This review contains plot details of “Logan”

HUGH JACKMAN has played the role of Wolverine, a mutton-chopped mutant superhero, in eight films; you can hardly blame him for declaring that the ninth, “Logan”, will be his last. Even Roger Moore managed only seven Bond movies before he hung up his Walther PPK. Whether Mr Jackman keeps his promise remains to be seen, but “Logan”, which is directed and co-written by James Mangold, certainly has the bloody-minded, go-for-broke confidence of a film that doesn’t care about earning a sequel or broadening its fan base.

Rated 15 in Britain and R in America, “Logan” is not a typical Marvel superhero blockbuster as much as a grim cross between a rueful western and a dystopian “Mad Max”-esque road movie. It is much gorier than most films about Wolverine and his fellow X-Men: considering that he has three retractable metal spikes poking out of each fist, it is surprising that these spikes are only now lopping off limbs and skewering skulls. It also has earthier language: Mr Jackman’s first word is a four-letter one, and there are plenty more where that came from. More importantly, because “Logan” is positioned as the series’ finale, it offers the possibility that its characters might not make it to the end credits alive.

One of the weaknesses of most recent superhero films is that they are essentially chapters in a long, rambling saga. Each one of them has the awkward job of following on from the previous chapter and setting up the next. “Logan”, in contrast, is allowed to stand on its own. It helps to know who its protagonist is and who the X-Men are, but there isn’t any convoluted mythos to keep track of, and only one of Wolverine’s teammates is seen or even mentioned: the implication is that the rest are all dead.

The film is set in a bleak 2029 when mutant-kind is almost extinct. Wolverine has been sustained by his miraculous healing abilities and his unbreakable metal-laced bones, but now his healing is on the wane, and the metal in his skeleton is poisoning him. No longer worthy of his Wolverine codename, he is now plain old Logan, a greying, coughing, limping alcoholic who works as a limo driver in a Texas border town. In a badlands shack on the other side of the border, the X-Men’s paterfamilias, Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart), is in hiding. He is now a nonagenarian invalid, and his King Lear-ish dementia is proving problematic. The world’s most powerful telepath, the psychic shockwaves from his headaches can paralyse everyone within a square mile—a side effect which is realised in the film’s best and most unnerving set piece.

Xavier is nursed by Caliban (Stephen Merchant), a piteous albino, while Logan squirrels away enough money to buy a luxury yacht (the yacht company’s name is mentioned so often that product-placement money must have changed hands). But, naturally, he can’t stay out of action for long. First, he meets another mutant, Laura (the scene-stealing Dafne Keen), a young girl whose acrobatic savagery is reminiscent of his own. Then he reluctantly agrees to drive her north to a haven called Eden where she will be safe from the oily British scientist (Richard E. Grant) and sadistic cyborg enforcer (Boyd Holbrook) on her trail.

None of this happens quickly. The many fight scenes get the adrenaline pumping, and they are better than most superhero dust-ups in that they appear to involve real human beings (or superhuman beings) rather than computer-generated visual effects. But in between those fight scenes, the film moves slowly for 137 minutes, as its hero staggers through a fug of regret, weariness and pain. Mr Jackman has compared “Logan” to “Unforgiven” and “The Wrestler” in interviews, and he has a point. All three films could be hung in a gallery of sombre portraits of ailing, ageing tough guys whose past glories were never all that glorious. When Logan takes his shirt off, it isn’t to show off Mr Jackman’s gym-sculpted torso but to reveal the scars and bruises which criss-cross his body.

Not that “Logan” is as profound as its sombre tone and “Hamlet”-rivalling body count would imply. It is still a pulpy good-vs-evil adventure yarn about comic-book archetypes punching each other. Its hero’s wasting illness is as affecting as it could be, given that the X-Men franchise has already used time travel to rewrite history and bring characters back from the dead. But “Logan” is bravely and consistently downbeat, relatively speaking. Like last year’s blackly comic “Deadpool”, it demonstrates that films about mutants are still growing and changing and, yes, mutating. Mr Jackman may have finished his stint as an X-Man, but “Logan” proves that superhero movies aren’t finished yet.

“Logan” is screening in Britain now and in America from March 3rd