Arriving at a crisis point for the X-Men franchise, Logan borrows credibility from whatever sources it can find. However, like the relationship between former X-Man Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and his genetic derivative, the young mutant Laura (Dafne Keen), Logan ultimately shares its DNA with the modern superhero film, despite their different appearances and occasional embarrassment at the familial connection.
Logan positions itself as a Western but at times it acts if the Western were an entirely defunct genre. Recent Westerns have engaged with the mythos in interesting ways, filtering it through modern sensibilities both in terms of filmmaking and themes (a few examples: The Lone Ranger, Slow West, Meek's Cutoff). In contrast, despite its vaguely dystopian future setting, Logan often feels stuck in the past.
One scene features Laura and Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) watching Shane in a hotel room, the camera lingering on the flatscreen TV as Shane tells Joey "there aren't any more guns in the valley." Logan directly borrows sincerity and legitimacy from classical Hollywood without demonstrating any intention to repay them, suggesting a superficial engagement with the genre.
(Logan's positioning as a Western is partly extra-textual, from the film's marketing and so on. The poster evokes Schindler's List and the trailer uses Johnny Cash for much the same purpose - borrowed credibility. It's worth commenting on as so much of this film's existence and power stem from those extra-textual areas, given the history of the franchise, the characters and the cast playing them. It becomes an integral and inseparable part of the experience of watching the film.)
~Mild spoilers follow~
Another almost fatal decision is to have X-24, the film's big bad, be literally a clone of the main character. One of the inspirations for this film, the Old Man Logan comic, has Logan wracked with guilt from mistakenly killing his fellow X-Men; in the film this piece of backstory is transferred to Professor X. X-24 offers a compromise, and it feels like one.
X-24 allows other characters to see Logan as a killer, briefly faking out the audience without actually jeopardising their sympathies with him. Again, the film seems to hearken back more to classical Westerns rather than the revisionist period or anything that that has followed since; Logan is morally conflicted about killing, perhaps, but never morally compromised.
Inevitably, a generic evil scientist is also introduced, the Dr. Frankenstein behind the monster. While given some life by Richard E. Grant, Dr. Rice is a character that exists solely to provide exposition. He's even given a nonsensical personal connection with the hero that supposedly explains his motivations.
X-24 could have been a symbol of Logan's duality, both man and beast, or a reminder of how he still hasn't come to terms with his own mortality and legacy. Instead it and Dr. Rice become standard superhero story devices, albeit ones the film has no real interest in.
(It'd be easy to read X-24 as a meta comment on the nature of franchise filmmaking, recasting, legacy, and so on, the way Jurassic World's plot about engineering bigger and better dinosaurs has been seen as a metaphor for its own lazy film-making. It'd be easy, but still uninteresting.
One of the refreshing ways Logan does diverge from most superhero films is that it never cares too much about maintaining continuity to other films, nor does it ask the audience to care about continuity. Initially, it doesn't even hold the audience's hand, instead building a world through background details. That is, until Logan takes a break to watch a lengthy phone video that lays out Laura and the story's entire backstory. Said video is shot from multiple angles and edited together for maximum dramatic impact despite ostensibly being made with a hidden camera and by a woman fleeing from mercenaries.)
The much-touted R rating helps and hurts Logan in equal measure. While it doesn't approach Deadpool levels, there are a couple of desperate, pandering attempts to prove that this film is for adults. The action is competent and bloody but doesn't always achieve its intended visceral impact, partly because it's also repetitive to the point of comedy. One scene is constructed around showing Logan stab as many people as possible through the skull in slow motion.
At the same time, removing children from the target audience does change things, allowing the story to be less action-driven and to take more time than is customary to connect and breathe with its characters.
While this emotional maturity does sometimes feel at odds with the other "adult" elements, at its best Logan finds ways to embody both simultaneously. For example, there's a striking moment of revenge / body horror towards the end that offers a glimpse of what a successful version of the recent Fantastic Four could have been.
Laura, a.k.a. X-23, is not a particularly unique character - the strong, silent, mysterious, possibly feral child - and yet she is allowed to develop into something interesting. The obligatory family road trip comedy (Paper Moon and Little Miss Sunshine have both been referenced) and the predictable plot digressions (introducing supporting characters who, by being so benign and good-natured, are immediately, obviously, and entirely sacrificial) fall by the wayside.
In their place, the father-daughter relationship between Laura and Logan blossoms, bolstered by the complex father/son, student/teacher, carer/invalid dynamic between Charles and Logan. The third act completely opens up the scope of the film, narratively, emotionally, thematically. Even Shane is brought back in a way that completely redeems the clunky reference to it earlier.
As a result, Logan's climax, its actual climax once the obligatory stabbings are over and done with, is genuinely emotionally affecting. This is all too rare, not just in blockbusters but across cinema.