recognize you." It's perhaps the most poignant line in the film, aside from the undelivered text message left by a woman Logan fails to rescue: "They here. Please."
The movie is date-stamped by some future Michael Savage racket on the radio: "It's 2029. Why are we still talking about mutants?"
The writing has pulp substance; the smirking Blackwater-ish thug Donald (Boyd Holbrook), with a tattooed neck and a prosthetic hand, introduces himself to Wolverine: "I'm looking for someone who's looking for you." That someone is a Mexican girl called Laura (Dafne Keen) who seeks safety in a probably non-existent Eden for mutants up north of the 40th parallel. This most meta of the X-Men movies suggest a clue published in an old X-Men comic book determines the future of mutantkind. But the comics are there for Logan's contempt, as if he were a western gunslinger scorning a Ned Buntline dime novel.
The tangy script makes up for director James Mangold's bent for over-emphasis. We glimpse the statue of liberty on a sign for a low-class flophouse called the Liberty Motel—we get it, remembering the X-Men's battle 17 years ago atop the torch. Mangold (Walk the Line) tries to provide Jackman's Logan with Johnny Cash-worthy demonstrations of integrity, even ratifying that honorability with Cash's classic Pentecostal song "The Man Comes Around." It usually works, but Mangold leans on the buzzer. (Seeing the statue of liberty on the sign, Wolverine stops and studies it—we see he remembers, too.) Logan's allusions to Shane, an overblown Western classic from the 1950s, could have used a more delicate touch.
There are worse things than moral seriousness. Logan's action comes hard and fast, with a savage car pursuit and various skirmishes on an Oklahoma farm and in a Northern forest. There's magnificent action movie confidence in the moment where Logan steps into the full force of a Xavier psy-storm, strong enough to break windows blocks away. Logan pulls himself to the center of the telepathic hurricane, bracing himself with his claws at every step.
With dignity and grace, Jackman says sayonara to this signature role. It's clear how much physicality and humor he passed on to this mashup of comic book action and political allegory, in his portrait of the ronin with six swords. These movies thrived on Jackman's confidence, and one wonders what will replace it in upcoming installments. Even a wretched prequel such as 2009's X-Men Origins: Wolverine wasn't enough to damage what he brought to the saga.
The serious violence, and the proper R-rated language to describe it, might be a result of the success of Deadpool. But the heaviness goes beyond darker stories for aging X-Men fans. Logan has zeitgeist; the despair that makes us feel that the nation isn't worthy of its heroes, and the premonitions of trouble that leave some looking toward Canada for escape.
R; 141 Min.
Opens Friday Valleywide