Wolverine’s story has been at the center of the X-Men franchise since the first film premiered 17 years ago. But Logan’s personality has often caused many of us frustration. That is, until Logan… the film we didn’t know we wanted.
For many of us, Wolverine’s presence in the X-Men films has constantly been a detractor from the epic, often profound storyline. Callous, dismissive, and stoic to a fault, he seemed like the classic male, white, macho antihero that has plagued movies from the beginning of time. His strengths are often purely physical, he inexplicably seems to attract all the women he encounters, and he hardly ever ventures away from the strong-and-silent archetype.
For a story that’s as progressive as X-Men, the placement of such an old-fashioned character constantly felt out of place.
It’s not to say that Logan wasn’t important, or that his story arc wasn’t logical; he was clearly a product of extended suffering and injustice, but as a main character his presence was often tiresome. Time and time again, we returned to Logan getting drunk, mulling over his terrible memories, in a constant state of grieving. His good deeds had a tone of reluctance to them, and like the strong-and-silent type, he channeled emotions into aggression.
The result was that we felt like we were being put through the wringer alongside Logan, and yet he’d done nothing to make us feel like we wanted to be there.
Which brings us to Logan: a movie many of us would not have watched at all, were it not for the exceedingly positive reviews that came from all ends of the internet as soon as it premiered — and the fact that it’s Hugh Jackman’s last X-Men movie.
Logan pulls us away from epic CGI, mutant ensembles and matching suits. Instead, we are presented with the bleak wasteland of the Mexican border, and a pair of aging mutants.
For the first time, we see Logan weakening in more than just the emotional sense; and even more shockingly, Charles Xavier, the moral backbone of the X-Men, giving in to age and struggling with disease. Living in some ruins in the desert, their interactions are consumed by bitterness and only half-hearted hope.
While there are complaints that the movie failed to focus hard enough on any of its more meaningful themes, it might just be a perfect example of how to weave in real-world issues with superhero franchises. The movie doesn’t feel like it’s trying to be gritty for the sake of being gritty — it doesn’t shy away from the violence, and seems to take its consequences seriously, showing us all the pain they entail. Finally, we can feel Logan’s exhaustion; finally, we can see the bleakness of the world through his eyes.
Both Wolverine and Xavier represent older generations — values that have ceased to be efficient in this world. Neither Xavier’s gentle, patient approach — in his lucid moments — nor Wolverine’s brutal selfishness are enough to defend the mutants. Both men have succumbed to a form of apathy, focusing merely on surviving, rather than fighting back.
The entire franchise has been the story of a man who is unable to let go of selfishness and step up to heroism. Logan has been running all his life, feeling that the only final choice he will have is suicide.
Enter Laura, who manages to establish a connection with both Xavier and Logan, and in a way, take the best from both. The result of extreme scientific experimentation, and subjected to many of the same cruelties as Logan, she is quiet, stubborn and angry. While both Xavier and Logan have taught children before, they have never been in such terrible circumstances while doing so.
The new mutants we meet are particularly interesting: a group of children that have been through hell and back, of various races and genders. They are also refugees, fleeing across a border for their lives.
This is the new generation of fighters — reminiscent of the old X-Men, but a more accurate representation of the world we live in. They are hurt and angry, but not bitter; Laura continues to inspire Logan to be a better man, even when he seems far beyond her reach. They have rejected the role of soldiers, and instead built a community. In a way, they succeeded in all the aspects Logan didn’t.
The X-Men franchise constantly tried to blow us away with how epic it was, bringing together teams of characters dressed in matching suits to save the world. Logan, unassuming, aspires to be epic in the same measure that Logan himself aspires to be a hero. And yet that’s what makes this final installment nail the antihero it’s been trying to show us this whole time.
The classic macho archetype takes on new meaning as Logan steps up to the role he was meant to have — not one of leadership or subservience, but of allyship: to defend, and to make space for the next generation… one that has already been hurt in many of the same ways he has, but that has the youthful energy to bring about change where Logan failed.
Through Jackman’s stellar performance, and the newly-discovered brilliance of Dafne Keen, the movie closes Wolverine’s story in a way that somehow manages to make us feel that the whole franchise has been worth it. Combined with excellent cinematography and a heartbreaking script, it’s a story about progress, about the sort of heroes the world needs, and about how older generations can protect and empower them.
And the end leaves open the possibility of a sequel about Laura’s journey… which, frankly, makes for a much more interesting tale.