There are two types of Marvel Studios films — those that are seriously self-perpetuating and those that are irreverently self-perpetuating. “Logan” is the former, featuring Hugh Jackman’s nihilistic Wolverine and an adamantium-hard R rating.
Logan, as the clawed one is called throughout the film, is slower of gait and greyer of beard than he was in earlier “Wolverine” films. He is the owner and operator at an armor-plated stretch limo business in El Paso and his super-healing powers aren’t what they once were — a daunting arrangement of scars peek from under his white tank top.
In his downtime, he visits a delirious, nonagenarian Professor X (Patrick Stewart), living in a water tank fallen on its side outside Juarez. In addition to Logan, there’s the heliophobic mutant Caliban (Stephen Merchant) trying to make bangers and mash for his buddies on a tight budget. With Medicaid apparently eradicated, the Professor’s friends must pinch black market dementia medication for him to get a tourniquet on the earth-rattling seizures he suffers from the pills. Early in the film, there is a bracing scene of Logan getting ripped off by a shady nurse because he doesn’t wear glasses to read the labels on the prescription bottles. Given the rate at which he pounds Jim Beam, with the occasional splash of El Jimador south of the border, it’s possible that Logan biggest issue is being super-hungover all the time.
Set in 2029 (approximately 16 Marvel movies into the future), presumably during the second term of President Bannon, the roads are full of border patrol vigilantes rounding up children and caging them in black sites. Two of the most enthusiastic wranglers work for the nefarious Transigen project: Zander Rice (Richard E. Grant), a Werner Herzog-like mad scientist who splices mutant DNA into human babies, and his attack dog Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook), neck-tatted, gold-toothed and cyborg-armed.
They are keen to track down tween escapee Laura, a.k.a. X-23 (Dafne Keen), and return her to their facility. Laura gets to Logan and Professor X first, which is especially resonant for her because she was schooled in a lab with comic books instead of encyclopedias and she shares both tenacity and DNA with the Wolverine. Her goal is to reunite with her fellow wunderkinds in place called Eden in the unlikely state of North Dakota. And Logan has the proper car, if not the proper motivation, for the job.
Director James Mangold, clearly familiar with Westerns from directing the remake of “3:10 to Yuma” and familiar with the power of Johnny Cash songs from directing “Walk the Line,” uses both tacks here. In case anyone was unclear that we’re watching a Marvel Western, he has Laura and the Professor watch “Shane” (given the anti-spoiler fanaticism of comic book moviegoers, it’s amusing that clips from the beginning, middle and end of the George Stevens classic are shown in “Logan”). Another inadvertent consequence of the expository reliance on “Shane” is that, with sympathy for the perfectly fine Boyd Holbrook, these clips confirm that they don’t make black hats (or black tank tops) like Jack Palance anymore.
At least Mangold can be satisfied that his film always feels like a standalone picture, unlike other Marvel movies that resemble two-hour compilations of trailers for future products. “Logan” is grounded in a recognizable America and the work from Jackman and Stewart is fierce and more nakedly emotional than you’d expect.