In order for Mangold to pull this off, he needs to make sure his characters can bear the heavy lifting. He had already proven he could make Wolverine a compelling character in the first two acts of The Wolverine (shame about that third though), and where the change of scenery to Japan worked wonders there, porting the character into a sort of half Western (Logan and Xavier watch Shane in a hotel room at one point, which is not remotely coincidental) half Mad Max road movie noir with a sprinkle of The Last of Us is just as fruitful here. There's a baseline expectation to how Jackman plays Wolverine and how Stewart plays Xavier after so many movies, but these iterations of the characters have enough subtle shades to allow them to stretch their legs a bit and show us some new sides to their portrayal. These are men beaten down by long lives of struggle and consequence, finding themselves faced with One Final Battle before the end of it all, and that breathes life into characters we've been watching on screen for seventeen years. Newcomer Dafne Keen has difficult shoes to fill, essentially playing the role of an adorable little girl mirror of Wolverine, complete with his berserker rage and affinity for knuckle cutlery, and she passes the test remarkably well considering she doesn’t actually speak for the majority of her time on screen. Mangold easily could have made her the X-23 that people know from the comics, but that wouldn’t fit this specific story he’s trying to tell. The trio represents the foundation of the film, a family unit of sorts with Logan stuck in the middle. It’s vital that these three are as engrossing as they are, as the rest of the cast, with the likes of a bug-eyed Stephen Merchant, Boyd Holbrook and Richard E. Grant not making the most memorable of impressions. But this film isn’t about them, and doesn’t suffer too much for its dearth of exciting supporting characters.
Insofar as it represents a sort of “serious” superhero movie that leaves the genre trappings that have come to define Marvel and DC products since Jackman and Stewart helped launch the modern superhero blockbuster in 2000, Logan succeeds more often than it fails. It tells its story with a soulfulness that shines through the hard R carnage that pervades it's action sequences, and while the script’s reliance on four letter words often seems more motivated by opportunity than need, the world of Logan has an authenticity that is often lacking in other films that attempted what Mangold is doing here. Many voiced concerns after the surprise box office success of Deadpool that studios would begin cynically pumping out R rated superhero films in order to try and get a share of its success, but that happily isn’t the case here. It still has a villain problem like so many of these films do (there isn’t anything as bad as The Wolverine’s comically terrible big bad, but in one case it comes treacherously close), but the script is smart in the way it puts all the focus on this makeshift family and Logan’s need to keep them all together even if he wants to escape this life and finally feel the embrace of death. The Wolverine followed a similar path until falling into absurdity in the third act. Gladly, Logan manages to escape this fate (though there are certainly times it seems destined to lose its way), and provides a fitting capstone to the nearly two decades years Jackman has played the character. As a story about the man behind the claws, Logan proves that in this case, the third time is indeed the charm.