by Michael B. Hock
Superhero movies are interesting. While the current narrative is they are making up 90% of the movies coming out between now and September (with the other 10% being Oscar baited movies that critics will eat as soon as posting a negative think piece about them will generate website clicks) they actually make up a relatively small percentage of movies coming out in any given year. This year we’re getting almost 7 superhero movies including The Lego Batman Movie. Seven! That’s almost one a week for two months. Almost. And that just includes the ones based on actual comic books, and not ones where we just watch Jason Statham, Vin Diesel or Keanu Reeves mow down a large group of people with a single handgun while pretending they aren’t considered some kind of superheroes.
The one criticism I do agree with regarding the superhero genre is that it is difficult to end them. In the 17 years since Hugh Jackman first put on a pair of metal claws and started dicing people up in a family-friendly PG-13 appropriate way, we’ve had three different Spider-Men, Two Supermen, more Batmen than I care to think about, two Daredevils (one of whom when on to be a Batman)… in some cases with odd overlaps, including two Quicksilvers and two separate Flashes, because getting movie studios and TV shows to talk is hard. It seems like any time we get an ending to the superhero movie… and whatever you think of Dark Knight Rises, it was an ending… everyone is waiting in the wings to create a newer, different take on the character.
Which brings me to Logan, the end of the character of Wolverine as played by Hugh Jackman. This movie is a masterpiece not only because of the way it turns a violent comic book ending into a character driven story, but how it finally ends the myth of Wolverine.
Logan is set in 2029, where Logan has long since retired from Wolverine-ing, now content to spend long days drinking, driving a limo, occasionally dicing up car thieves, and taking care of a dying Professor Xavier in Mexico. He doesn’t spend a lot of time wondering why there haven’t been any mutants in decades, nor explaining what happened to the rest of the X-Men, nor why his healing factor isn’t working as well as it used to. After being approached by a couple of different people all looking for the Wolverine, he finds himself in the care of a young girl named Laura who has the same affinity for slicing people up with her metal claws as he does. Together the pair start a road trip to Canada in an effort to save mutant kind.
At this point, Hugh Jackman has played Wolverine 9 times, ten if you count his cameo as a Wolverine poster in Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl. Then back to nine if you want to forget X-Men: The Last Stand. But it’s safe to say that he loves the character, and knows enough about the character to play a range of different variations on him, in this case a broken man who isn’t sure of his future, and is even more dubious about his past. Here we get a real version of what years of superheroing have done to him: he’s helped thousands of people at the cost of any sense of a real life. There are constant references to him being “poisoned” which strongly hinted to be the adamantium in his bones finally overwhelming his healing factor (don’t bond your bones with metal, kids) but he is quick to point out that he has lost everyone that he loves.
This makes the Xavier/Logan bond that much stronger: Professor X, as dangerous and demented as he is, he’s the last person alive who cares about Logan in any way. More than a father figure, Xavier has survived this long, and has done so in a way to help Logan. Their interaction is almost heartbreaking at times, particularly the way Logan is so heartless to others, shirking the label of hero, but always willing to do what is necessary to keep Xavier safe, even at the detriment of those around him. This is basically a movie about the importance of family and connections with more decapitations.
The strength of the movie lies in the fact that it is focused so much on Logan the man, while mentions of Logan the myth are in the background. There’s a rich history of what happened, but there aren’t any flashbacks to what happened to the X-Men, there aren’t explicit mentions of why there are no more mutants, but all of these questions are answered when you pay attention. The story itself is very much focused on Logan, trying to live past his legacy, one that is also hinted, doesn’t exist. One of the more interesting decisions by the director and writers is to bring in comic books themselves, with Logan explaining that these things had real consequences, that people died, and they weren’t necessarily the brightly colored spandex wearing adventures that they seem to show. Logan is a movie that seeks to address these bigger questions about myths, superheroes, and consequences, but is content to keep everything int he background while we focus on the ending of this superhero.
Other superhero movies have attempted to tell an ending, only to have it negated in some way. I have no doubt that we will get another Wolverine at some point. I’m sure he will be compared to Hugh Jackman unfavorably at some point. But in terms of this Wolverine, this Logan… I can’t think of a better way to end than this. I can’t think of a better way to bid goodbye to this particular character. It’s a masterpiece of storytelling, it’s a masterpiece of myth-making.
Go see this movie, now.