X-23 is the new Eleven.
"Logan" director James Mangold noted during a press preview of the film that actress Dafne Keen is only 11 years old (soon to be 12), but she'll no doubt draw comparisons to the popular character from Netflix's "Stranger Things." Why? Because both are tough-as-nails, they barely speak, and they pack some seriously badass abilities.
Marvel fans long speculated that Keen's character in "Logan" was the fan-favorite clone of Wolverine. This was further egged on by teaser imagery on social media naming her Laura, which many presumed to be Laura Kinney. Fox finally made the news official to press in the best way possible -- by screening the first 40 minutes of "Logan."
In the comics, Laura was the 23rd attempt to clone Wolverine, hence the name X-23. A secret organization attempted to re-create the Weapon X project, which laced Logan's skeleton with unbreakable adamantium. Because the mutant's genetic sample was so damaged, the team could not retrieve the Y chromosome to create a male clone -- but they could clone a female equivalent.
The film offers a different scenario more aligned with the world of the X-Men movies. We pick up with Hugh Jackman's Logan in the year 2029, a time when there hasn't been a mutant birth in 25 years and the species has virtually died out. (Also, tigers are extinct. The future is that bad.)
It's also a time where X-Men comics exist within the same space, elevating mutants to a certain degree of celebrity.
"The interesting thing for me was the idea, and in show business many of us experience this in more regular ways, but just when legends are made human, and what happens when a legend is living under the weight of all of the bulls**t and hyperbole," Mangold explained to press after the footage screening.
"Who is the Real Paul Bunyan and did he really have Babe the Blue Ox, or was it really just a large ox and it got exaggerated? And so the idea for us was this idea that they live in a world in which the legend of them exists, but it's not really what happened, completely -- or is it?"
It's through this concept where we find Logan working as a limo driver in El Paso, Texas, ferrying bachelorette parties, socialites, frat bros, and all manner of ilk through and around the border of Mexico. (There also seems to be a certain wall on the border that parallels more recent events in our present.) Adding insult to injury, Logan's mutant powers are failing -- which we see in the opening scene, where a dreary Logan wakes up to find a gang trying to steal his tires, it takes much longer for his healing abilities to kick in and his third claw doesn't always extend fully.
Logan hangs his hat in an abandoned warehouse/factory in the middle of the desert, where he and his roommate, the albino mutant tracker Caliban (Stephen Merchant), care for an ailing Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart). This Charles is unlike any version of the character we have seen before; he's very old, suffering from the mutant equivalent of alzheimer's, and he loves to say the F-word. A lot. It's hilarious.
Logan and Caliban take turns administering daily medication to Charles that helps keep his untamable telepathic powers in check, while his confines -- a tipped-out water tower -- offers further protection as the minerals in the metal work to keep his abilities contained within the space.
Soon, they get to meet Laura.
During an early scene, in which Logan is waiting for a client just beyond a rain-soaked funeral, he's approached by Gabriella ("Fear the Walking Dead" actress Elizabeth Rodriguez). To her, Wolverine has become a heroic symbol, and she begs him to help her.
Logan, having shed this visage long ago, shakes her off, thinking that's the last he will see of her. Later, after retrieving more of Xavier's meds -- which turn out to be regular aspirin -- Logan is surprised by Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook, above), a mysterious man in black with (naturally) a bionic arm. He's looking for Gabriella because, as he says, she "took something of mine when I wasn't looking" and hopes Logan might have encountered her.
Although he tries to stay out of the situation, Logan encounters Gabriella again. She used the limo service to lure him to a motel room, where, exasperated and bleeding, she claims Pierce is her angry boyfriend trying to take their daughter, Laura, who's keeping to herself in the parking lot. They need to get to North Dakota by Friday or else they'll "miss our chance to cross." (Where are they crossing? Unsure. But it is implied that the final intended destination might be Canada, Logan's ol' stomping grounds.)
Logan later returns to the hotel and finds that Gabriella has been killed. Laura, being a resourceful girl, hides in the trunk of his limo and is taken back to the warehouse. Though she doesn't say much, Xavier uses his abilities to communicate with Laura, promising they'll help her while trying to explain to Logan that she's just like him.
We don't learn what he means by that until Pierce shows up with The Reavers. While Logan is outside, men begin flooding the warehouse to apprehend the girl. The sound of gunfire and screams rip through the air, and Laura calmly walks out of the building, stained with blood and holding the decapitated head of a Reaver, which rolls like a bowling ball to her tormenters.
Pierce tries to convince Laura to come with them, but his coddling expression turns to terror as two adamantium claws slink out from each set of knuckles.
X-23 mashes together the inventive acrobatics of Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow with the ferocity of Wolverine's berserker rage to deliver a fight frenzy worthy of the film's R rating — and when the Reavers seem to have an upper hand on the little serial killer, she has those two extra blades in her feet to assist.
She also runs up the front of the moving limo and into the sunroof as easy as we would get up from the couch to grab something from the fridge. Yep. She's that badass.
"She will even get more amazing for you guys when you see the rest of the movie," Mangold promised.
He and co-writer Scott Frank didn't want to fall into the same "easy screenwriting tricks" in their approach to bringing a hispanic X-23 to the screen. "The first idea that occurred to me was doing 'Little Miss Sunshine' with these characters, and that's kind of, believe it or not, what evolved into this," Mangold said.
Their in-depth search for an actress led to Keen, who performs a lot of the stunts herself.
"I wanted to take the kind of cute stink off Laura," Mangold added. "I didn't want it to turn into kind of Kewpie-doll actress. I was really nervous about that, and it's one of the great things happening in cinema now — is that language, we're relying less. Movies are becoming more and more bilingual, and multilingual, and it's actually making us as directors tell stories, again, more with eyes, and camera, and in collaboration with our actors."
In this regard, "Logan" packs the added significance of existing within our modern political climate — as we approach the age of President Donald Trump, a man who's made defamatory blanket remarks on the hispanic population, here comes a blockbuster film that introduces a female hispanic superhero to a major movie franchise.
"I think we've all felt what's going on in the country right now, for several years, so I mean, I don't think we're -- I'm not Kreskin, to make an old reference," Mangold joked. "But I did, you felt this going on. You feel what's going on, and I've felt it for a long time."
According to him, the film couldn't take place in a "contemporary moment," choosing instead to project an America years away.
"When I was a kid, I'd imagined what it would be like in 25 years, and I didn't imagine that my hometown would pretty much look exactly the same way as it does now, and that this Jetsons idea of the future is not so such a reality," he explained.
"As a lot of the world looks pretty much the same, with some styling changes, but the undercurrents of stress that you're feeling, I just imagined everything we were feeling now. I didn't quite imagine what was gonna happen over the next 18 months, but that I imagined it percolating."
"Logan" hits theaters on March 3, 2017.