'Logan' Is An Extraordinary X-Men Film That's Unlike Any Other [Spoiler-Free Review]

After nearly two decades, the X-Men franchise under 20th Century Fox's stewardship has begun to feel too constrained by storytelling mechanics and full of characters that are warmed over. After the third or fourth time that you've seen the X-Men crew go up against a powerful supervillain and face off against a city- or world-destroying force (often accompanied by a blue beam shooting towards the sky), you begin to wonder whether this franchise still has new stories to tell.

These days, films that deviate heavily from the formula have felt refreshing (e.g., Deadpool, Days of Future Past), while those that hew closely to it are tiresome (e.g., X-Men: Apocalypse). This is why James Mangold's Logan is a goddamn miracle. It unapologetically blazes its own trail in the X-Men universe. Logan throws the whole X-Men chessboard into the air, settles on the few pieces it wants to use, and then plays them off each other in ways we've never seen. The results are thrilling, and give me hope that the genre as a whole can still be fresh and inventive. It's a near-perfect film, and one that I'll be thinking about for a very long time.

Spoiler-free thoughts on Logan follow.

From its opening credits, Logan shows a different side of Hugh Jackman's iconic character. Burnt out, grizzled, and physically ailing, Wolverine (or Logan, as he's referred to throughout the film) is a shell of his former self, even though he still knows how to kill.

And kill he does, gruesomely and viciously throughout the film. Forget about the Wolverine of previous films that would bloodlessly thrust his claws into a hapless enemy's chest. In Logan, the audience feels the full force of every injury that Logan inflicts. This movie is bloody, graphic, and full of viscera and F-bombs. It's the R-rated X-Men film that some fans have wanted for years.

But the R-rated accoutrements aren't just there for their own sake; they serve a storytelling purpose. By this point, Logan has killed dozens, if not hundreds, of people. In finally showing us the visual consequences of his actions, the film helps us feel the moral weight of these killings. We understand on a deeper level why this guy is tired of life among humans and why that drives him to make some of the decisions in this film. (Also: the kills look spectacular).

Since this review is spoiler-free, I won't say much about the plot. But what I do feel comfortable saying is that the way the relationship between Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Logan is depicted in this film is unexpectedly intimate and powerful. Logan cares more about paying off this relationship than it does about any of its plot machinations. What still motivates these two characters? What have they been through together, and how are they dealing with it? The movie explores these questions in ways that will reward fans of the X-Men franchise but still welcome those that have no familiarity with it.

In addition, newcomer Dafne Keen plays Laura, a girl with a mysterious past placed into Logan's care. She figures into the plot in major ways that aren't really glimpsed in the trailers, but I thought she brought an incredible physicality and presence that helped to carry the film. Much is asked of her in this movie, but she delivers in a big way.

What makes Logan special is how it effortlessly navigates different genres and tones. It's a road movie, but it's also an action film with ambitious set pieces. It's a sci-fi superhero film, but it's also infused with a lot of humor and tenderness. Most importantly, it's a fitting conclusion for one of the most iconic comic book character portrayals of the past 20 years.

I laughed. I cried. And I was grateful to have gone on the entire cinematic journey with Hugh Jackman's character all these years. Logan is an incredible film. It's my favorite X-Men film. And it might even be my favorite superhero film of all time.

/Film rating: 9.5 out of 10