After three viewings and two weeks, I’m finally ready to talk about Logan. I had high expectations. I tried to manage them but it was impossible! Hugh Jackman has been playing Wolverine for seventeen years. He ushered in the modern era of cinematic superheroes. I couldn’t keep my expectations for his swansong from growing. The film was absolutely nothing like I expected but it was brilliantly executed. Hugh Jackman and James Mangold delivered a finale that deeply moved me. Fair warning, this post will be filled with spoilers. It will also be filled with emotions!
While I didn’t know what to expect, I knew this was going to be an emotional experience. As I’ve said before, Wolverine was always my favorite X-Man and I credit Hugh Jackman with shepherding in the age of the modern cinematic superhero. And after seventeen years and nine films his story was coming to an end. In preparation for opening night, I watched all his X-Men and Wolverine films again. I also re-read Old Man Logan and Death Of Wolverine to put myself in a frame of mind to consider what may be ahead. However, instead of looking to any comic storyline per se to set the tone of the film, James Mangold turned to classic Westerns like Shane (most directly), The Magnificent Seven, or The Searchers to give Logan it’s feel. Like the gunslingers of those films, Logan is a man who’s lived a life of violence. No matter how hard he tries to leave the fighting behind, it always catches up to him. Now, nearing the end of his life, he must decide if he has one more fight left in him.
I’ve never seen anything like this before. Logan presents a superhero at the end of his life. Take a second to think about that. Comic books are a genre that tell a new story every month – indefinitely – while never allowing the characters to really age. Peter Parker was fifteen in 1962 and now, fifty-five years later he’s maybe thirty, But in Logan we find Logan and Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) old and weary. The film is set in 2029 and mutantkind is all but extinct. Logan, using his given name of James Howlett, is working as a chauffeur and living on the Mexican border with Charles. Charles, now in his nineties, is suffering from some form of dementia or Alzheimer’s. Logan is trying to save money for a boat and dreams of escaping with Charles to live on the sea. Their existence is upended by the appearance of Gabriela (Elizabeth Rodriguez), a nurse who introduces them to Laura (Dafne Keen), a young mutant girl cloned from Logan’s DNA and bearing his powers. Gabriela tells Logan they are being hunted by Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) and his Reavers. Far removed from the hero he once was, Logan has to decide what to do. This idea of authentically aging superheroes is uncharted territory.
We also see a story brave enough to end. Think how rare this is too. Characters die in comics all the time…and always come back. In the service of box office revenue, Disney’s planning on the Star Wars Saga and the Marvel Cinematic Universe going on forever. Fans rarely want endings anymore than studios do, unwilling to let the characters they love die, be replaced, or transform. Sure, Fox’s X-Men universe will go on, transitioning from Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine being its anchor to Ryan Reynold’s Deadpool. There’s talk of James Mangold eventually doing another future-set film starring Dafne Keen’s Laura and, at some time in the future, Wolverine will probably be recast. Regardless of all that, in Logan we get an actual ending. This is rare in comic stories. But endings are important! Can you imagine the classics of literature and film if they never ended?
Then we add a story with the type of performances and emotional weight usually reserved for Oscar contenders and we begin to see how beautifully unique Logan is. By the end of the film, I was in tears. Well, that may be putting it mildly. I had tears streaming down my face and was doing my best to mute my sobbing so as not to distract others in the theatre. The characters and the story were crafted with such care that I couldn’t help but be overcome! As Laura looks into Logan’s eyes, crying for him as he dies, and he tells her she doesn’t have to be what they made her to be – yeah, I was done. The sobbing started with that moment and only got more intense from there. I grant I can be a bit hyperbolic when excited so I’ve really, really considered this next line before writing it, but I’m committing. No superhero film has ever emotionally affected me as deeply as Logan has. Nothing’s come close. Logan moved me in a spiritual and emotional way that few films – superhero or otherwise – manage to do.
Logan’s death is filled with religious symbolism. The scene evokes Moses, dying within sight of the Promised Land he’s led others to but will never enter himself, and Jesus, hanged on a tree and left to die. But it also expresses the hopeful, heartfelt proclamation of a man who’s spent his life wrapped in violence, that his daughter doesn’t have to live the same life he has. In his final moments Logan promises Laura that she’s meant for so much more.
