By Dave J. Suscheck (Spoilers to follow)
The end of a story arc is always a tricky endeavor. Watching a once vital character struggle and decline into a gray-bearded, limping, and scarred shell wasn’t easy, but necessary. Hugh Jackman defined the character of Wolverine over eight movies that spanned seventeen years. That’s a lot of time to leave a mark, and the fact that it took that long to create a movie worthy of the Wolverine is a travesty and makes me wish there were more coming. That finality adds an extra weight to the movie.
There is so much to analyze and unpack from Logan that it’s hard to find a proper place to start. To boil down the narrative to its most basic premise would be to say that this is a story of a flawed hero at the end of his life who finds a fitting way to sacrifice himself in that last good deed, in the hopes of redemption through a final altruistic act (or to reference The Wolverine: to die a soldier’s noble death). What more noble way to go than to defend a bunch of orphans fleeing a group of baddies? Especially when one of those orphans happens to be your “daughter?” He found his last fight, and like all tragic heroes in the vein of Theseus, was initially reluctant to commit.
This film dealt with very real concerns in an emotionally driven narrative. We all get old. We all get frail. At some point we all struggle with what St. John of the Cross-termed, “the dark night of the soul.” In Logan we see his dark night. Logan is struggling with his aging body as it betrays him. Logan limps through the movie. He is suffering from blood poisoning, failing eyesight, and the weight of his adamantium bones on his aged frame. In one scene, Logan has oozing puss leak from the semi-healed holes where his claws retracted into his hands. Scars crisscross his body. Even during a fight scene early in the film we see one of his claws fail to fully deploy. Logan is weary from the life he led and deals with. Deep down, I think, he always wanted to be a good person, but because of how he has been treated he lost faith in humanity and put up barriers. Who can blame him, since he has always been treated as a freak?
Jackman portrayed the aging superhero with an emotional complexity only hinted at in earlier films. The decision of having such an iconic character slowly dying from that which made him memorable (adamantium skeleton) is a very haunting element in the movie. What once made him unstoppable is ultimately what is hindering his ability to be who he once was. It makes me wonder if he hadn’t been given his adamantium infused skeleton would he have the physical problems in Logan? One can speculate. On the surface, Logan was a character driven action movie and showed us what all other Wolverine movies could have been. I mean, come on, the man had daggers that slipped out between his knuckles that he used to slash people. There ought to be blood and severed limbs, and the fact it took almost twenty years to get a movie that dealt with the brutality of this character (as well as a story enabling for Jackman’s emotional range) is far too long in arriving.
We saw the microcosm of Wolverine’s story in Logan mirror that of the macrocosm of his character’s entire film presence. From the very first X-Men movie, where we see a loner who doesn’t want to get involved (and who tries to ignore and run away from what he is multiple times), to his acceptance of who he is at the end of X-Men: Days of Future Past, where we see him surrounded by the mutants he cares most about.
What really stuck with me after watching Logan was the atmosphere of a struggling has-been conflicted and angry over his deteriorating body while caring for his ailing mentor. This sense of despair permeates every scene in the film. You can feel the weight of the unwanted responsibility, and Logan’s natural loyalty towards Charles rests heavy on Jackman’s face throughout. Logan has lived almost two hundred years and he is so world-weary that he can barely keep it together enough to provide the support his pseudo-father deserves. Finding love and family literally in the last moments of his life is such a great punch to the feels.
The movie’s near perfect ending has the type of effect all great narratives wished they achieved. The image of the rock mound with the newly formed X as a funeral marker was so strong that the rest of the day I found myself thinking about the finality of Jackman’s Logan. It is a movie that gets inside your head and stays with you long after being watched. Rest easy, Wolverine.
[Michael’s Note: THANK YOU DAVE! This is the first in a series of reflections on Logan and I am beyond excited that Dave was willing to write this. (Actually, I planned to post mine first to set the stage and save his for further down the road once I established the series but I was too excited to not share this once I read it.) Dave and I have known each other (and have been discussing life and literature) through three academic institutions for over fifteen years. With all sincerity, I consider it an honor to feature his writing here.]
What more Logan? Who doesn’t?!? Check out the other reflections in this series paying tribute to Hugh Jackman’s swansong.