I caught a late show of Logan the other night, and I'm very comfortable saying that in the years that follow, when people look back at the genre of "Comic Book Movies," this is one of a few that will stand above the rest. I'm also willing to go so far as to say that Logan is to "Super Hero/Comic Book Movies" what The Searchers is to Westerns.
Logan explicitly references a different Western, Shane, a few times, it even references it sub-textually about 3/4 of the way through during an episodic break set at a farm house, but I'm sticking to my Searchers comparison because of how both films operate meta-textually.
Others have compared the similarity of these two genres before, including the observation that the popularity and eventual market saturation of the Western drove it to extinction and that films based on Marvel and DC properties are headed towards the same fate. Its interesting here, because in both cases, the genres had to exist like they had in order for these two films to have been made. The Searchers without John Wayne, who was at the height of his popularity after years of playing heroic figures in a legendary vision of American history, would just be a completely different -- lighter, less substantial. Wayne's turn from the hopeful, plain spoken and pragmatic cowboy and solider in films like Big River and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon into the broken and vicious Ethan Edwards is what gives The Searchers its power.
The same is true of Logan. The film stands well enough alone, but by using an actor that has been so closely tied to the same character, it also works to bring all previous films/performances into context. Just like with The Searchers, you see Ethan not as a new character just introduced, but as a vision of how the character you've known and watched for years has ended up.
Coincidentally, John Wayne's breakout role as "Ringo Kid" in Stage Coach (1939), an affable gun-toting cowboy that serves as the model of his persona in Westerns, and his turn as "Ethan Edwards" in The Searchers (1956) are 17 years apart; the same range in time as Jackman's first appearance as "Wolverine" in X-Men (2000) and his "last"* in Logan (2017).
Its a story about a man who once tried to make amends for his past. Who had tried to go against his grain and be a hero, but in the end all he's accomplished is outliving everyone he's ever cared about. Resigned to that fate, he starts to break down, and that's where Logan opens. Certainly, the character of Wolverine has always carried an heir of doom around him, so this kind of story is a natural. But it succeeds where other "grim and gritty" takes on comic book characters have failed (Batman V. Superman etc.) because it built to it organically. It really succeeds though, in that it doesn't just drive the hero into the dirt, it gives him a final chance to redeem himself not only through truly heroic self sacrifice -- but by literally meeting alternate versions of himself, fighting off the bad one** and guiding the good one to live the life he wasn't able to.
Just like The Searchers (and Shane, too) its a very compelling, dramatic and human story, that is told while still using all of the genre elements you'd expect (here mutants, cyborgs, genetically modified living weapons with metal claws instead of horses, injuns and six-guns). That's not to look down to Avengers: Age of Ultron or Fort Apache, but those are films that are content to just meet generic expectations, not to use them to push somewhere else.
The performances are all fantastic, especially from new comer, young Dafne Keen with her intense and feral portrayal of "Laura/X-23." The pacing, dialogue, photography are all also top notch -- Its classic Hollywood story telling in the best possible way. Go See it.
*The official word is that Hugh Jackman is retiring as the character that made him a household name, but we've all heard stuff like that before. Jackman reprising the role again sometime wouldn't surprise me, but whatever happens, Logan will remain a perfect swan song ending.
** Ok, so slight spoiler here -- you're warned -- Maybe my one complaint with this movie is a character described in the credits as "X-24," basically a full grown male clone of Logan who the bad guys set loose after the Reavers fail. X-24 looks like a younger, more ripped Hugh Jackman, and acts like a crazed feral Wolverine. He works in the plot pretty well as an example of what Laura/X-23 could become and what Logan wishes he had never been.
But -- its a little boring. X-24 is just a little too on the nose as a "dark mirror" version of the hero for me. But what a perfect opportunity to use Sabertooth? That's the role he played in the comics, and the character has never really gotten a fair shake on film, so it really seems like a missed chance.