*Warning: This article contains full spoilers for the film Logan*
There is a famous line in Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen that could be used to describe the world of superhero comics as well as the Disney golden goose/juggernaut that is “Nothing ever ends.” As long as the books are selling, the TV shows are getting decent ratings, and the movies make back their budgets, there will always be stories about Spider-Man, Superman, Batman, whatever mediocre white male Marvel Studios decides to make a movie about, and yes, the X-Men. But whether it’s due to Hugh Jackman or Patrick Stewart’s contracts, a burst of creativity on the part of writers Scott Frank, Michael Green, and co-writer/director James Mangold, Logan decides to end the character of Wolverine on its own terms with no reboot or recasting in sight.
In its plot, influences, and setting, Logan is a departure from X-Men and superhero films. The story follows Logan, who reluctantly agrees to drive Charles Xavier and a new mutant Laura aka X-23 (Dafne Keen) to Eden, a place in North Dakota where the last mutants are supposedly hiding out. Logan is skeptical about this land’s existence. In a bit of a family twist, it’s revealed that Laura was created from Logan’s DNA and has his claws, healing factor, and rage. Logan is a dystopian western/road trip movie as Logan a beautiful combination of Cormac McCarthy’s novels The Road and No Country for Old Men if Sheriff Bell (Played by Tommy Lee Jones in the Coen Bros film adaptation.) was the one taking the road trip with a child that he had a strained relationship with. And the Reavers definitely fall into the Anton Chigurh school of villainy driven on by relentless evil and a desire to hinder Logan at every turn even when he’s just minding his own business and being a chauffeur.
From its tense cold open where Logan fights some Latino men on the Texas/Mexico border, Mangold, Jackman, and cinematographer John Mathieson give us a front seat to his mortality. There are the hacks and slashes that are his signature, but it comes after he gets his ass kicked a few times and takes some wounds to his chest. Logan is still a skilled fighter, but you can see him wince in pain as he takes shotgun shells to the chest, and throughout the film, it’s obvious that he’s trying to avoid getting shot using throws and holds instead of just charging at his foes berserker style. (Although, Logan does give into his animal nature several times in the film, especially when fighting his conscience-less clone X-24.)
Unlike The Wolverine where Logan losing his healing factor was a plot device to be reset at the end so he could go on more adventures with the X-Men, it’s a terminal condition as the adamantium on his bones is beginning to poison him. Jackman’s body is a canvas of pain and suffering, and there are many shots of him turning to whiskey, pills, and later a kind of superhuman steroids to get his deteriorating body to function. He, Charles Xavier, and Caliban (Stephen Merchant) are living in the physical equivalent of death’s door in an old smelting plant in Mexico where Logan works as basically Uber driver and hauls around hard partying, jingoistic young people to have enough money to get pills to suppress Xavier’s telepathy. As it’s revealed later in the film, the former Professor X has a degenerative brain disorder that leads to seizures and can kill both humans and mutants. Logan doesn’t want him to hurt anyone else so he has him in isolation, and a very honest Xavier remarks that he’s just waiting for him to die. The dream is dead, there are no X-Men or superheroes, and he and Logan are just trying to save enough of money so they can float away on a boat and be free. They are the living dead and only spoken of in hushed tones like urban myths, or in the colorful, nostalgic pages of in-universe X-Men comics.
Yes, Logan is the cinematic equivalent of staring into the abyss for two and a half hours as Mangold comes to terms with the lives that Logan has taken and mirrors his violence and savagery in the young girl Laura. Laura’s big introduction is when she takes out a group of Reavers, who have attacked Logan and Xavier’s compound. Most of the action takes place off camera and is signified by her walking out carrying a man’s head before a whip quick pan shows her launching an attack on the remaining Reavers. Unlike Hit-Girl in Kick-Ass, this and countless other instances of violence involving Laura aren’t played for dark humor, but for tragedy.
One thing that I particularly enjoyed about Logan compared to a lot of superhero films was that it gave its characters a chance to breathe, emote, and interact instead of rushing through the equivalent of trailers for other films or using big gestures like kisses or near death experiences to “develop” characters. So, its best sequence isn’t an epic desert/barb wire fence car chase that is even cooler than the one in Batman Begins, but Xavier, Laura, and Logan sharing a family meal with the Munsons, a family that they helped out on their way to Eden. Xavier confesses to X-24 (Who he thinks is Logan) that this is the best night he’s had in a while and a vision of what a normal family life is like before he is brutally gutted by a man, who he thought was his friend. There have been scenes where Xavier is trying to acclimate Laura to because this is an incredibly depressing film.
Instead of bringing back Sabretooth, William Stryker, or another villain from the Wolverine comics, Mangold has Logan fight himself (Or technically his soulless clone) in the film. Evil clones are kind of a gimmick, but through the sheer brutality of the combat and Jackman’s unhinged performance as X-24, their fights come across as a world-weary man trying to exorcise demons, murder the savage part of himself, and find some peace before he dies. Logan truly goes through some Passion of the Christ worthy physical torment, and Mangold and the visual effects don’t hold back from showing his gaping wounds as he struggles to drive the last few miles to Eden, and medical experts say he’s dying. To draw a connection to the Hebrew Bible, Logan, like Moses, could see the Promised Land, but he can’t live in it.
Other than the incredibly sad funeral sequence where one of the kids holds a Wolverine action figure and Laura turns the wooden cross on his grave sideways to make an “X”, the scene where Laura pushes a semi-comatose Logan to the side and drives both of them to Eden is real moment where Logan comes to terms with its finality. It parallels a scene early in X-Men where Logan is the one driving a young mutant named Rogue to safety except now the young mutant, Laura, has his life in her hands. It’s a really passing of the baton moment, and Laura even becomes the badass loner with the dark past of the group of new mutants brooding off to the side while her new friends eat by the camp fire. This is very much like Wolverine’s role in the first X-Men movie.
Logan is dead, and the Wolverine with him as he passes the torch of hope and heroism despite great odds and a messed up past to Laura and the young mutants of Eden. And along the way James Mangold redeems the adamantium bullet that made everyone snicker in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Early, in the film, it’s the symbol of Logan’s suicidal ideation when Laura finds out that he carries it an and a single shot revolver to kill himself when the time comes. However, Laura ends up using the bullet to kill X-24 defeating the murderous animal inside Wolverine and only leaving the noble, flawed man Logan to die a mortal death from his wounds. Mangold, Jackman, and Keen create something beautiful from the carcass of a terrible film and let Logan find a small measure of redemption before he passes away.
And this is why Logan is such a fantastic film. It has real life and death stakes and not in the Iron Man passes out for five seconds after going into space before being okay way. James Mangold, Scott Frank, and Michael Green aren’t afraid to grapple with the pain of taking a life and the bitter tang of morality, and it does it all in the thrilling, poetic skin of a Western cyborg film. It’s the sad, savage, and soulful superhero film that I’ve been waiting for.