Hugh Jackman and Dafne Keen star in 'Logan'

Image: 20th Century Fox

By Jarrod JonesWolverine is a curious little critter, make no mistake. He’s short, scuzzy, hits on his teammate’s girlfriend, smokes too much, drinks too much, and, when his blood gets up, has a tendency to stab people to death with these gross blades that come out of his arms. Yet Logan is the most popular X-Men character there ever was, and an argument could be made that he’s also the most popular comics character, period.

I’m sure there’s a comics historian out there who can put a pin on the date when Wolverine became the epicenter of the X-Men comics series, which is fine, but in context to the Canucklehead’s latest movie Logan, that really ain’t the point. Point is, the X-Men movie franchise inherited Wolverine as the nucleus of its mega-budget mutant melodrama, and for the most part he’s done right by it.

It’s the other way around, the X-Men film series doing right by Wolverine, that’s long been a problem. Hugh Jackman’s charismatic X-Man has enjoyed the center stage of nearly every X-movie there’s been, even when it wasn’t exactly appropriate. (Hello, X-Men: Days of Future Past.) And if we’re being honest with each other, Jackman’s been left adrift in some pretty awful movies just to keep the X-Men over at 20th Century Fox. (Hello, this.) Maybe that’s why so many people are galvanizing behind Logan, calling it the transcendent superhero experience of our age — it’s the first time Wolverine truly had his due. (Comparisons to Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, lofty as those are, have been thrown around, though not by me.)

Hugh Jackman takes his final bow as the Wolverine in 'Logan'

Image: 20th Century Fox

And I don’t mean Logan is the film that finally let the character spout naughty language like a broken spigot with Tourette’s, or filet adversaries like so much red meat — even though he does both of those things in this movie, and often. Logan is undoubtedly the best X-Men movie by a far margin — considering its company, that isn’t necessarily a quantum leap — and that’s due largely to director James Mangold (who also directed 2013’s The Wolverine), who lets the pendulum swing over Hugh Jackman’s 17 year, 10 film career of screaming like a jungle cat and chomping on cigars.

Thing is, Hugh Jackman is a good actor — not just charismatic, or a great physical performer, but good — and Logan gives the 48 year-old plenty to do beyond mugging at the camera with goofy muttonchops on his face. (Though that happens too.) In fact, Jackman may be at his very best here: he’s reliably sullen, but Mangold’s screenplay (co-written by Scott Frank and Michael Green) allows Jackman to emote an undercurrent of regret that registers so profoundly that the quieter moments in Logan end up being the most compelling. (The slice-n-dice stuff is wild to be sure, but it tends to grate on the nerves before long.)

The film’s story is textbook neo-Western, not just in aesthetic (cinematographer John Mathieson uses the same color palette as last year’s Hell or High Water), but in narrative: set in a semi-dystopic future where justice is a dirty word and mutants are long gone, Logan and Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart, also taking a final bow) are keeping their heads down at the U.S./Mexico border after an unspeakable tragedy claimed all the X-Men at their Westchester headquarters. (There are hints as to what happened there, and filling in the blanks is one of the film’s sadder elements.) With plans on taking Xavier out to sea for the rest of his declining years, Logan is blindsided by the sudden appearance of Laura (Dafne Keen), who shares attributes (and abilities) similar to himself. Pursued by a cybernetic military force hellbent on reclaiming Laura (led by a criminally underused Boyd Holbrook), Logan is forced to pick up and haul ass to North Dakota where a mythical mutant oasis is believed to lie.

Image: 20th Century Fox

It’s all very noirish, boilerplate stuff, but it’s in the finer details where Logan truly shines. Those details are provided with equal parts gravity and heart by Stewart, Jackman, and especially newcomer Keen, who is equally exceptional to the X-veterans, if not always a hair-trigger away from eclipsing both of them. We’re pushed into forgiving a few contrivances along the way (for example, a crucial plot point is delivered through a documentary-style clip watched on a phone) and the violence in the film seems to be there for the psycho contingent that relishes watching Wolverine rip people to shreds (one character even calls him “Freddy Kreuger”). But at its core? Logan stands apart from any other superhero movie that’s come before. It’s a fitting sendoff for Jackman and Stewart, and an even more fitting end to Fox’s X-Men franchise — even though it isn’t wholly deserved, and we’re probably nowhere close to an actual end. (Deadpool 2 and X-Men: Supernova are on their way.)

It’s an all-or-nothing type of movie, the sort of dust-choked gauntlet of bloody comeuppance that certainly doesn’t get made anymore, at least, not at this level. (Imagine if some brave exec at Fox somehow convinced Sam Peckinpah to direct an X-Men movie, and you’re about there.) Logan is as angry and nihilistic as the character itself. But it also gives us something of which these X-flicks have long been bereft: a beating heart. Now watch it break.

Directed by James Mangold.

Produced by Hutch Parker, Simon Kinberg, and Lauren Shuler Donner.

Screenplay by Scott Frank, James Mangold, and Michael Green.

Story by James Mangold.

Starring Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Richard E. Grant, Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant, and Dafne Keen.

Rated R because ‘Deadpool’.

8.5 out of 10