And here comes Logan. Here comes a hard, weary Western not even a year after the soapy absurdity of X-Men: Apocalypse. If this is the creative leeway you’re allowed when you’re Marvel’s second-fiddle franchise, then we should all be so lucky to be overshadowed.

Logan is the first true X-Men genre picture, wearing its Western heart on a torn sleeve. But while Shane may be directly referenced in the script, it’s far from the only cinematic influence at play here. The battered vehicles, the reluctant hero in the desert, and the warning of a world ruined by patriarchal capitalism — this is Mad Max. A dystopic near-future where no mutants have been born in decades, until a woman of color arrives with a miraculous child who must be transported to safety — this is Children of Men. A grim, blunt loner driving down a wilderness road with a fierce, traumatized young girl beside him — this is….the first X-Men movie.

Somehow it can all come back around, if you apply genre right. Sometimes that framework, that filter, can allow you to see the bones of a story more clearly.

Your usual superhero movie is a pretty stylized thing. Usually they go glossy; colorful as well, especially if it’s an X-Men picture. Logan is just as stylized as its family, only here it’s an anti-gloss, smudged with dirt and old blood. It’s scrubland and a big hot sky and gas station parking lots. It’s a gray, coughing Logan, body crumbling like the wall sheltering a gunslinger during his last shootout. It’s a dry, derelict water-tower shot through with holes, stars overhead as much as needles of light pinning an ill, elderly Charles Xavier to a stolen hospital bed.

For all the aesthetics, there’s also the raw and wrenching realism contained in that last part of that description. This is a comic book movie where Logan, the X-Men’s reluctant substitute teacher, is the only one left to care for 90-something Charles, stricken with an undefined degenerative disease. Where Logan has to constantly make sure Charles takes his medicine, lift him from his chair to his bed, help him use the bathroom. Many superhero movies are about death, but this one dares to be about dying.

It may seem odd to say that a movie so hard on its characters is good to them, but in this case I think it’s true. At the very least, Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart were given roles worthy of veteran actors, given material to really play in their last venture as Wolverine and Professor X. They’re even allowed to curse, given Logan’s R rating. That R rating also results in surely the most graphic violence we’ve seen out of Marvel. I have my doubts that this movie really needed fight sequences so brutal and so long, that the story wouldn’t have been just as strong with say, maybe half the head impalements? But at the same time, watching Logan and Laura claw through their enemies for each other brought me to tears, and not just once.

As did Laura herself. Our newest weirdo X-child, our troubled, screaming hope. In the final installment of the Wolverine film franchise, a superhero who has been both avatar and commentary on a fantasy of American masculinity, how incredible to close with the message that the future is female, and Latina.

[other X-Men reviews: X1 and X2, First Class and Days of Future Past]

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