Written By: François-Noël Vannasse
I have always had an affinity for Wolverine.
As a Canadian growing up in The States I felt a connection to the fictional expat. The X-Men cartoon filled my Saturday mornings, and paperbacks of Origins and Old Man Logan decorated my shelf long before the films they inspired. Over the years my interest in the character has waned, however. Perhaps this is a consequence of maturing, or maybe it’s a reaction to his mainstream popularity which always forces a re-evaluation. In the 1990s the chain-smoking, hard-drinking, anti-hero who was prone to violence reached absurd levels of saturation, appearing everywhere on comic book shelves, even the covers of issues he wasn’t in. He is, in many ways, the main character of every X-Men animated series and this tradition continued in the live-action films which kicked off our modern comic-book movie craze.
Although die-hards complained he was too tall, Hugh Jackman stole the show as damaged loner “Logan” in 2000’s X-Men. The character served as the audience’s introduction to the X-Men, a role that he stole from teen runaway, Rogue. Wolverine brought action and comedy to the burgeoning film franchise and the Australian triple-threat playing him deftly captured the melancholy and tragedy of the role. It was enough to earn him nearly universal praise, international stardom, and an appearance in every single X-Men branded movie on top of his two solo ventures.
Logan marks the third such outing with the others being 2009’s X-Men Origins and 2013’s The Wolverine. With James Mangold behind the chair and in the writer’s room alongside Scott Frank and Michael Green, we’ll see how it goes.
* SPOILERS BELOW *
The time-line is unclear once again in this latest addition to the X-Men franchise. Based on some of the dialogue, Logan apparently takes place 23 years after the events of The Last Stand. Mutant genes have been successfully phased out of the general population thanks to GMO corn, and most of the X-Men were killed in a catastrophic accident years ago. Logan (Hugh Jackman) is once again a regretful man making questionable decisions and doing little better than brutally surviving. This film also gifts him with a death-wish but it’s not baked in, just something the characters talk about while brandishing his adamantium bullet keepsake. He works as a limo driver in Texas while living in rusted ruins south of the border along with senile, fugitive Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) who now suffers from catastrophic seizures, and reformed mutant-hunter Caliban (Stephen Merchant). When Logan is recognized as the hero of comic legend, a woman beseeches him to take her and her daughter, Laura (Dafne Keen) to a safe-house in North Dakota for $50,000 so they can escape to Canada. Soon after, the woman is killed, Caliban is kidnapped, and Logan ends up on the run with Xavier and Laura where he learns she is X-23, a mutant genetically engineered from his DNA, the last in a line of experiments to create mutant killing machines.
The film itself is quiet but punctuated by violence. It wants to be a tragic Western based on its repeated quotation of the 1953 film Shane in which the titular gunfighter explains “There’s no living with… with a killing. There’s no going back from one. Right or wrong, it’s a brand. A brand sticks. There’s no going back.” This is apparently the source of Logan’s regret. It doesn’t matter that he has only killed in self-defence. Several lifetimes worth of murder has made him an outcast. His only remaining goal is to raise enough money to purchase a boat to distance himself along with Xavier, in order to stay safe. Xavier, who has orchestrated and manipulated Logan’s encounter with Laura, seemingly hopes she will be a chance for Logan to begin anew. After all, this is a chance for him to literally raise himself. He has a lifetime of bad decisions he can make up for by guiding his child.
The film’s rhythm changes with the arrival of X-24, a young mindless clone of Wolverine. Clone Logan murders a lucid, apologetic Xavier, and nearly destroys the real Logan who, after burying Charles, descends into a series of fainting spells until the duo arrives at the safe-house. After recuperating there for a few days Logan sacrifices his life in order to secure the safe passage of a gaggle of genetically engineered mutant children to their political asylum in Canada.
The movie is beautifully put together and lush with shots and angles atypical of blockbuster superhero fare, and most viewers will find it refreshingly different even if the actors mumble their lines at times. It’s a good film, one that barely needs to be a comic book movie. The action is superb and usually clear. Motivations are equally obvious. The cracks begin to show when the film tries to break the mold of superhero films. Wolverine has grown old and weak because he’s being poisoned by his adamantium skeleton after a mere 48 years; Xavier is responsible for killing the X-Men and possibly hundreds of others due to his psychic seizures, yet remembers nothing while Wolverine is the one filled with regret. Wolverine’s sacrifice is moving enough but the death of a superhero has too many possible solutions for the weight of it to hold. It can only feel like a deliberate choice instead of the rightful outcome of events. His sacrifice is also meant to be his moment of redemption but he’s guilty of little more than bruising a strange little girl’s feelings, hardly the price of a life.
It’s only because it’s such a solid film that it’s worth talking about its cracks and rough spots. Logan wants to be the gritty comic book movie that sheds all the pomp and circumstance to show what life really has in store for these so-called superheroes. It might be the first film that actually succeeds. In the end, the future is bleak, hope is for children, and old dogs can’t learn new tricks, but they can go down fighting.