May 3, 2018
Logan (2017): A fitting farewell to an aging franchise
We rarely say goodbye to comic book characters. Everyone usually comes back in the form of a retcon or resurrection, and I don’t doubt that five years from now, there will be a new Wolverine. But for now, Logan says goodbye to the Wolverine in a way that’s respectful to Hugh Jackman’s tenure and tackles what mortality means, which is generally difficult to do for characters who are either literally immortal or too iconic to fade away.
When Hugh Jackman announced that Logan would be the last time he plays James “Logan” Howlett a.k.a. The Wolverine, I expected Fox would bid farewell to their cash cow with another generic claw ’em up epic, but to my surprise (and utter delight), screenwriters James Mangold (who also directed the film), Scott Frank, and Michael Green decided to mold Logan as a modern-day Western and take the time to go below the surface of the gruff, emotionally detached bad ass.
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Loosely based on the comic storylines “Old Man Logan” and “Innocence Lost”, Logan is the third Wolverine-centric film and the ninth appearance overall for the ferocious mutant. The film is set in a 2029 where no new mutants have been born in the last 25 years. In El Paso, Texas, Logan lives with mutant tracker Caliban (Stephen Merchant) and works as a chauffeur to care for an increasingly senile Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), who is losing control of his telepathic abilities. Logan hopes to earn enough money to buy a boat and sail off with Xavier so they can live their last days in a semblance of dignity.
And boy, do they need it. Xavier is bored, confined to his bed for fear of inducing a seizure, while Logan spends his days driving around obnoxious passengers and self-medicating with alcohol. It is revealed that his adamantium skeleton is slowly poisoning him and impeding his healing factor so although Logan can still hold his own in a fight, you’re not really cheering when he unsheathes the claws. You’re wincing and praying that this won’t be the punch that kills him.
Logan is past his prime and he knows it, but Gabriela (Elizabeth Rodriguez), a former nurse at the biotechnology corporation Transigen, still begs him to help her transport the young mutant Laura (newcomer and wonderfully talented Dafne Keen) to a safe house known as “Eden” in North Dakota. Naturally, because Wolverine is a bit of an anti-hero, he only agrees to help Laura because Gabriela’s cash offer is just enough to buy that retirement boat he wants. When Donald Pierce (Boyd Hollbrook), Transigen’s chief of security, murders Gabriela and shows up with his Reavers to take away both Laura and Xavier, Logan jumps back into action to keep them safe. Meanwhile, Caliban is captured and forced to use his powers to track his friends down. And as you can tell by the trailers, Laura can help defend the group pretty well.
This still sounds like a generic action thriller and I’m not going to lie, there are still a lot of exciting fight scenes (the ones that feature Laura are particularly most engaging and I think it’s mostly because you’re not worried she’s going to keel over and die mid-punch). But Logan takes the time to develop subtle themes about aging, mortality, and arguably, the fight against corporations.
Obviously, aging and mortality are major themes in this film. Hugh Jackman has been playing Logan for over seventeen years, and although he’s in better shape than the majority of the population, he can’t be expected to play a superhero forever. In an interview with Empire, James Mangold explained he wanted to explore the questions of aging and loneliness. “We’ve seen these characters in action, saving the universe. But what happens when you’re in retirement and that career is over?” he asked.
The answer in Logan seems to be “nothing”. Logan, Caliban, and Xavier waste their days in the desert, awaiting a time they can go out to sea and do more nothing until they die. However, Xavier insists that their salvation comes from finding and forging a family, a concept that Logan is reluctant to accept. Of course, based on the previous Wolverine movies, we know that eventually Logan is going to find something to live for. Thankfully in this case, it’s not the ghost of Jean Grey just telling Logan to go on. On the road to Eden, Logan, Xavier, and Laura encounter the friendly Munsons, a family of farmers. By interacting with this normal, loving family (and pretending to be part of one as well), Logan really gets a glimpse of what it looks like to care for other people and protect them in a way beyond using his fists.
In addition to being a representative for the normal life Logan could have if he chooses to open himself up emotionally, I would argue the Munsons also stand in for the fight against corporations. Their small farm is under pressure from a local corporation to sell so the corporation can fully control the area, similar to the way Logan was approached by Pierce to turn over Laura so Transigen can use her and any remaining mutants as assets. It’s a common trope in sci-fi to warn against evil corporations weaponizing and monetizing humans, but it also serves as a plot reference to the movie Shane, where a lone hero has to use extreme violence to secure peace for others. Logan values his independence as a mutant, joining and leaving superhero groups depending on his beliefs, and it’s natural that he wants to secure that right for others, particularly the next generation of mutants like Laura.
By adding the Western influences, Logan becomes a multi-layered action flick that cleverly explores the fears of aging and mortality similar to the way Mad Max: Fury Road tackled toxic masculinity. The film isn’t completely perfect, though. In their attempt to drive in the neo-Western tone, the writers get a little too heavy handed in showing off their influences. In one scene, the characters sit down and watch the film Shane, which is a fine, subtle reference to the parallels in Shane’s and Logan’s stories, but then the film veers into hokey territory when the writers have Laura quote Shane’s farewell speech in the end. There are also some minor issues: Gabriela claims that “Eden” is a stopover until the Transigen kids can get over to Canada, but if Transigen is hunting down Laura all the way to North Dakota, it’s not really clear how crossing the border will protect them in the future. Disappointingly, Donald Pierce and the Reavers don’t have much of a role other than “bad guys who get beaten up and stuff”. There’s no real villain in Logan—there are obstacles in the forms of evil mooks and mercenaries, no doubt—but not a real antagonist to fight against and thus the fight scenes sometimes just feel like Hugh Jackman showing off for one last time. Nevertheless, these flaws don’t detract too much from Logan‘s overall swan song.
Logan is probably one of the best in the X-Men franchise, and like little Joey Starrett, I want Logan to come back, but at the same time, I know it’s his time to leave.