By Eleanor Ringel Cater
If you don’t already know who Logan is, you may not be all that interested in reading a review of a movie named “Logan.”
But what if I told you Logan is the alter ego of the X-Man known as Wolverine, the superhero (of a sort) Hugh Jackman has played for the last 17 years?
Yep, 17 years – ever since the Aussie actor, after making a name for himself in a much-lauded revival of “Oklahoma!” in London, took off for Hollywood to play a foul-tempered man-beast with razor-nails like Freddy Krueger and sideburns like late-period Elvis.
“Logan” is set in the near future – 2029, to be exact, and just as there were no more babies being born in “Children of Men,” there have been no new mutants in 25 years.
Logan is now a pretty broken-down dude, with a bad drinking habit and a borderline job as a limo driver. He’s also sick – leakage from those adamantium talons.
About the only worthwhile thing Logan does anymore is look after his old mentor, Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), who lives in dubious down-and-out circumstances south of the border. Now in his 90s, Xavier suffers from a degenerative brain disease.
Given his extreme mental capabilities – his brain has been classified as a weapon of mass destruction – the seizures Xavier suffers have earth-shaking consequences. Literally.
However, somewhere nearby – north of the border – there’s a little girl named Laura (Dafne Keen) who may be the last living mutant. Xavier wants Wolverine to rescue her and take her to some place in North Dakota named Eden. Our tuckered-out, ready-to-chuck-it-all-in hero isn’t exactly pleased with the assignment. So when he first sees her, sitting quietly eating cereal, he waxes sarcastic: “What’s her gift? Eating?”
As it turns out her gift is all too familiar. Little Laura, who remains mute for most of the movie, has her own set of adamantium claws sprouting from her little hands (hmmm….). And she’s not shy about using them.
So there’s your plot: Logan, Laura and Xavier are trying to make it north. In pursuit are some nasties led by a sneering bully with a robotic hand (Boyd Holbrook) and a doctor (Richard E. Grant) with a taste for experimentation on children that recalls Dr. Mengele (He had a blast in Hitler’s death camps).
Wolverine’s distaste for this adventure only increases when he learns Laura got her info about Eden from an old X-Men comic book (yep, we’re getting meta here). He dismisses the entire Marvel canon as “ice cream for bed-wetters.”
“Logan” is full of nice touches like that. In one scene little Laura does wheelies in Xavier’s wheelchair. In another, Xavier is described as having formerly run a school for “special needs” children.
However, the film is also relentlessly grim and more than a little bloody (though there’s nothing that would bother aficionados of “The Walking Dead”). Further, the distressing future that director James Mangold (“3:10 to Yuma”) envisions, while not as rainy as “Blade Runner,” has certain dismal similarities.
A lot of movie reviewers are reading dire anti-Trump messages into the script. Maybe so. But mostly I was struck by how fully the film understands it audience and honors them. There must have been 70 people in the theater when I went – in the middle of the day on a weekday. And Mangold had them in the palm of his hand.
Kudos, too, to Jackman who swears he’s hanging up his claws. Of course, that doesn’t preclude prequels, flashbacks, cameos, etc. But this wonderfully talented actor does need to spend time making something other than Wolverine appearances. Think how good he’s been in “Les Miserables,” “The Prestige” and “Prisoner” – all complex films that have drawn on more than his matinee-idol charm.
“Logan” isn’t a movie for everyone, but it is a movie for a whole lot of people who flock to the dozens of superhero flicks that have taken over the big screen. And it proves there’s nothing wrong with mindless entertainment – especially when the people making said entertainment have put their minds to making the best movie they can.