To label “Logan” — the third in a trilogy of films centering on Hugh Jackman’s (“Les Misérables”) Wolverine — a "superhero movie” is to dramatically undervalue it. It surpasses the rest of the genre in a way that no film since Christopher Nolan’s 2008 masterpiece “The Dark Knight” has, and it possesses a confidence and willingness to break away from the norms of its contemporaries that makes it a refreshingly unique experience. “Logan” is not just a superhero movie. In some ways, maybe, but more so, it’s a western, a character piece and a moving study of violence, fatherhood, aging and redemption.
Make no mistake, “Logan” is an incredibly, oftentimes uncomfortably, violent and intense movie. It has plenty of the requisite action scenes that dial the blood and gore up to eleven, fully taking advantage of its R-rating. But where a film like “Deadpool” might use this over-violence for laughs, “Logan” is more interested with how it affects its leads, particularly its titular character. Even in its most violent, gruesome moments, “Logan” makes a remarkably mature statement on how violence can poison a person, regardless of whether the death is “justified.” This is clear from scene one: The life Wolverine has lead, one dominated by death and brutality, has finally taken its toll on him. He is a broken man holding onto the pain in his past and eventually using it to hurt himself.
In his last movie as Logan, Jackman brings that pain to life with his most weary, nuanced portrayal of the character to date. He is backed-up by a pair of equally superb supporting performances courtesy of Sir Patrick Stewart (“Green Room”) as Professor X and newcomer Dafne Keen in the best big screen debut a child actor has made since Jacob Tremblay in “Room.” Stewart is heartbreaking as he reprises the role of Charles Xavier, also for the final time, playing him as a man who has seemingly everything right yet still has had everything taken from him by age. The scenes he shares with Jackman are some of the most dynamic in the movie, and their father-son relationship has never felt more heartfelt and real.
Keen plays Laura, a character destined to break out in the same way “Stranger Thing” ’s Eleven did last year, a girl who will gut a man one minute and serenely ride a mechanical horse the next. It is through Laura that the theme of violence reveals itself once more, as Logan recognizes the young girl heading down a similar path to the one he took. Where Jackman’s scenes with Stewart were focused on the pasts of the two characters, it is with Keen that Jackman finds Logan’s hope for redemption in his future, and the result is some of the most emotionally poignant storytelling the X-Men series and the genre at large has ever seen.
Performances and powerful thematic subtext aside, “Logan” still manages to set itself apart from its genre and series through its style. Its main characters may have superpowers, but the film still feels more like a western than anything else. The score, cinematography and even costume design all recall last year’s “Hell or High Water.” References to God and spirituality that dot the script present a motif that is a definite departure from the rest of the series, and could have felt like too radical a change had they not meshed so well with the western stylings and themes.
Everything taken into consideration, “Logan” is a triumph. Its subtle performances, powerful script and unique style all work in service of a deeply human story about superhuman characters desperately searching for atonement and paradise in a world that offers no hope that either exists. Even as the film flawlessly deconstructs Logan, it is obviously crafted with an enormous amount of love and respect for the character that permeates every frame. Whether it is taken as a superhero movie, an X-Men movie, or a western, “Logan” shines. It is the best any of those genres have to offer, nothing less than a masterpiece.