Logan is not a superhero film because of the R rating it's been deservedly given. The comedic insanity of Deadpool proved a superhero film with an R rating could finally be done right and become critically and commercially successful. Logan achieves its success in a different form of grandeur. Mangold uses influences from comic books, but more so from classic Western films (one called Shane, for example, is seen by Xavier and the young girl at one point) and even German expressionism. In the most focused of shots, it is the characters always at the forefront. Action scenes are crystal clear, and it is always about the characters.
Even with the brutalized action and heavy ultra-violence, there is always a focus on character. This is a different approach taken by Mangold. When Gavin Hood directed X-Men Origins: Wolverine, it was an attempt to show the Wolverine's early life in the same comic-book fashion of the previous Bryan Singer adaptations, an attempt that failed for taking too many liberties and losing focus consistently throughout. When Mangold then stepped in with The Wolverine, he made the film truer to the character and a bit more entertaining, but it also lost focus near the end with a ridiculous final battle. Logan, Mangold's second attempt with the character, succeeds as the best of this solo trilogy because, regardless of the others involved in his journey, the action, and the story, it is truly about who the Wolverine really is.
Hugh Jackman, in his final appearance as the Wolverine, is also at his absolute best. This character began his career, and with every single outing, Jackman has always been committed to try something new. With an R rating at their disposal, Jackman literally holds nothing back and it clearly shows. As Logan, he's full of anger and grief about past events, muttering and cursing far more aggressively than ever before. His rebellious antihero attitude is also far more aggressive than it once was, except for the few still around who he actually cares about. If there is someone else newly cast to portray the Wolverine in future installments, it will be very difficult for them to match even a fraction of the intensity Jackman has given to this character. Even now, it's hard to imagine someone else other than Hugh Jackman playing Logan.
In another surprising, but also incredibly effective, character portrayal, Sir Patrick Stewart is also at his absolute best with his final portrayal of Charles Xavier. This Xavier is far different than when he was last seen in previous films, older and with traces of Alzheimer's severely affecting both his memory and his magnificent powers. He is fragile, hurt, insistent, and isolated from the world. He is unaware of how it happened, but barely remembers some horrifying accident occurred with all of the mutants many years ago, at a school he once ran. Stewart has always been so phenomenal with this character as much as Hugh Jackman with Logan, but in this film, he does even better because Xavier is believably more human and there is such a strong audience connection with him from almost 20 years of this franchise. The pain he feels is what the film feels as well.
This is probably the best way to describe the tone of Logan. When not succumbing to the brilliant action sequences and bloody, dismembering violent moments, Logan is an incredibly depressing, painful, and somber road trip. This bleakness makes the film work so well on its own, matched by the most beautiful and realistic Western scenery. These characters can't go on forever. Even they know it themselves in the film. But, as somber as the tone of Logan can become, there is always some grain, a tiny speck of hope or comedy inflected in some scene, some minute. Life doesn't have to be so cruel all of the time in this film, and it's not.
Most of that hope stems in the future of this young mutant Logan and Charles must protect from the Reavers. The girl Mangold casted for Logan was damn perfect in every conceivable way, and what a first-time casting call opportunity for her too. She's fierce, intelligent, and ruthless; she acts like her actual age when restless; she goes on violent and bloody rampages just as bad as the Wolverine, tearing people apart limb by limb; and, for most of the time, she does all of this without even saying a single word. That is utterly powerful, and it works in every frame. She's instantly likeable from the first frame, and that can be difficult to accomplish.
Even with all of the attention to detail on characterization for Logan, the action sequences are so well-done and another pointer on the film's R rating. Limbs are torn, characters are burned, and blood is spilled freely. Every blow, every stab, and every cut has an impact. It's not unnecessarily gory like in many horror pictures, but these other elements make up for that in style and tone. Logan's injuries are far more severe, and they are clearly shown with as much detail as much possible. He moves slower but packs larger and heavier punches.
As phenomenal as Logan is, though, there unfortunately has to be a few nitpicky things. But, they're incredibly nitpicky and can be taken with a grain of salt. There are one or two scenes (with spoilers, so they won't be talked about) that may go on for a minute or two longer than they need to be. The story itself has been done before, but this is incredibly nitpicky because it's told so well with such strong characters. The villains are a little weak, which is still something Marvel has been struggling with for some time now. Even though their motivations are extremely clear and they have strong, well-developed backstories to their names, they aren't as interesting as the major characters of the film and serve as guides to move the plot forward. Again, though, this is incredibly nitpicky as they are still strong characters. The score is not the strongest superhero-styled genre or cowboy Western thriller, but composer Marco Beltrami's influences are apparent and serve well to encapsulate the heavy tone and scenery in the film.
It'd be almost ridiculous to imagine there wasn't some amount of skepticism involved when it was announced Mangold would return to helm Logan. But, all of these worries disappear in the first five minutes of Logan with exceptionally strong performances from Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart, incredible action sequences, appropriately displayed violence and power, and (finally) a focus on the one thing which matters the most in any comic-book styled film - the mythology of the characters. Logan is finally, truly, and assuredly about who the Wolverine is and what he has become, more so than any other film in the X-Men franchise. It is undoubtedly the best Wolverine standalone film and absolutely one of the best X-Men films ever made, perhaps even THE best ever to have been created. While it's not perfect, it is damn near close to perfection on every level, with no better way to say goodbye to the characters audiences have come to known for such a long time. And, Mangold has finally succeeded with the Wolverine.
Logan is not a superhero movie - it is a game-changing masterpiece that defies expectations and uses its influences from multiple genres to create a newer, darker, and realistic experience, impressively demonstrating that not every film can be grim if there isn't a single glimmer of hope with it. See Logan for yourself; then see it again.