Movie review:  'Logan' a ferocious, and exhilarating test of a hero's mettle
20th Century Fox, 2017.

It doesn't hit theaters until Friday, March 3, but "Logan" is already one of the most highly-anticipated films of 2017.  It's not only the latest Marvel movie, but it's also supposedly the very last time that Hugh Jackman will take on the role of everybody's favorite X-Man—the foul-mouthed, cigar-chomping Wolverine, aka Logan.  It is hard to believe that the character could continue on in any incarnation past what Jackman has done with him already, but he has saved his best, most fiercely powerful and vulnerable performance for last, in a film that is undoubtedly one of the best comic book films ever made, and certainly one of the best films period, of 2017 thus far.

"Logan" is a comic-book movie like none other, mainly because of whom it's aimed towards.  Inspired by last year's "Deadpool," not in tone, but by taking on a hard-R rating, it instantly stands apart from other kiddie-fare found in the other recent Marvel films.  Even Professor X (Patrick Stewart) is dropping F-bombs in "Logan."  It is ultra-violent, bleak and dark, set in the year 2029 in a future that no man or mutant would have imagined possible. Something has gone terribly wrong.  The R-rating gives the filmmakers and storytellers license to tell an adult tale, and this is definitely not one for children.

Mutant-kind has apparently lost the battle of equality that they so desperately have fought for in the previous X-Men films, although Patrick Stewart and Hugh Jackman are the only links to these prior movies, it is unclear if "Logan" is set in the same timeline or if it should be considered a stand-alone adventure.  Mini-series and one-off stories are common in the comic book world, but not so much in the movies, but this film is based on the non-canon comic storyline known as "Old Man Logan," which does takes place in an alternate universe.  The X-Men movie timeline has become so convoluted with "Days of Future's Past" re-writing what we have come to know, that it is entirely plausible that we could one day see Wolverine and Professor X appear on-screen again at some point, if only Jackman had not sworn that this is his final go-around.  But is this film connected to the others we've seen?  It's still not clear, and perhaps time will tell.

In this dreary road adventure, mutant-kind has been all but eradicated from the world.  Logan works in hiding as a limo driver, who has secretly stashed his friend and mentor, Charles "Professor X" Xavier, in a deserted tanker facility, to protect him from himself.  Xavier - the world's most powerful mutant mind - is now in his 90s and is battling some kind of mental disorder. He is being taken care of by an albino mutant, Caliban (Stephen Merchant), and for all that these three know, they are the last mutants on Earth.  That is until a mysterious little girl, Laura (Dafne Keen), shows up and appears to not only have mutant powers, but the same adamantium claws and healing powers that Logan has.  She's being tracked by a band of bad men, led by a man with a cyborg arm (Boyd Holbrook).  Wolverine begrudgingly takes her under his protection, simultaneously trying to keep Xavier safe.

Laura represents a glimmer of hope in a world devoid of it.  There is a rumored safe-zone where other mutants might have gathered, and if Wolverine can get Laura to safety, there still might be a future for mutant-kind after all.

Director James Mangold - who also directed the 2013 film "The Wolverine" - displays a sense of confidence and a deep understanding of the material, and crafts a beautiful story of rage and redemption.  The film's first half nearly doesn't seem to contain color, matching the sense of hopelessness found in its characters.  There are some amazing action sequences, all well-choreographed and often chock-full of blood, guts and stabs that protrude skull.  Dafne Keen is a revelation as Laura in this, her feature-film debut, and somehow is able to match Jackman's intensity blow for blow.    Her name is one you will find mentioned at year's end as being among the best "breakthrough" or "newcomer" performers of 2017.

And Hugh Jackman may claim to be done with the character, but it's not due to boredom, it may be because with this performance, he seems to have poured every bit of energy he had left into this character's stubborn soul.  What more can one actor give?  It may sound crazy, but let the Oscar talk start right here and now for Hugh Jackman in "Logan." It is a performance for the ages, one filled with depth and emotion, and one that does the character and this franchise justice. 

Not only is this a well-made film with great performances (Stewart should be applauded as well), but the story is just perfectly fitting to those that love these characters.  Teamwork has always been a staple of X-Men lore, as has being able to find comfort in one's own short-comings.  We all have powers - attributes and flaws - but it is how we choose to use them that defines us.  Wolverine's worst enemy through the years has always been himself, and this movie does a great job of bringing this struggle to metaphoric and literal life.  And not being weighed down by the pressure of a sequel, "Logan" is free to give us a complete story, one with real consequences, real heart-break, and real emotional depth.

With real ramifications at stake, "Logan" never betrays its sense of desperation.  The world that Logan finds himself in is not the future he had envisioned for himself or his loved ones.  He is beaten down and battered.  He has reached whatever depth is below rock-bottom. but in the darkness, "Logan" suggests that there is always a flicker of light for those willing to seek it out.

It's intriguing to note that there will indeed be a "stinger" scene during the end credits, even though this scene was not included for early press screenings.  Will this scene under-cut the strength of the movie that preceded it?  In any case, stay seated until the bitter end.

With "Logan," Mangold, Jackman and crew maybe haven't constructed the perfect film, but they have definitely delivered the perfect film and send-off for these particular characters.  There may eventually be another Wolverine, but there will never be another "Logan."

Grade: A

Genre:  Action, Drama, Sci-Fi

Run Time:  2 hours, 17 minutes, Rated R

Starring:  Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen, Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Richard E. Grant, Eriq La Salle

Directed by James Mangold ("The Wolverine," "Knight and Day," "Walk the Line," "Girl, Interrupted," "Cop Land").

Opens everywhere on Friday, March 3, 2017 (check for showtimes).

Read our past review of "The Wolverine" here.