My mother once told me that in real life, no one would like Murphy Brown. In reality, you see, there’s no laugh track — and to actually share office space with Candice Bergen’s quick-mouthed TV journalist (and brave her unending caustic jabs) would, she thought, get pretty old pretty fast. Seen in situ with the goofy and upbeat cast of FYI, Murphy is gloriously entertaining. Strip away her foils, though, and … hmm, maybe not.

Similar deal with Logan. Notwithstanding X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the adamantium hero typically sings backup as a scowling, gruff-stuff agitator to the X-Men. He pops up now and then in those ensemble pictures, brooding under a thunderhead of Bad Mood, dishes out some snarky quip and it’s on to the next thing. (The McAvoy/Fassbender recruiting scene in X-Men: First Class springs to mind.) He’s the emotional California: Fun to visit, but we wouldn’t want to live there.

But what if the King of Sullen actually told his own story? And I don’t mean a cookie-cutter hero picture with yellow leotards and gleaming blades and blinking screens of doom, but a hard look at the world this misanthrope actually would occupy. What does a real Wolverine movie look like?

It looks like this. Logan is the movie Wolverine always deserved, but not necessarily the one you wanted to see.

For starters, it’s dark, harsh, loud, and bloody. (No complaint on the latter: It’s amazing that a hero whose main ability is slicing people with knuckle-swords has steered clear of true gore for this long.) It’s a mean, bleak meander set in a future where Wolverine drives a beat-up limo in the dusty south and Professor X is a raving, cursing Alzheimer’s patient steeped in squalor and squinting at his demons. We see Mexican immigrants in shabby motels. People drink to forget. Every shred of this movie yells “NOIR!” (and sometimes, “Western!”)

On paper, it has the typical hero film elements: A villain bent on exploiting mutant children from a high-tech international lab, some augmented soldiers, and plenty of fights. But in execution, it’s something different entirely.

This is a great and unexpectedly frank movie. Its truly well made, it’s a genre-bender (ask people who’ve see it and you’ll hear “noir western” more than you’ll hear “superhero”, I expect) and it’s genuinely well acted. In addition to the usual hobo beard and garden-hose veins, Hugh Jackman brings anguish and self-loathing to the screen in just about every glimpse of his perennially tortured character; Patrick Stewart gets let off the chain and gets grizzled and nuts, as well. Newcomer Dafne Keen glares like a horror film demon and shrieks like one too. For anyone jonesing for some early-90s air-punch, Eriq La Salle materializes here (of all places). There’s a fair bit going on thematically, though much of it is consigned to the banks of the burbling brook of loathing that is Jackman.

It’s a downer. Boy, is it. It’s long and mean, and ultimately desolate, and I wonder if the average ticket-holder is ready for all that.

But that’s as it should be. In short, writer-director James Mangold (who also directed 2013’s The Wolverine, a very different film) holds the first really accurate mirror to this icon of misanthropy, strips away the fancy costumes, and asks what he, really, would be like. And bully for him, serves us right. Go in and see it, but don’t expect to cheer.

Haus Verdict: Shockingly tortured, drawn out, and violent, and a fitting and honest farewell for the ultimate super-sourpuss.

Logan opened Friday, March 3. 

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