Comic book superheroes are, in many ways, our culture’s version of the mythic demigods of old, humans walking among us with the powers of gods. Yet there was such vulnerability in Logan‘s characters, in part because their powers weren’t what they once were. Charles’ telepathic and psionic abilities have become dangerous, as he slowly loses control of his mind. Logan’s powers aren’t what they used to be either. His healing factor has slowed down, no longer able to repair everything and fixing what it can fix slowly. He struggles to pop his claws and his heightened senses are faltering too.
At first, the idea of Logan’s powers being on the fritz annoyed me. The comic nerd in me balked. To the best of my knowledge, there’s no comic or film precedent for this. But I kept thinking about it and I’ve come to love the idea. It adds an important dimension to the film’s story. As Joseph Campbell, one of the 20th century’s leading scholars on mythology said in The Power Of Myth, the purpose of a folk tale is simple entertainment but the purpose of a myth is spiritual instruction. Logan’s journey in the film does this as it speaks to our aging and mortality.
The X-Men are mutants right? They didn’t get their powers from magic or science or an alien atmosphere. Their powers come from evolution, a genetic mutation in their biology. As we grow older, our bodies start to deteriorate. It’s a natural part of the aging process. Our eyesight and hearing start to slip. Our speed and strength lessen. Our minds begin to fail too. It makes perfect sense that a mutant’s powers would start to decline with age. By the time this story opens in 2029, Logan (born in 1832 in the cinematic timeline) would be 197 years old. I think it’s fair for his body to be faltering a little – especially, as the film emphasizes, in light of the long-term effects of having adamantium inside him. This makes Logan more human and more suited for our spiritual instruction.
Aging and facing our own mortality is a fundamental part of human existence. Everything dies. As Campbell points out, all religions must address this in some way, shape, or form. If comic characters are to be modern myths, part of their job is showing us what it means to live a fully human existence at every phase of life. This plot development allows Logan to experience an unavoidable part of human existence while also showing the struggle of defining who he is at this stage in his life. As we approach death, are we still the person we once were? How do we grow old and die with grace and nobility?
Part of this identity struggle is exemplified in his brutal battle with X-24. It also illustrates a central theme of Wolverine’s story (in both comic and film). Logan has always struggled with the animal within. Is he more monster or man? In X-24, we see all of Wolverine’s power and brutality with none of Logan’s humanity, empathy, or heart. The film yet again asks the questions – Which side is more powerful? What is his true nature? We see these questions answered with finality in his ability to defeat X-24. This victory shows that his human side was more powerful than the animal rage. It also speaks to the power of love and family as being that which allow us to forever triumph over our own potential for such brutality. What makes Wolverine more human than animal? What allows him to defeat the beast within? His relationships with those he loves and those who love him in return. We see this literally embodied in Laura delivering the killing blow to X-24.
I had planned on reading a decent amount of X-23 and All New Wolverine before the film. However, life got in the way and I went into Logan having no real experience of Laura. But now I love that I met her for the first time in this gorgeous film! What a character! When she walks out of Logan’s home, rolls Pierce’s goon’s head to him, extends her claws, and cuts those guys apart?!? What a badass! But she is also this beautiful, loving, caring, eleven-year old girl, hardened from the childhood denied her by Alkali Transigen, the corporation that created her. I was fascinated with Laura the character and in awe of Dafne Keen the actress. Laura’s relationship with Logan felt special too. We’ve seen mentor/student relationships before and we’ve seen father/child ones. But the degree to which they needed each other, the amount they shared in so little time, the intimacy that joined them and how it was all personified was rich, raw, and new. Laura saw (and needed) Logan as both the father she never had and the hero from her comic books who could protect them all.
On the comic note, riding the waves of nostalgia and emotion after the film, I’ve been re-reading my X-Men and Wolverine comics from the early 90’s for weeks now. As a kid, I started reading X-Men every month with issue #18 and Wolverine with #69. It was 1993 and that meant I was only a few months from the mind-blowing “Fatal Attraction” crossover where Magneto ripped the adamantium from Wolverine’s body. Re-reading many of these comics, I was struck at times by how similar they felt to Logan.
