Logan is box office candy. The X-Men tale of an aged Wolverine activates all the right cinematic junk-food receptors of the brain, from hard-R action and sex (OK, just boobs) to superhero drama and the buddy dynamics of Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart.
Some reviews have called Jackman's presumptive finale turn as Wolverine a western, following a reluctant loner crossing the American expanse amid spats of brutal violence. It even references the western classic, Shane.
Nonetheless, it's not a western. If anything, Logan uses the genre as a launching pad to tell a different kind of story about isolation, goodness and family, which ultimately condemns the violence that follows the titular character everywhere he goes.
The film opens with the ailing mutant living in a fenced compound with Professor Charles Xavier (Stewart)—who is also not faring well, health-wise—and the albino tracker Caliban (Stephen Merchant). He has been earning his pay as a limousine driver on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border when he meets Laura, a young mutant whose claws and familiar backstory help edge the cynical and rickety Logan into transporting her to a mutant sanctuary in North Dakota.
The first clue that Logan is more than a typical western is the lack of, well, the West. In so many classics of the genre, the hero is a speck against the grandeur of open spaces, but Logan's environments are intimate. When he isn't surrounded by the people who love or rely on him, he's engaged in close-quarters combat with baddies, pushing his way through casinos and navigating junkyards crowded with ruined cars.
When the camera finally gives the West the Panavision treatment, it's to reveal a gateway to sanctuary and community—not vanish the hero against the landscape.
As the movie turns its purported genre on its head visually, so too does its plot. Without spoiling the ending—or the middle, for that matter—Logan is all about making connections, not breaking them. It's about communion and rediscovering what's normal, even if "normal" is a relative term for two metal-boned, brooding murder machines; a telepath suffering from neurodegenerative disease; and an albino with a shady past. In a pivotal scene, Professor X, before going to sleep in a farmhouse guest bedroom, tells Logan that receiving some good old-fashioned American hospitality and hitting the sack in a set of cozy white sheets has been a welcome change.
It's moments like those, and not the skull-piercing, limb-slicing violence, that sell Logan. They ground the film morally and aesthetically, humanize characters who barely see themselves as human and establish Logan as a man slowly learning that what he needs isn't redemption, but the ability to see the love of his peers and the problems of the world.
In an age of social media and an increasingly partisan political climate, the world can seem like silos of people's frustrations and anger. Over time, those become despair and loneliness, but love and family are what break Logan out of his bubble. What follows is a grand adventure and a treasure map for viewers, where X marks communion with what matters outside of our echo chambers.