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Logan (2017)

Action/Adventure Rated R

Superheroes occasionally die. Rarely, though, do they age. The compelling hook of Logan, an elegiac Hugh Jackman Wolverine film, is that it spends time considering what it might be like for a superhero to not only be confronted with the threat of sudden death, but also with the slow creep of mortality.

Set in 2029, the movie finds Logan well past his Wolverine fighting days. Sporting a gray beard, a persistent limp, and a nagging cough, he works as a limo driver in the vaguely futuristic American southwest. Between driving gigs, he slips across the border to an abandoned factory in Mexico, where another mutant named Caliban (Stephen Merchant) is helping him hide and care for Professor X (Patrick Stewart), now in his 90s and suffering from Alzheimer’s.

This is a dismal, decrepit trio—and the heart and soul of the movie. We learn that no mutants have been born in many years, and so an air of extinction hangs over their hideout. (The location is a brilliant piece of production design, especially Professor X’s gloomy chamber, which has been converted from a toppled water tower.) Logan and Caliban bicker about how to best handle the professor, as well the fact that Logan is in denial over his drinking problem and deteriorating health. Meanwhile, the professor laments that he wasn’t able to do more with the days he had. His old foe Magneto, it turns out, was a piece of cake compared to the passage of time.

An air of extinction hangs over this hideout.

I would have been content to sit in this moody stew for the rest of the film, but there was little chance that Wolverine’s blades would stay sheathed. (Indeed, they first emerge in the violent prologue, in which Logan defends his limo from a gang of tire thieves.) Logan ups the action ante about a third of the way in with the arrival of Laura (Dafne Keen), a tween girl who seeks Logan’s protection. He’s hesitant, but the issue is forced when a military force descends on their hideout in pursuit of Laura. During the ensuing melee, we discover that she has blades of her own.

Logan becomes an extremely bloody chase picture from here on out, punctuated by the queasy sight of a young girl doing much of the dismembering. Laura lets out a high-pitched shriek each time she impales a victim, a pipsqueak variation on Logan’s own roars of rage. Watching her, Logan seems to feel a mixture of pride and shame—he’s impressed by her skills, yet despairing of her future, one which he knows all too well.

Directed by James Mangold from a script he wrote with Scott Frank and Michael Green, Logan’s thematic consideration of its violence is sometimes at odds with the way it portrays that violence. Twice the movie references the classic Western Shane, particularly a scene in which Alan Ladd’s gunfighter talks about the weight you carry after you’ve killed a man. You can see that weight in Logan’s face (Jackman has always emphasized the weariness of this character), but you don’t feel it in the many fight scenes, in which dozens of black-clad mercenaries are sliced and diced with casual abandon.

What’s missing is some of the mournfulness Logan had in those early scenes at the hideout. This will probably be remembered as the Wolverine movie with the lethal little girl, but my favorite moment is much more mundane: the sight of a stumbling Logan carrying a tired professor up a flight of stairs and helping him into bed. At its best, Logan is a superhero movie that eschews invincibility in favor of that sort of human frailty.