Over the past 17 years, Hugh Jackman has played the mutant Wolverine nine times in some good movies and some really not so good ones. In the slashing, R-rated Logan, his grand and noble farewell to the role in the three-part Wolverine-centric series, he’s so all-in and committed that we’re doubly sad to see him retire those razory claws and muttonchops. But what a fitting finale.  

Logan is a dystopic, paranoia-fueled movie, a gritty, violent Western of the kind that might have been directed by Don Siegel and starred Clint Eastwood in 1970. The action is set in 2029, a time when mutants are mostly extinct or on the run. The surviving few are the targets of a fascist government and their lackeys—hate-spewing talk-radio nut jobs and mercenaries like Pierce (Boyd Holbrook), who sports a cool prosthetic metal hand. Of course, there’s a price on the bushy head of boozy, burned-out Wolverine, who’s coasting out his final days and lying low as a limo driver in a border town. Sure, he can still withstand a rain of bullets, but it’s getting tougher by the minute.  Besides, his system is being poisoned by the adamantium coursing through his veins. The drugs he scores only keep things at bay for a spell. 

Meanwhile, a frantic woman (Elizabeth Rodriguez from Orange is the New Black) holed up in a motel pleads with him to take $50,000 and shepherd a silent, watchful 11-year-old girl (Dafne Keen) to a special locale called Eden in the woods near Canada. He’s a reluctant hero, whose altruistic days are long over—and besides, how could he possibly transport the girl without dramatically raising his profile and laying his life on the line all over again? After all, he’s supposed be taking care of the frail, aging Professor X (Patrick Stewart) who suffers from calamitous seizures and is being monitored by empathic mutant Caliban (Stephen Merchant, almost unrecognizable) hiding out in a remote and sunless old warehouse. But go on the run they must, fueling a breakneck series of chases, pitiless bouts of violence, dark emotions and plenty of social criticism of the bleak, racist wasteland America threatens to become. 

Credit director-writer James Mangold and his writing cohorts Scott Frank (The Wolverine) and Michael Green (American Gods) with finally enriching the characters and drama and making a Marvel comic book movie feel like it exists in a real world. Credit the success of Deadpool for encouraging Mangold and company to let Logan be foul-mouthed and uncompromising. Credit Jackman for sinking his fangs into every bit of anguish, tenderness and rage the movie promises. The father-child bond that develops between Wolverine and Keen gives things a mournful undertow. Mangold uses clips and dialogue from the classic 1953 adult Western Shane, in which Alan Ladd’s tired, beat up gunfighter wreaks havoc when he tries to settle down to a normal family life. There’s even a long sequence featuring the runaways hunkering down for the night with a family at a house in the country. It becomes nightmarish and it’s an altogether brilliant, explosively bloody stretch in an almost unrelentingly sad film.

Logan, which features a pack of brave mutant kids forced to live entirely on their own, also brings up memories of Children of the Damned and Children of Men, although it’s not as good or resonant as either. But for what it is, Logan is strong stuff, and a classy sendoff to Wolverine. Let’s just hope that Marvel and Jackman let sleeping wolves lie.