When readers were first introduced to the character of James Howlett, better known by the names “Logan” and “Wolverine”, it was in the pages of The Incredible Hulk. From his first full debut in issue 181 all the way back in November 1974 to him officially joining the X-Men in 1975, the character has become one of Marvel Comics’ most recognisable and enduring superheroes, regularly featuring in solo and team comics, cartoons, movies, videogames, and countless other merchandise and I’ve been to celebrating Marvel’s most popular Mutant every Sunday of this month.
Released: 3 March 2017
Director: James Mangold
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Budget: $97 to 127 million
Stars: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant, Dafne Keen, and Richard E. Grant
It’s 2029 and Mutants are all but extinct. Jaded, world-weary, and suffering from Adamantium poisoning due to his weakened healing factor, James Howlett/Logan (Jackman) has been trying to keep the increasingly-dementia-ridden Professor Charles Xavier (Stewart) out of harm’s way but his already tumultuous life is thrown one last curveball when they are forced into protecting Laura/X-23 (Keen) from a group of mercenaries seeking to retrieve her and genetically engineer Mutants as potential soldiers.
By 2017, 20th Century Fox had more than profited from their various X-Men movies and spin-offs, which had raked in over $1,800,000,000 at the box office. Although The Wolverine (ibid, 2013) received mixed reviews upon release, a sequel was still put into development thanks, in no small part, to the film’s worldwide gross of over $300 million and Hugh Jackman’s popularity and commitment to the role. Rather than produce a direct continuation of the last film, and on keeping with the loose continuity of Fox’s X-Men franchise, this new film drew inspiration from movies like The Wrestler (Aronofsky, 2008) and Unforgiven (Eastwood, 1992) as well as storylines such as “Old Man Logan” (Millar, et al, 2008 to 2009). Purposely developed to be the conclusion to Jackman’s time in the role, the film took the surprisingly simple title of Logan and was produced as an R-rated film in order to make Jackman’s last outing the most violent yet. Afforded a much smaller budget than its predecessors, Logan went on to be an unprecedented critical and commercial success, earning over $600 million at the box office and drawing rave reviews across the board for its bleak tone, violence, and emotionally affecting end to the character’s extraordinary popularity. Though potential follow-ups were thrown into uncertainty when Disney purchased the 20th Century Fox, regaining the rights to the X-Men franchise, among others, in the process, Jackman has, so far, remained adamant that Logan would be his last go-around in the role.
Set in the far future of 2029, Logan (who has, somehow, regained all of, if not most of, his memories and now openly refers to himself as “James Howlett” and is even (mysteriously) carrying an Adamantium bullet from X-Men Origins: Wolverine (Hood, 2009) that he plans to use to kill himself with at some point) is now a dishevelled, world-weary, broken down limo driver who is succumbing to Adamantium poisoning and his weakened healing factor, which allows him to drink himself into a stupor but also results in a prominent limp and a visible amount of pain and discomfort. Completely done with the X-Men, Mutants, and pretty much everything in life, he has no time for anything or anyone, much less the assholes trying to steal the tyres off his limo. He doesn’t want to fight anymore and just wants to be left alone but is incredibly irritable and quick to anger because of everything he’s been through and brutally skewers, slices, and dices the thieves when they push him too far; though he is hurt in the process, he’s more annoyed that they damaged his limo.
Logan has no time or patience at the best of times but least of all of those who call him “Wolverine”, proposition him, or oppose him; he dismisses Gabriela Lopez’s (Elizabeth Rodriguez) pleas for help until she promises him a big bundle of cash and is angrily dismissive of the semi-cybernetic Donald Pierce (Holbrook). He just wants to be left alone and has no interest in helping or fighting anyone so, when Laura ends up in his care, he is extremely annoyed at being dragged out of his hole and Xavier’s insistence that they help and protect her. Logan is working as a limo driver to save up the money to buy a yacht and disappear from civilisation forever with the decrepit and increasingly irascible Xavier; Xavier now suffers from bouts of dementia, which results in mood swings, a fractured perception of time and reality, an overall grouchy demeanour and spite-filled outbursts, and, worse of all, awful seizures which cause incredible pain to those in his vicinity. He has a tumultuous relationship with Logan, resembling a petulant child at times, but also trying to stress the importance of Laura’s existence and safety and is still trying to teach him to be a better man.
Logan, of course, is the only one able to endure Xavier’s abuse and is doing everything he can to keep Xavier safe, and others safe from him, and to administer his medication to him. He sticks by the Professor out of a begrudging love and loyalty, seeing him as a father-figure, but isn’t happy about what he’s become, the world they live in, or the life he leads. It’s very heavily hinted that the Professor killed all of the X-Men during one of his seizures, which is haunting Logan and causing him incredible grief and pain since he, presumably, witnessed it and he has to live with the knowledge of it. We see a sample of Xavier’s seizures early on and Caliban (Merchant) complains about how they’re getting worse but we don’t really see their true, devastating effects until later in the film when Xavier lapses into a violent episode as Peirce’s men are coming for him and Laura. The effect is an intense, crippling version of Xavier’s “freeze ability” first seen in X-Men 2 (Singer, 2003), rendering all within his vicinity helpless and wracked with pain. This results in one of the film’s standout moments as Logan, struggling against the effects of Xavier’s mind the way a man struggles against the tide, rams his claws into Peirce’s men with a violent ruthlessness. Even after Logan delivers Xavier’s medicine and stops the seizure, though, it has lasting effects as those who suffered from it lie in agony or struggle to regain their composure.
