To describe the tone of this X-Men spin-off as dark would be something of an understatement. The opening scenes are so grim they look like an avant garde production of a Samuel Beckett play, and Logan's themes include the unsettling notion that mutants, like humans, age and diminish, even die. It's 2029, and Logan and Professor Charles Xavier have fallen on hard times. The once mighty Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) drives a stretch limo along the Mexican border, ferrying drunken débutantes to prom nights and drinking half of what he earns.
The rest goes on medication for Charles (Patrick Stewart), who's now 90 and suffering from some sort of dementia - a worrying ailment for someone whose brain has been classified by his enemies as a weapon of mass destruction. Able when well to lift huge objects telepathically and communicate with fellow mutants across the globe, Charles now experiences cerebral attacks that can cause earthquakes and mass casualties.
The pills help stave off these episodes, and Logan keeps him in an abandoned warehouse with tin walls that help block the old man's telepathic emanations. A war against the mutants has wiped practically all of them out, and government agents are anxious to find the professor and put his gifts to nefarious use. So Charles and Logan rant unhappily at each other in their ramshackle hideout, helped by a shuffling albino mutant called Caliban (Stephen Merchant), who's very much a glass-half-empty kind of guy.
Logan's powers are also waning: he's in constant pain from an exaggerated form of arthritis, and a fight with an armed gang of Mexican car jackers almost does for him. All seems lost when agents of the powerful Transigen corporation track them down, but meanwhile Logan has discovered an 11-year-old girl called Laura (Dafne Keen) who turns out to be a resourceful and merciless mutant warrior. After a battle with the agents, she, Logan and Charles hit the road, headed for North Dakota and a supposed mutant refuge Logan thinks is a myth. But their enemies are in hot pursuit, and Charles' deteriorating health will make them pretty easy to follow.
Written and directed by James Mangold with great boldness, Logan departs from the well-worn superhero template and takes us into an all-too-human world of loss, failure and decrepitude. Being a Wolverine film, it combines all this existential angst with action, and there are some particularly nasty exchanges late on when Logan is faced with a genetically engineered version of himself.
But the thing that stays with you is the touching relationship between Charles and Logan, who may bicker their way across the American continent like an old married couple, but retain a deep underlying affection for each other. Grumpy, gruff, and less invulnerable, Logan seems more of a raging misanthropist than ever, and at one point beats the hood of his unresponsive car á la Basil Fawlty.
Charles was always the one who saw the noble heart beneath Wolverine's rage, but now that the urbane professor's mind has begun to slide, politeness can no longer be relied on. At one point he even tells Logan where to go in the most robust Anglo-Saxon fashion, a shocking outburst that illustrates Xavier's rapid deterioration. He, Logan and the mutant girl they've taken in, begin to seem like a lost and wandering Dust Bowl-era family, so desperate to find a haven that they head towards one that probably doesn't exist.
Jackman has let it be known that this will be his final Wolverine film, and last week, Patrick Stewart hinted in interviews that he was done with the X-Men franchise too.
If so Logan is a thoroughly fitting farewell for them both: Sir Patrick is superb as the diminished and bewildered Professor X, who seems like a kind of mutant King Lear silently accepting that his long battle has ended in defeat.
One has taken Jackman for granted in this role, but there's something grandly Shakespearean too about the Wolverine's rage against the dying of the light.
Films coming soon...
Kong: Skull Island (Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, John Goodman, Samuel L Jackson, Toby Kebbell); Elle (Isabelle Huppert, Charles Berling, Anne Consigny, Laurent Lafitte); Catfight (Sandra Oh, Anne Heche, Alicia Silverstone).