Warning: This article contains spoilers for Logan (2017). If you haven’t seen it yet, retreat back to your abandoned smelting plant and rest your adamantium-weary bones.
The seeds for Logan are planted in The Wolverine, James Mangold’s 2013 take on the eponymous mutant superhero portrayed by Hugh Jackman. An adaptation of the Silver Samurai storyline from a 1982 Wolverine limited series comic book, it sees the clawed Canadian travel to Japan to say goodbye to an old friend, only to become embroiled in a familial conflict over business interests. It is exaggerated in the manner of most comic-book movies – Wolverine fights a giant adamantium samurai after being captured by a horde of ninjas – but, unlike so many others in the genre, it is also grounded in reality. Logan (the character’s adopted “human” name) is haunted by the memories of Jean Grey, his true love, whom he had killed in a previous X-Men film, and massages his grief with booze and violence. Moreover, his regenerative abilities, the true source of his superpower, are temporarily inhibited, turning him into a mere mortal. He gets hurt. He bleeds. He is a Wolverine not seen on screen before – not a superhero or an anti-hero, just an ordinary guy (with metal claws) trying to do the right thing.
Well, if The Wolverine was a change of pace for the character, then Logan is a completely different beast. Loosely based on the 2008 graphic novel “Old Man Logan”, and directed once again by Mangold, the film is less a comic-book movie than a kind of neo-Western with superheroes. Set in a dystopian future in which mutantkind is all but extinct, it finds our eternal protagonist working as a limousine driver along the Texas-Mexican border, trafficking Ugly Americans celebrating bachelorette parties and prom nights back-and-forth, whilst also caring for a neurodegenerating Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart, as always) in a decrepit smelting plant. It’s a depressing existence, characterized by medication, alcohol, and nightmares, as Logan is haunted by the vicious acts he has committed over the course of 8 X-Men movies. He is in a constant state of emotional and physical pain – not exactly familiar territory for an ostensible comic-book movie, especially one featuring a rapidly healing, seemingly indestructible, borderline immortal mutant. But this Wolverine is nearly 200 years old now, and his powers are wearing off, whether due to adamantium poisoning, violent overuse, or simple old age. His life is undoubtedly drawing to a close.
Into this bleak world comes Laura (newcomer Dafne Keen), a mute Mexican mutant with powers and a temper to match Wolverine’s, only with two claws in each hand and one in each foot instead of his dorsal triumvirate. As is eventually revealed (via a rather conveniently edited piece of expository found footage), she is actually X-23, a laboratory experiment created from Wolverine’s blood (seen being collected in the post-credits stinger of X-Men: Apocalypse), making her the half-clone, half-daughter of the ageless superhero. Urged by the girl’s surrogate mother to take her to a mutant safe haven in Canada, Logan and Xavier set out on a cross-country road trip to the border crossing point in North Dakota, traversing the span of a country now openly hostile to their kind. It’s a clever extension of the immigration crisis currently facing America, with persecuted emigrants now fleeing from Mexico even further north; though the script was likely written before Trump’s first mention of a southern border wall, the parallels are inescapable. In a way, it even mirrors the current plight of Syrian refugees crossing illegally into Quebec and Manitoba. The X-Men franchise has always operated as social commentary, whether the subject of its scorn be racism, homophobia, or simple intolerance of someone unusual. Logan is no different.
Where the film distinguishes itself, then, is in its grim, brutal tone. As the first R-rated Wolverine movie (following in the surprise success of Deadpool last year), it’s expectedly violent, showcasing the full savagery of the mutant’s adamantium claws and berserker rage: heads and limbs are separated from bodies, blood and brains are sprayed on various surfaces, and many, many henchmen and thugs die in gruesome ways. But in addition to the bloodshed, there is a sense that this is the first Wolverine movie (and first comic-book adaptation in almost a decade) that actually matters – where actions have consequences and where characters are developed beyond two-dimensional figures. Logan’s murderous rampages, here and in films past, are no longer inconsequential action sequences designed to thrill and excite only, but ruthless acts that weigh heavily on the character throughout. Indeed, he is quite literally forced to reckon with the actions of his younger self. Though Mangold likely explicates on this theme a tad much, such is the nature of the superhero movie: profundity and subtlety never quite go hand-in-hand.
A dominant subplot in the film involves Laura’s love of X-Men comic books: a rare moment of self-awareness in the genre. As Logan notes, though, the comic books do not represent what has actually occurred, but rather a heightened, fantastical version of reality. One is perhaps reminded of the iconic line from John Ford’s great revisionist Western The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance: “when the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” Wolverine and the X-Men have become legends on the page, mythological comic-book gods almost, even though, as Logan himself says, “maybe half of it happened, and not like this.” It’s a meta-commentary on comic-book adaptations themselves, which frequently dilute some of the more exaggerated elements of their source material to appeal to a broader, more mainstream audience. Case in point: Wolverine himself, notable in the comics and cartoons for sporting a bright yellow and blue costume and sharp-eared mask that has not yet made the leap to live-action (for good reason), and likely never will. It certainly would be out of place in Logan: a harsh, grounded, psychologically complex superhero film that stands near the peak of the genre.
FAN/FIC Editor’s Rec: The Winter of Banked Fires by Yahtzee (Graphic Depictions of Violence, Multi, Cherik, Rogan, 67K words) Charles Xavier has returned from the dead — but is lost within his own mind. Rogue has cast aside her own power and doesn’t know where she fits in the world any longer. The production of synthetic Cure means mutantkind itself is newly at risk. And Magneto, turned human against his will, is in despair until the day he feels a familiar consciousness tugging at his own —