'Logan' shows claws in grim X-Men solo outing

After 17 years playing Wolverine, Hugh Jackman and the X-Men character that launched his career are finally on a first-name basis. "Logan," his latest solo adventure, is an especially grim affair -- a marginally successful movie that carves out a niche closer to Quentin Tarantino than "The Avengers."

There are, admittedly, certain liberating advantages in that, and "Logan" serves notice almost immediately those famous Adamantium claws that pop out of the Marvel character's knuckles aren't merely for show, with limbs and heads among the unfettered body parts in this R-rated exercise. The dour nature of the proceedings thus blunts the fun, with the tradeoff being that it offers Jackman an especially full-bodied role in the bargain.

The net result, ultimately, is a movie that should connect strongly with hardcore comic fanboys -- including those who flocked to "Deadpool" -- at the risk of leaving those less keenly invested feeling a tad cold, missing that movie's lighter touch. There's also the occasionally uncomfortable matter of a little girl freely engaged in the bloodletting, and the sheer build-up of collateral damage as the movie's body count mounts.

"Logan" is set in the future -- it's 2029 -- but it's only dystopian, really, for the genetically superior offshoot known as mutants. Most of them have been eradicated, forcing Logan to make ends meet driving a limo, while laboring to hide Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), a self-described nonagenarian whose telepathic mind, ironically, is failing him.

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Their banter is one of the highlights, with the added hook of hearing Stewart drop F-bombs because, with all that violence, what's a little language among friends?

Logan gets reluctantly drafted to protect the aforementioned girl, Laura (newcomer Dafne Keen), who possesses all of his powers in a pint-sized package. The goal is to squire her from the Mexican border to North Dakota, where she can (hopefully) find safety with others of their kind, making this a sort-of road movie, albeit with a "Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome"-type obstacle course built into it.

The trip comes with an extremely high degree of difficulty: Logan and his companions are pursued by a ruthless killer ("Narcos" star Boyd Holbrook) and heavily armed thugs, working for a conglomerate experimenting on mutant kids that, in essence, wants its property back.

Director James Mangold (who also helmed "The Wolverine" and worked on the script) provides some clever nostalgic touches and well-played moments, thanks largely to Jackman and Stewart. Jackman is talented enough to bring a fair amount of heart to the proceedings, even in these ultra-violent surroundings.

The challenges thrown at him, however, have a repetitive quality, building toward a climax that seeks to (and mostly does) make up in emotion what it lacks in common sense.

For anyone who has followed the various permutations of the "X-Men" franchise -- whose last few outings have been decidedly subpar -- "Logan" offers an element of completion, and an intriguingly different take on the material. It is also, along with the FX series "Legion," a sign of the maturation of comics on screen, for better or worse.

Jackman has grown into a full-fledged star since the first "X-Men," which basically paved the way for the welcome breed of serious comic book adaptations that have followed. Alas, the franchise has headed mostly downhill creatively since its excellent first sequel, "X-Men 2."

Those movies helped establish that superheroes didn't have to be just for kids, and this one qualifies as a culmination of that journey. Yet if the genre has reached the point where embracing the darkness produces a movie that's admirable on certain levels, "Logan" is also undercut, in part, by its own nasty streak.

"Logan" premieres in the U.S. on March 3. It's rated R.

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