It's 2029 and Logan (Hugh Jackman) is now living on the border between the US and Mexico with Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and Calaban (Stephen Merchant). Living with his own regrets and caring for an ailing Professor X, a young girl (Dafnee Keen) is brought into their lives who is trying to make it across the border and into Canada.
Around the time of Christopher Nolan and Sam Raimi's foray into comic-book adventures, directors realised that the best way to approach them was through the medium of genre. The Dark Knight was a Michael Mann crime saga, Captain America: Civil War was a geopolitical thriller, Guardians of the Galaxy was a wise-cracking action comedy. Directors were placed and suited according to the genre, with the likes of Christopher Nolan and James Gunn applying their knowledge of the genre to the window-dressing of comic-book adventures.
With Logan, it's the same thing - it's essentially a blood-soaked Western that calls to mind Shane (which is explicitly referenced throughout the film) and John Ford's The Searchers. From the very opening scene, it's made abundantly clear this is nothing like any comic-book film you've seen before. Sure, Logan may have claws and the ability to heal - albeit at a much slower rate now - but the level of violence and the sheer weight of emotion that comes through the film is breathtaking. The characters are not cape-wearing, spandex-clad superheroes. They're real people with real problems now. Professor X has Alzheimer's Disease, Logan is an alcoholic with shaky hands, the other X-Men are nowhere to be seen, the people tracking them aren't some evil forces - they're just a corporation that's trying to mitigate potential damages from an experiment gone awry. Everything, from the production design to the performances, is grounded in reality and there's emotional context to it all.
Hugh Jackman couldn't have delivered a better performance as Logan here, but what makes it so special is that the previous films were needed to provide a bedding for the audience. We know he's played this character for years, but now we see just how much he has inhabited it because he truly understands this character. He's worn out, tired and just waiting for the end, so why not give it his all? Patrick Stewart gives one of his best on-screen performances as Professor X, bringing a warmth and humour to a film that is so often cloaked in violence and bloodshed. There's some truly tender moments between Jackman and Stewart, and the relationship - developed over the course of several films - reaches a climax here that will leave you emotionally shattered. Likewise, Stephen Merchant gives a balanced and human portrayal - albeit under a ton of makeup - as the caregiver to them both. Newcomer Dafnee Keen is all physicality, hurling across the screen in a whirlwind of blood and guts, that's both rip-roaringly entertaining and almost a little bit frightening in parts.
Where the film falters is in the villains, as Boyd Holbrook and Richard E. Grant fail to make much in the way of an impact. Despite this, they're not the true enemy of the film - it's Logan himself. The years have beaten him and he's not who he once was. How many comic-book films explore themes of maturity and the cost of a violent life? How many have it done this assiduously? The screenplay from Scott Frank, James Mangold, and Michael Green eschews any of the usual markers for a comic-book film. There's no CGI-laden finale; in fact, there's a minimal amount of CGI throughout most of the film. There's no unnecessary story beats that plug into a future film or franchise, nor is there any reams of exposition burdening the film down. Mutants are dying out. Why? Doesn't matter, not important. Instead of layering scenes with world-building and references, the script uses each and every scene to make us understand these characters on an emotional level.
Mangold's direction is pitch-perfect, allowing the bursts of action to carry weight and purpose without feeling the need to inject them every ten minutes to keep the story flowing. When the film does pump the brakes, it's for a good reason and one particular scene at a farmhouse is truly incredible. John Mathieson's cinematography evokes the great Westerns, all burnt orange and wide shots of the American wilderness whilst Marco Beltrami's understated score is harmonicas and Morricone-inspired flourishes. While it might lean a bit heavily on Western tropes, there's a real sense of love for the genre and you only have to look at Copland to know that Mangold is capable of bending it to whatever shape he wants - be it modern-day cops or jaded superheroes.
Although the pacing does sag ever so slightly in places, Logan is by far the best X-Men film ever made and easily one of the best comic-book films ever made. Violent, emotional and expertly crafted with award-level performances - the best was definitely saved for last.