DAVE DAVIES, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. It's been 17 years since the first "X-Men" movie in which Australian actor Hugh Jackman made his debut as Logan, also known as the Wolverine. The latest standalone Wolverine film, "Logan," is the first to receive an R rating for violence and language. Film critic David Edelstein has seen it. He says he was stunned and amazed.
DAVID EDELSTEIN, BYLINE: It's incredibly bleak. It's staggeringly violent. Major characters go down in showers of blood and gore. I've seen worse but never from such a wholesome, corporate enterprise like Marvel with a target audience so young. Logan is rated R, but tell me 10-year-olds won't find ways to see it. On its own terms, the movie is a crackerjack piece of work. The writing is superb; the staging, resourceful; the acting, intense. I just found it hard to reconcile its scorched-Earth aesthetic with its "X-Men" predecessors. The giddy tales of so-called mutants coming to terms with their bodies and place in society seems so far away now - like fairy tales. Now, it's about watching Hugh Jackman's Logan, aka the Wolverine, stick his talons through the throats of sundry assassins. When the movie opens, Logan is passed out in the limo he drives by day, drunk and apathetic to anything but earning money to buy a boat and sail away with Patrick Stuart's X-Men headmaster, Charles Xavier, who seems to be melting down in old age into a psychic lethal weapon. Logan is ill, too, eaten away by adamantium, the super metal that allows him to decapitate, dismember and disembowel anyone who tries to take him out. On the basis of "Logan," I'd guess director James Mangold and his co-screenwriters, Scott Frank and Michael Green, aren't sanguine about the future. In dribs and drabs, they fill in the big picture. The mutants of previous "X-Men" movies are dead or incapacitated, and the government seems to be exterminating the rest. The military has joined forces with pharmaceutical companies to do hideous experiments on Mexican women. Kids who escape those labs flee to sanctuary in Canada. Two people are dogging Logan, a Mexican woman pleading for help for a mysterious mute little girl named Laura, played by Dafne Keen, and a semi-mutant - I don't know quite what he is - played by Boyd Holbrook, who's hunting Laura and anyone trying to protect her. "Logan" is basically a long chase movie, like "Terminator 2" with a dollop of "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome," the one where the supposedly hard-hearted Max ended up leading a bunch of children to safety. There are also direct invocations of the classic cornball Western "Shane," which little Laura watches on TV while she, Logan and Charles spend the night with a black family whose farm is being threatened by a colossal agrobusiness. Logan gets to do his own "Shane" showdown scene when he accompanies the farmer, Munson, played by Eriq La Salle, to the neighboring property, which the agrobusiness now owns. The company's lackeys regularly shut off the pump supplying water to Munson's house and menace him when he comes to restart it.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LOGAN")
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Evening, Mr. Munson. You understand you're trespassing right now, right?
ERIQ LA SALLE: (As Will Munson) I have an easement with the previous owner of your property.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character, laughter) Previous being the operative word. Who's this?
HUGH JACKMAN: (As Logan) Just a guy telling you to get back in your nice truck. Go play somewhere else.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Hey, Carl, looks like Mr. Munson hired some muscle.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Looks that way.
LA SALLE: (As Will Munson) He's a friend of mine.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Friend with a big mouth.
JACKMAN: (As Logan) I hear that a lot.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) And you probably hear this too.
(SOUNDBITE OF GUN COCKING)
JACKMAN: (As Logan) More than I'd like.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Then you know the drill. I'm going to count to three and you're going to start walking away.
LA SALLE: (As Will Munson) I've got rights to this one.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) One.
LA SALLE: (As Will Munson) I have a lawyer now.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Two.
JACKMAN: (As Logan) Three.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) You all right, boss?
JACKMAN: (As Logan) You know the drill. Get the hell out of here.
EDELSTEIN: That first crunch was the bad guy's nose breaking; the second, Logan crumbling the guy's rifle. In middle age, Hugh Jackman is still muscled up and ropey. The veins in his arms stand out alarmingly, and he brings everything - animal rage and mute despair - to what could be Logan's last stand. Patrick Stewart declaims and howls as if gearing up for his inevitable King Lear. Little Dafne Keen is terrifyingly assured as she rips people's heads off, and there's a remarkable turn by Stephen Merchant as a sun-averse albino mutant called Caliban. Despite the name out of Shakespeare, he's like a tottering little scold from Samuel Beckett's "Endgame." And this is an end game of sorts for the "X-Men" series, which is not to say there won't be prequels and reboots and parallel-time scenarios. I'm ambivalent about the level of carnage in "Logan" and the depth of its nihilism, but I can't remember the last time a superhero picture has left me so ravaged.
DAVIES: David Edelstein is film critic for New York Magazine. On Monday's show, Terry talks with Samantha Bee, the host and co-creator of the FX satirical new show "Full Frontal," and with Joe Miller, co-creator and head writer. The show, now in its second season, takes a comedic feminist perspective on politics and has lately focused on the Trump administration. Hope you can join us. FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham, with additional engineering support from Joyce Lieberman and Julian Herzfeld. Our associate producer for online media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.
(SOUNDBITE OF RON MILES, BILL FRISELL AND BRIAN BLADE'S "JUST MARRIED") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.