The worldwide success of last year’s “Deadpool” has apparently opened the door for R-rated superhero adventures, and director James Mangold (“The Wolverine,” “3:10 to Yuma”) takes full advantage. Our hero (played once again by Hugh Jackman) drops an F-bomb in his first line of dialogue, and soon thereafter he’s fighting off some would-be car thieves by sinking his claws directly into their skulls.
But the screenplay — credited to Mangold, Scott Frank and Michael Green — feels more like the product of the guy who wrote “Green Lantern” (Green) than the one who wrote “Out of Sight” (Frank). It’s a perfectly serviceable superhero story, but it doesn’t use the R rating as an excuse to do something bolder or more complicated. Viewers will be forgiven for having flashbacks to “Stranger Things” and even “The Lego Batman Movie” over the course of “Logan.”
Set in 2029, the film sees the former Wolverine as not quite the superhero he once was; even in that opening fight scene, it takes him longer to shrug off bullets or to fight off multiple attackers. Logan is working as a limo driver in El Paso so that he can buy anti-seizure medication for a 90-something Professor X/Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), hiding out just across the border, with the ultimate goal of buying a boat that will take the two of them even farther away.
The world of the near future seems to have prevented the creation of more mutants; we don’t really hear much about what happened to Logan’s old X-Men buddies, and the only other one around seems to be Caliban (Stephen Merchant), an albino mutant-tracker who’s now tending to Charles in his dotage. Charles’ seizures force him to emit brainwaves that are perilous to anyone in the vicinity, but when he’s not suffering, he swears he’s picked up on another mutant in the area.
That turns out to be Laura (Dafne Keen), a young girl who turns up with nurse Gabrielle (Elizabeth Rodriguez, “Orange Is the New Black”), hoping that Logan can whisk them to a supposed sanctuary in North Dakota. Laura has escaped an experimental laboratory in Mexico that apparently created a whole crop of new mutants, and now the pharmaceutical company is after her, with an army of goons led by robot-handed Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook, “Narcos”).
As you might guess, then, “Logan” becomes a road movie, with an aging hero doing one last good deed while perpetually rejecting the notion of trust or family. It’s a journey we’ve been on before, but Mangold makes it an entertaining (if slightly overlong) one. Perhaps it’s just the novelty, but that explicit violence and salty language (Professor X turns out to be quite the potty-mouth as well) adds a bit of much-needed fizz to the “Wolverine” sub-franchise.
Jackman and Stewart have established a bristling rapport by this point, and they both relish the opportunity to play the older versions of these well-established characters for what might be the last time. As the young girl whose abilities aren’t immediately revealed by the film, Keen has the haunted, thousand-yard stare of a young Lukas Haas (circa “Witness” and “The Lady in White”). Eriq La Salle provides some warmth and kindness as a helpful rancher, while Richard E. Grant squeezes out some fun villainous moments as the chief evil scientist.
The real scene-stealer here is the menacing Holbrook, who’s been a consistently interesting actor while always remaining chameleonic enough to avoid being a movie star — and that’s a compliment. I always like him in movies, but I always forget where I’ve seen him before; after “Logan,” however, there’ll be no mistaking him.
As for the future setting, “Logan” is smart enough not to go overboard making the cars or the clothes look too ridiculously different, although like “The Space Between Us,” it assumes that the smartphones 12 years from now will look exactly like the one in your pocket.
Whether or not the “Wolverine” movies have a future — Jackman swears this is his last go-round — “Logan” is an exceedingly entertaining one. Given that 2016 gave us the rollicking and raunchy “Deadpool” and the bafflingly boring “X-Men: Apocalypse,” it seems like a no-brainer for the mutant movies to get wild and crazy if they want to survive. This outing feels like a step in the right direction.