It is impossible to imagine now, but Marvel wasn’t always the well-oiled machine it is today. As hilarious as it seems to admit this today, my first time watching The Avengers was on my phone using a not-so-legal stream. I wasn’t excited about this movie at all but I was so pleasantly surprised by the end I decided to see it in theaters again that same weekend. The origins of this cinematic universe mirror what we were used to: cheesy one-liners, big explosions, and an unsurprising “hero saves the day” ending that wraps everything up neatly. With the novel idea of an inter-connected universe, came the need for connective tissue tying one move to both its predecessor and successor. The execution of a multi-movie cinematic universe is quite impressive but now it’s wearing thin. No movie is allowed to shake up visual style, structure, or tone because each movie must look and feel exactly like the one before it.
As the connected cinematic universe stretches out, each movie loses a piece of what it could be. There’s no purpose, we know the purpose–a big team-up movie. These movies have no soul.
If only there was a way to truly take an iconic character outside of a series and give him/her a solo movie. A movie that could bend genres and explore the depths of the character’s soul. That movie just might break the superhero movie formula.
Well, that movie already exists and it’s 2017’s Logan.
Logan is the product of frustration. X-Men: First Class and Days of Futures Past took steps to right the wrongs of X3 but Apocalypse was an undoing of both of these movies. The solo Wolverine movies were a bit of a mess as well. The Wolverine is a drastic improvement over X-Men Origins: Wolverine but the overall product was still derailed by studio involvement. So, if Hugh Jackman would return, it would be for one last time. He would have to do it his way. Having lived with this character for seventeen years, he was able to strip down the conventions of a superhero movie to make an emotional journey that makes this iconic fully dimensional. Logan is unique because it blends the genres of sci-fi and western in order to introduce themes that are unconventional to superhero movies. A lot of these themes are atypical in superhero movies because of the rise of connected universes. Logan doesn’t reinvent the wheel but rather it breaks the superhero movie formula, even if momentarily.
For any regular movie, the setup of Logan wouldn’t be unusual. First, you establish a truth about the world. In this case, it’s a future where all mutants besides Logan, Professor X and Caliban are dead. Charles Xavier’s great mind is now a weapon. He has killed all the mutants minus Logan and Caliban because they can both withstand his seizures. Now, they live in solitude while hiding Xavier. Then, you set up your reluctant antagonist by giving him a pessimistic view of this truth of the world: it’s the year 2029, all mutants are dead and this world is beyond saving. Finally, you drop this world right on the head of this reluctant protagonist and make him fight against this truth, no matter how futile it seems. This set up isn’t unusual for an action movie or a western but it goes against everything a superhero movie should be. Usually, when there’s danger, a hero feels it’s their duty to restore order. Logan wants nothing else from this world. If the hotel scene wasn’t direct enough, this movie is influenced heavily by Shane and other Westerns that followed it. A lone wolf cowboy with a scarred past rides into town and saves the day. He saves the town because he finds people he deems worth saving.
Logan isn’t interested in saving this world and it’s not certain if he’s ever been. Cyclops was technically the leader of the X-Men but Wolverine was always the most sought after mutant. Professor X not only needed him as an integral component of his team but he needed Logan so he could repair his soul. Professor X always saw the good in Logan. Logan didn’t see the good in very much in this world and rejected the familial feeling the X-Men presented in order to seek solitude. So if Logan would want to fight for something, in a world where all other mutants are dead, he would need something worth fighting for. What Logan would be fighting for is the future of mutants, specifically Laura (X-23).
Now that the setting is in place, Logan introduces a villain and raises conflict. Any superhero movie is only as good as its villain and Logan introduces a good one. Wolverine is known for his indestructible adamantium skeleton and his rage that enhances his endurance during fights. These two attributes of Logan are inverted to become his biggest weaknesses. That adamantium that once made him impossible to defeat is now deteriorating, which is causing his body to break down and poison his bloodstream. His claws can’t extract at will anymore and his tissue doesn’t regenerate as quickly, leaving nasty battle scars. Each fight leaves a lasting impact. The next wound might be the fatal one. And that rage–the same rage that fed his bloodlust, is manifested with the creation of X-24. Admittedly, I didn’t like Logan fighting a clone of himself after the first viewing but when I had a chance to reflect on it, it’s quite poetic. X-24 represents what Logan could have been if he wasn’t saved by Professor X. There’s nothing behind the eyes but rage. Only emotion, no soul. X-24 is the weapon that Logan was created to be. He represents all the sins of Logan’s past. So although he was created in a lab, when Logan is fighting him, his fighting every single version of himself that has ever existed.
One of the most gut-wrenching moments of this movie is X-24’s brutal slaying of Charles as he slept. Logan, who actually carries the name of the man who murdered his original family, found a mentor in Charles Xavier. More accurately, a father figure (despite being at least a century older than him). Although he never says it, he feels the obligation to protect Professor X after all he has done for him. He even keeps the truth of the mutant extinction away from him and takes the blame for it himself. So when the rage that used to consume Logan kills Professor X, he loses the only family he’s ever known.
“I always know who you are, even when I don’t recognize you.”
– Professor x
After Charles is buried, we begin to see the slow turn of Logan’s character. The death of the only father figure he’s ever truly known makes him emotionally vulnerable. He begins to open up to Laura because he knows Charles’ mission to get her to Eden is now his responsibility.
Logan’s initial truth about this world to begin the movie centered around all mutants being dead, which made the world not worth saving. A world that isn’t saving, isn’t worth living in. Upon arrival to Eden, Laura discovers Logan’s adamantium bullet. Although his suicide has been teased all movie, he knows he now has something to live for. Reluctantly, he accepts his fate as the guardians of this new class of mutants. He sees their bond and they remind him of the family he once had.
Laura and the mutants set out to cross the border and initially, Logan has no intentions of joining them. Once he discovers X-23 and other mercenaries are set out to stop them, he sets out to fulfill his destiny. Logan must face his past for one last time in order to restore the future of the world. Logan’s death is heartbreaking to endure but it’s also relieving. Logan has lived a long life that has spanned over decades. He has lost everyone he loved along the way. It’s an offer of reprieve to give his life for the lasting legacy of all mutantkind. When Logan says “This is what it feels like” with his last breath, he is first addressing death. Every scar he carries in this movie also has a scar of emotional pain, as well. He knows death is imminent, but it’s coming slow. “This is what it feels like” is also addressing the feeling of fatherhood and sacrifice. Logan was prepared to take his own life, he never expected to sacrifice it for the greater good. He never expected to have something/someone to die for.
Laura turning the cross on its side to form an ‘X’ is metaphorical. With the death of Wolverine, it’s the end of an era. He was the last remaining member of the X-Men. It’s also a symbolic passing of the torch. Logan gave his life so a new group of mutants could live on. Although he’s now dead, the X-Men will live on forever through his sacrifice. Laura will know what it’s like to have had a family and she will represent all that was good with Logan.
Now, I’m not naive. I know Logan won’t force a multi-billion dollar corporation to press the pause button to say “Wait! We need more standalone films!”. In fact, they don’t need to. The MCU “works” and I’m still invested. I just know what I’m getting whenever I go see one. However, with a movie like Logan, it’s easy to see what could be crafted if studios deviated from the superhero formula. This movie is still too new to know the lasting impact but for me, I’m glad it broke the superhero formula momentarily.