Is Wolverine getting old? Think of this renegade, genre-defying chapter in the film franchise as X-Men: The AARP Years. Don't panic: Logan is a hard-ass, R-rated rager that explodes with action. But what makes it indelibly raw and touching is the sight of mutant heroes raging against the dying of the light. The year is 2029, and the X-Men have gone the way of the T-Rex. No mutant births have been recorded for 25 years. The artist formerly known as Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is now a boozer who limps, wears glasses and scrapes out a living by chauffeuring bachelorette parties.
It's ironic that Jackman, having a 10th and final go at the career-defining role that made him a star, has never been better or more emotionally alive. Logan's claws are slow on the draw and his self-healing powers are on the fritz, but he's committed to caring for his mentor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart, so good you want to applaud). It's not easy watching Professor X suffer seizures that rattle his telepathic brain and shake up anyone in the vicinity. Helping Logan keep Charles on his meds and the world from imploding is Caliban (Stephen Merchant), a light-sensitive, albino mutant with the power to track approaching enemies. All three live in seclusion in a vacant smelting plant in El Paso, Texas, that looks like the land time forgot. Pretty bleak. Then they get discovered. And director James Mangold (Walk the Line, 3:10 to Yuma, The Wolverine), in peak form and working deep and true, unleashes the dogs of war.
Logan has the shape of a classic western. Shane is directly referenced in one scene and the elegiac tone of the film recalls Clint Eastwood's Oscar-winning Unforgiven. And like those old horse operas, Mangold investigates the nature of heroism by giving the grizzled Wolverine someone new to protect. She's a mute, 11-year-old girl named Laura and, as played by smashing newcomer Dafne Keen, she's close enough to Wolverine in powers to be a chip off the old block of adamantium. It's Laura who convinces Logan and Charles to hit the road to North Dakota, the location of what she believes is an Eden for young mutants. (The kid read about it in an X-Men comic book, which Logan hilariously treats as fake news.) In hot pursuit are Dr. Zander Rice (Richard E. Grant), a bioengineer whose dirty work is done by the cybernetic Reavers, led by Donald Pierce (Narcos' Boyd Holbrook). This henchman is one twisted terror, hiding his malice behind a Texas twang and a serious fanboy crush on Wolverine. He also may be the first movie villain of the new millennium named Donald. We're sensing a trend.
As to what happens next ... let's just say that you should expect the most violent showdowns yet in the series, as well as scenes of wrenching emotion. Loosely based on Mark Millar and Steve McNiven's comic-book Old Man Logan, the script that Mangold wrote with Scott Frank and Michael Green tempers its brutality with a testament to family and a need to belong that crosses borders and bloodlines. Make no mistake, Logan earns its tears. If Jackman and Stewart are serious about this being their mutual X-Men swan song, they could not have crafted a more heartfelt valedictory.