Caliban isn’t really given a lot of backstory or focus but Merchant does a decent job with the limited time he has; it’s nice to see new Mutants/characters involved in the franchise but, beyond acting as Logan’s conscience and trying make him realise the hopelessness and gravity of their situation, he doesn’t really have much else to do except get used and abused by Pierce, add to Logan’s grief, be ignored, and sacrifice himself in an unsuccessful attempt to kill Pierce (though he does take some of the other Reavers out with him). Pierce, though, is a charismatic, arrogant antagonist; he’s full of the kind of egotism that only youth can bring and attempts to coerce Logan into co-operating before leading a raid on his Mexican hideout. Though persistent, he’s clearly in over his head but determined to see his mission through; still, at least he’s not another guy-in-a-suit villain. In the end, he meets his need not at Logan’s hands but at the hands of a new batch of young Mutants, his commitment to the mission turning out to be his downfall, though he does last a little longer than his employer, Doctor Zander Rice (Grant).
Personally, I feel the inclusion of Rice is a little unnecessary; it’s a bit of a waste of Grant’s talents and stature as an actor and I almost feel like it would have worked better if he had showed up for the finale in a quick cameo rather than being peppered throughout the film simply to deliver exposition. Rice is basically a substitute for Colonel William Stryker (Brian Cox); a scientist who is experimenting on, and fascinated by, Mutants. The difference, though, is that Price unwittingly caused the extinction/suppression of Mutants through his research and is now working to genetically engineer a new generation of Mutants by splicing the genes of the older generation, such as the X-Men and, of course, Logan. Price is a slimy, manipulative individual; pragmatic and logical but also entirely convinced that his way is just and yet, at the same time, marvels at X-24’s (Jackman) efficiency and savagery. His villain is the kind of hypocritical kind who believes he was only trying to help humanity and, having accidentally effectively wiped Mutants out, is now trying to rebuild Mutants according to his design.
Of course, Laura is the standout character; initially little more than a scared, unassuming little girl, she is a whirlwind of feral fury and naïve innocence. The two combined are a dangerous combination, making her unpredictable and violent at the best of times, though easily appeased by childish wants and desires (cereal with too much milk, X-Men comics, kiddy rides, snacks, funky sunglasses, fiddling with everything she sees and the like). When her life is in danger, or those around her are threatened, she reacts with a primal, savage fury, attacking and killing on instinct, and is every bit the animal that Logan has fought against all these years. As the film progresses, Laura opens up more, speaking first in angry Spanish and then in angry English; her and Logan begrudgingly bond, forming a dysfunctional family dynamic alongside Xavier, and her safety becomes his final mission and reason for living over the course of the film. Having buried his oldest friend and mentor, Logan is vulnerable and grieving and, in that moment, comes to see Laura as a true person, his daughter, rather than simply a liability or mission.
Of course, what separates Logan from its predecessors is its excessive violence, gore, and profanity (which Jackman secured by selflessly taking a pay cut); Logan is covered in scars and bruises, his claws sever limbs and skewer his prey without mercy and in extremely brutal fashion. Irritable and grouchy, Logan is quick to a fiery temper and has no time for decorum or mercy this time around and this is reflected in the way he mercilessly dismembers those who get in his way, as though losing the X-Men finally removed the last vestiges of his humanity and he’s been left with its tattered remnants.
This is clearly the most vulnerable and distraught we’ve ever seen Logan; perhaps the closest parallel was when he was living like a hermit at the beginning of The Wolverine. Here, though, he’s lost absolutely everything and is suffering inside and out; we saw him struggling with a dodgy healing factor in The Wolverine but it’s far worse here as not only does he struggle to heal, or heal properly, but all his old wounds are resurfacing and he is slowly dying from, and being crippled by, Adamantium poisoning. He suffers from a persistent cough, is clearly in constant pain, and is now forced to wear glasses to read, watch phone screens, and to see properly. Despite this, Logan continues to fight with a savage fury when pushed; he fights through the pain, uses it even, which results in a number of visceral, brutal action scenes but also allows the film to explore Logan’s humanity in a way we haven’t seen before. Ultimately he succeeds in this but in a thematic way since Laura uses the bullet to blow X-24’s head off.
Xavier is a broken-down shell of his former self; frail and weak and far from his usual eloquent sense. Prone to bouts of profanity and cruel spite, Xavier is a shadow of the man he used to be and is entirely dependant upon, and resentful of, Logan and Caliban. Of course, Xavier’s condition makes it difficult to separate fact from fiction; his outbursts and vindictiveness could be due to his dementia since he perks up once Laura comes into their lives. Xavier is transformed by the conformation of a new breed of Mutants, determined to protect Laura and get her to the rest of her kind, and becomes more of a kindly old grandfather. This make sit all the more tragic when, in a moment of clarity and sanity, he is brutally murdered by X-24 and dies believing that Logan, his last remaining student and friend, killed him.
