The third standalone ‘Wolverine’ film is R-rated and proud of it, but balances its hard-edged violence with a soft heart

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“Logan” is rated R. This is not just a rating. For this bloody, pummeling and quite good third standalone “Wolverine” film, its rating is a badge of honor and an aesthetic that informs its every move.

It doesn’t take long for the film to embrace the allowances afforded by its more adult rating. Logan, played by Hugh Jackman in his ninth (and reportedly final) time suiting up as the clawed crusader, uses the F-word like a kid on the playground who just learned to cuss and is going to let everyone around him know it. And its opening fight scene, where Logan takes on some bad dudes who attempt to jack his wheels, is violent, visceral and graphic in its bloodletting. Ever wonder what those claws would really do to a person? Wonder no more, dearest fanboys.

Thank “Deadpool.” Last year’s superhero send-up showed that comic book movies don’t need to be watered down or sanitized for the PG-13 set, and “Logan” takes that baton and sprints like hell with it. It also takes the kind of real world, sobering approach that comic book fans pine for from their superhero stories. “Logan” is so gritty and caked in muck that it makes the Gotham City of Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy look like “La La Land.”

But while “Logan” has a soul, it doesn’t have the heft it thinks it does, and its attempts to take on more thematic weight make it feel like a musician known for pop hits making a acoustic album as a ploy for credibility. Its R-rated thrills stand in stark opposition to its cloyingly sentimental story of Logan caring for Laura (Dafne Keen), a mute young mutant whose DNA largely matches his own. “Logan” is a tough movie with a soft heart, just as Logan is a tough guy but a softie deep down. Mutants need hugs, too.

“Logan” still has plenty going for it, and its pluses outweigh its minuses. It opens in El Paso in 2029, where a down-and-out Logan is driving a limousine, chauffeuring bachelorette parties for an hourly wage. He’s dried up, tired and dead to the world; his overgrown beard and tattered suits making him look like Mel Gibson on a seven-day bender. No mutants have been born in 25 years and he’s an aging relic, a rusty, beat up old Ford of a man whose superpowers are weakening by the day.

He’s living off the grid, which is all that matters to him, and he takes care of an ailing Professor X — Patrick Stewart is excellent in what he says is his final go at the role — in an empty silo on his property that he also shares with Caliban (Stephen Merchant), an albino mutant who can sense and track other mutants.

Soon he’s followed by Donald (an electrifying Boyd Holbrook, of “Narcos” fame), a baddie with a mechanical hand who wants to take Logan down. Donald and his crew storm the property and send Logan fleeing, at which point “Logan” essentially becomes a road movie as Logan, Laura and Professor X head to North Dakota, which Laura grew up reading about in X-Men comics as a safe haven for young mutants. (The blending of X-Men comics into “Logan’s” universe gives the film a self-aware, real world context.)

But Donald and his goons aren’t far behind. “Logan” takes some hard turns, spills a lot of blood, and has the dusty look of a film that has taken a tumble in the dirt. Jackman’s performance is Clint Eastwood-esque, and the lines in Jackman’s face tell the story of his worn character; he plays Wolverine as a man at the end of his line, adding at least a decade to his 48 years.

Director James Mangold (“Walk the Line”) gives the film a solid punch but overdoes it with the melodrama; “Deadpool” would have made fun of its blatant heartstring-pulling, and rightfully so. Otherwise “Logan” is a film with a lot of fight. Wolverine’s claws may be rusty and covered in dried blood, but they’re still sharp.

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama

‘Logan’

GRADE: B

Rated R for strong brutal violence and language throughout, and for brief nudity

Running time: 137 minutes

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