As a kid, I loved the idea of Logan without his adamantium. As an adult, admittedly, it seems a little less exciting. Those bone claws would probably break a lot in the fights the poor guy always finds himself in. However, it was never the bone claws themselves that made this Logan so intriguing to me. His adamantium was gone. His healing factor was nearly burnt out from trying to keep him alive through the ordeal with Magneto. He was facing his mortality in a new way and wrestling with trying to define just who he was in light of all that had transpired. The whole story, the idea of this once near-immortal warrior now more broken, more battered, and very, very vulnerable, captivated me. Those comics spoke to me and Logan carries that spirit in a similar way.
Our connection to our comics and our comic characters, especially as children, is important. They can shape our worldview. There is great symbolic significance then in Laura (and all the kids at Transigen) being raised on X-Men comics. The X-Men have been with us since Stan Lee and Jack Kirby first brought them onto the scene in September of 1963. As such, generations have grown up with their stories in real life. But have we learned anything from them? Just as the film leaves us wondering what will become of Laura and her friends, it prompts us to ponder what we’ve become. Laura and her friends have the potential – the abilities – to grow into heroes themselves. And we do too. The X-Men teach us lessons of acceptance, inclusion, and standing with and for those on the margins. Have we learned those lessons? Do we follow that model? It was fitting, in Hugh Jackman’s final turn as Logan, we see this play out as a literal part of the story on the screen. Wolverine’s example is a model for Laura and her friends just as he should be for us. What is the spiritual instruction this is teaching? We are to protect the poor and the vulnerable at all costs – just like Logan.
Even the violence in the film, certainly earning its R rating, serves a larger purpose. Depictions of violence are something I take seriously (and that, in part, make me pretty much the only person who doesn’t like the Old Man Logan comic). But the violence in Logan, while uncompromising in its brutality, never felt gratuitous to me. Used as it was, I think it played an important part in the film’s symbolism. This was the spiral of violence writ large. Logan has spent nearly two hundred years fighting and killing. Yes, it was most often in the service of justice, protecting those who needed protection. But killing, for any reason, has a cost. Violence still begets more violence and the film illustrates this with the stark vision of a man forever hounded by killing and bloodshed even at the end of his days.
This is yet another way Logan stands apart from the rest of the genre – it presents a complex and realistic depiction of violence. It doesn’t say that all of the ills in the world can easily be solved with a hug and a handshake. Nor does it pretend violence is always just, clean, or uncompromised. There was no glamour in Logan‘s vision of violence and it shows us that violence always has a cost. It paints this picture with all the murky shades of grey the topic warrants.
But when I think of Logan (and I’m still thinking of it often) it isn’t the violence that I remember. Rather it’s the film’s intimacy that resonates. I’ve written before about my respect for the power of the “little moments” in Hugh Jackman’s performances as Wolverine. Logan is filled with these moments – struggling to fully pull his claw from his hand, coming undone after burying Charles, sleeping with his head in Laura’s lap in the truck, and on and on. For me, the most beautiful scene in Logan is when he tenderly lifts Charles out of his wheelchair and carries him upstairs to bed at the Munson’s farm house. We’ve watched these characters on screen together, saving the world from all manner of larger-than-life threats for seventeen years. But here those same two men capture the unfailing love and quiet intimacy of so many people caring for ailing parents. In a film full of beauty and pain, this is Logan’s most memorable moment.
In daring to take the superhero genre someplace it doesn’t normally go, Logan proved itself work of art. I used to feel bad for Hugh Jackman, that his efforts (and all the fan clamoring) to let the X-Men cross over into the MCU went ignored by Fox and Marvel Studios. Not anymore. If the X-Men tied into the MCU (a land of Easter eggs and ceaseless setup for future movies) we never would have had this. For me, the power of Logan is worth infinitely more than seeing the X-Men and Avengers together on screen fighting another run-of-the-mill baddie with world-ending aspirations. Logan was able to be unique in its story, scope, and emotional weight. It spoke of humanity, connection, love, loss, pain, and transformation. In 2000, Hugh Jackman showed superhero movies (that didn’t star a certain Bat) could be a success with X-Men. With Logan, he and James Mangold have shown us just how tragic and beautiful a “superhero movie” can be when it abandons convention and is bold enough to reach for the transcendent.
What more Logan? Who doesn’t?!? Check out the other reflections in this series paying tribute to Hugh Jackman’s swansong.