Logan is deeply affected by Xavier’s death; he is horrified at the thought that his mentor and father-figure died thinking he had turned on him and uses that anger as motivation in his fight against Pierce, Rice, and X-24 but he is hopelessly outmatched by his younger, stronger clone. All the determination, rage, and will in the world don’t really help Logan in a one-on-one fight and he is forced to use whatever means he can, including both taking Rice’s serum and sacrificing his own life, to end X-24’s threat. In the end, Logan is able to deliver Laura to her fellow new Mutants and dies to protect her; in the process, he finds the peace he has long desired in that his legacy gets to live on and he finally gave his life for something worthwhile, a chance for a new generation of Mutants to live free in the world. It’s a poignant scene, one that is a fitting farewell for Jackman and his iconic role, though a part of me would have preferred to see Liev Schreiber return as Victor Creed rather than a clone of Logan.
However, X-24 has obvious thematic reasons to exist; superficially, he represents everything Logan has fought to not be over the years, being little more than a savage animal forced to blindly and unquestioningly follow orders. Additionally, he is the younger, stronger version of Logan (with none of the age, scars, blemishes, or pain that Logan carries) meaning that, in fighting X-24, Logan is literally and figuratively fighting against himself, his past, and the most savage parts of his nature. Again, though, I do feel like Creed could have fulfilled this in exactly the same way (X-24 even resembles Creed in many ways) but I guess it’s more explicit this way and keeps the filmmakers from referencing one of the more unfavourably-received X-Men films. Still, I’m glad, and actually kind of surprised, that the filmmakers decided to not keep X-24 around in an attempt to leave the door open for Jackman’s return and the film definitely seems to be setting Laura up to be the next Wolverine.
There are some things that bother me about the film, however; first and foremost is, obviously, its sketchy continuity. Apparently, this film takes place in the “Good Future” seen at the end of X-Men: Days of Future Past (Singer, 2014), which is fine but a little depressing that, no matter which timeline you follow, the X-Men are doomed to suffer and die. Second, there’s the massive lull the film takes with Logan, Xavier, and Laura stop to help a family on the highway and end up getting close to them; it works, again in a thematic sense, to remind Logan of what it means to be happy and have a family but it does kind of slow the film down and it’s a pretty cheap way to up the body count, add to Logan’s grief and rage, and to sell X-24 as a relentless killer. Add to that Gabriella’s incredibly well edited phone video, which stretches plausibility not only through its professional construction but also through her ability to record all of that footage without being spotted. Finally, there’s the vague explanation of what happened to the X-Men and the other Mutants; I can appreciate the subtle ways the film hints at its story and what has happened but, considering how wildly different the world is since we last saw the X-Men and Wolverine, a little more consistency and exposition would have gone a long way, instead, we’re left with a lot of questions and unresolved plot points; it definitely feels like they were setting up for a spin-off involving and, arguably, I feel like The New Mutants (Boone, 2020) should have explored her and the other new breed of Mutants to help expand upon this premise and the success of the film but it is what it is and for an emotional last chapter for Jackman and Logan it excels in every regard.
While the X-Men films have always been big, action-packed features full of special effects and increasingly elaborate action scenes, Wolverine’s solo efforts have always strived to have a slightly different flavour; even X-Men Origins: Wolverine dabbled in being a war movie and trying to tell a more intimate, focused story amidst its bombastic action. However, this becomes undeniably explicit in Logan, which is, essential, as much road trip film and a Western as it is in an intense character study; heavily influenced by Sergio Leone’s “Spaghetti Westerns” (1964 to 1966) and classic Westerns like Shane (Stevens, 1953), Logan is the exploration of a tortured, jaded loner just trying to exist in a world that has long past him by but who is forced back into prominence by the hands of fate.
Logan is a very different kind of comic book/superhero movie; it’s not full of bombastic action or overly-choreographed set pieces and is, instead, a much more subdued exploration of the longevity, suffering, and mortality of the man we know as Wolverine. However, when the action and fights do happen, they’re fast, brutal, and viciously intense and, perhaps, the best way to describe Logan: intense. It’s a far cry from the loud, frenetic action of other X-Men films, especially X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and is all the better for it, finally unleashing the animalistic nature of Wolverine and showing just how dangerous and violent he can be while also being, essentially, a character study, or deconstruction, of Logan and allowing him both the chance to be the ferocious character he has battled against all this time and give him the send-off he deserves.
What did you think of Logan? How do you feel it compares to the other X-Men and Wolverine movies? What are your thoughts on the presentation of a broken down, dying Logan and the introduction of X-23? Were there any parts of the film that disappointed you? Would you have liked to see Liev Schreiber return? Do you think Hugh Jackman will ever be tempted to return to the character in some way, shape, or form or do you feel it’s best to pass the role on to someone else; if so, who, and do you want Laura to assume Wolverine’s mantle? Whatever your thoughts, thanks for joining me for Wolverine Month and do please leave a comment below.