by Michael B. Hock
The opening moments of the trailer for Logan is an odd one for a superhero movie. It’s a simple image of the protagonist’s hand and arm, bloodied and shaking while there’s a voiceover from Patrick Stewart as Professor X asking, “Logan, what have you done?” as the first notes of the Johnny Cash version of “Hurt” starts to play.
This is odd for several reasons. For one, Logan’s hand and arm are iconic to the character – for a superhero with metal bones and the ability to heal, he’s mostly identified by his claws. His powerful hands and arm are rendered weak in this image. Even early posters for the movie show off a small hand holding his, metal claws extended. These iconic claws won’t make an appearance until one minute and twenty four seconds into the trailer, right as Johnny Cash says the word “hurt”. Which, less face it, isn’t an accident, especially given the bleak nature of this superhero film.
The trailer, however, sets this film up to be one of the most important superhero films of all times. That’s a lot to put on a film that has, at this point, only released about a minute and a half of footage along with a few black and white stills.
Logan is the third standalone film for the character of Wolverine, played by Kate and Leopold star Hugh Jackman. Also, according to Jackman, it’s the last time he will be putting on the claws, facial hair, and berserker rages which allowed him hack and slash his way into our hearts.
What makes this movie so important is that it might actually be the last film for Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, rather than him saying that it is, and then him being enticed with money. This is a role that was played by Jackman in over nine films over the course of 17 years. That’s one-seven years. A child getting into college next year will never know a world in which Hugh Jackman wasn’t Wolverine. In the time that Hugh Jackman was Wolverine, we’ve had three Spider-Men, three Batmen, two Supermen, two versions of Fantastic Four… hell, there were two different versions of the X-Men in the time since Hugh Jackman took the part! They recast literally everyone with younger models except Jackman.
They even killed off Wolverine in the comics and replaced him with someone else – but Jackman still has the part.
I love comic books, and I have for most of my life. So, the glut of comic book movies is actually pretty exciting for me. (Which isn’t exactly a glut, what with Marvel and DC releasing a whopping 2 movies each every year, which adds up to less than 1% of the movies being released each year. That’s another essay.) But I have to agree with one thing that some people have said that weren’t me, and have said it smarter: one of the problem with comic books is that they never have a real ending. Superman and Batman are still fighting crime, pretty much unchanged since the 1930’s, give or take some underwear on the outside of their clothes. Every once in a while there’s a major shake-up, but in the comics no one stays dead, and the status quo is returned soon enough, either through a shocking development or a new writer just saying “screw it, let’s just bring back the original guy.”
This can rob these stories of their mythos. If Gotham is never really ever safe, what does that mean for Batman? He’s kind of locked in an eternal state of trying to make things better. What’s the end point? Is there one? Or will he spend forever battling the Penguin, eventually hoping he’ll run out of stupid umbrellas and reasons to commit-bird themed robberies?
And this is true for movies, too. Christopher Nolan tried to do it with the Dark Knight Trilogy, giving Batman a purpose beyond simple Penguin fighting, but it was marred by the fact that almost weeks after the last movie came out, we all found out that Reindeer Games star Ben Affleck was going to take on the cape and cowl and battle Superman. I don’t mean to pick on DC here. Spider-Man 3 was an interesting end-point, but it was quickly rebooted to The Amazing Spider-Man, and when those two movies weren’t profitable we suddenly have a brand NEW Spider-Man, this one more Avenger-y and clearly not CGI until the actor could film scenes exclusively with Robert Downy, Jr. (In Civil War, there was literally a battle behind them, but they took a minute to have a nice conversation, just the two of them.)
This lack of an ending hurts the mission of the superhero mythos. It locks them in this Sisyphusean experience that doesn’t allow closure. It speaks more to franchising: we won’t tell a complete story because here’s Captain America in Battle Armor, direct for your holiday purchasing, and watch for Captain America in Deluxe Battle Armor as he will appear in Captain America 4: Live Free or Captain America Harder.
Logan is going to be important because it focuses on the end. Not just a specific end story for Wolverine, but for this version of Wolverine, who has existed in some form since 2000. Who has lost a love, and gone to Japan to find himself. Who battled with the X-Men against Magneto and sparred with Cyclops. Who time traveled in order to save the future from giant mutant destroying robots. Who did… whatever the hell was X-Men: Origins: Wolverine. Ok, they weren’t all winners.
The story is supposed to take it’s cues from an old Wolverine story called “Old Man Logan.” It obviously will not follow that story exactly, as that one involved a lot of Hulk-incest and cannibalism, which may not be quite as filmable as they would hope. But even that story was “imaginary” (ok, they all are…but this is comic-book imaginary) until of course they wanted the older Wolverine to show up after the other Wolverine was killed. (see what I mean.)
This story, while taking those cues, is still telling the very specific story of the Hugh Jackman Wolverine. It’s telling us how this specific version of Wolverine is ending his days, and the trailer at least (the movie is going to take some more analysis) is ending it with more of a period and less of a question mark. The story is bleak, and it’s unlike anything that I’ve seen in a superhero trailer before. We’re not seeing a ton of images where Wolverine is breaking necks. Any one of those is juxtaposed with him as a broken man, barely able to put on a shirt.
Let me reiterate that image for you. The iconic self-healing berserker mutant that was once ripped in half can’t put on a shirt.
This trailer humanizes Wolverine, it casts him in the light of a man who has had his adventures, and may not have more in him. It’s going to be a very different type of movie. We’ve gotten dystopia, before (we’ve even gotten dystopia in the X-Men movies) but this is an odd one. It seems to be a movie about hope and survival. I
I’ve no doubt in my mind that one day, we’ll get a new non-Hugh Jackman Wolverine. I doubt this new person will stick around the 17 years and 9 movies that Hugh Jackman did. (That’s two more than Shatner could do as Captain Kirk, FYI, although in fairness, he wasn’t the lead of all of them.) but for now, watching the trailer to Logan, I have hope that it is going to honor the actor who took on this role as much as it does the character. I have a feeling that we are going to see a very different movie, and if it can be an ending to a superhero epic, it will be a very important one.