Hugh Jackman’s final outing as the Wolverine.
This emotional blitzkrieg, filled with haunting themes of violence, masculinity and fatherhood, and the failures of life, runs into the heart with Logan’s final roar into the silent forest.
Let’s find out why Logan is Jackman’s best film to date, why it defies the state of masculinity in the modern world, and reminds us of what America stands for.
The Man behind the Wolverine
What once made the Wolverine invulnerable is now killing him. The horrors of his memories torment him in his moments of peace. The story of James Howlett has never been one of peace, though he had come close before.
Logan is now an old man. He struggles to read without glasses. He fights sluggishly, without the vigour of the Wolverine of old. But he is a wiser man now. The overt brutality he once embodied has faded. He now fights from deep within, drawing from his stoicism and tenacity to fight for those he cares deepest about.
But Logan is also dying. Those who could have safely extracted the adamantium from his body are now long dead. He faces the bleak prospect of dying alone in slow agony; his healing factor persists but at a significantly reduced ability.
In his rundown room, the remnants of his past adventures hang on the wall, shaking under the force of the passing train. The film is full of these sombre recollections of his past, contrasting the myth of X-Men’s Wolverine with the stark reality of Old Man Logan. Early on, he struggles to loosen his half-retracted claw, a weapon he once had no difficulty unsheathing.
The Old Man Logan struggles at being the man and the hero the Wolverine once was. And he has come full circle to the pain of ostracization that James Howlett endured over a century before. His hand shakes as he drinks, staring at the token that has become synonymous with our journey with Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine – Logan’s dog tags.
They are now part of the history that Logan stares back on as his hands tremble with pain; the past that haunts him as he carries the last bullet that will provide him with a quick and merciful end.
He has given up on himself and on what he once fought for. Gone is the man who loved Jean Grey. Gone is the hero who defended Rogue and the other young mutants of Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. Gone are the mutants. Everything that made James Howlett into the Wolverine has all but disappeared. He is a drunk and limping shadow of himself; he is a shadow of the man he could have been. All that remains are memories on the wall and scars that refuse to heal.
It is no mistake that Logan first meets Laura at this most desperate moment. As we later find out, Laura is a girl on the run, chased by those who created her to be a weapon, those who had no intention for her to be a child. Her caregivers, the nurses of the institution keeping her and the other children, are the closest she has to parent-like figures. But unlike the others, she has a living and breathing person as her genetic basis.
The other mutants are now gone. A great tragedy has relegated the X-Men, those who stood for everything good and just, to the annals of history.
But Laura is lucky; James Howlett is not just a label on her case folder; he is alive. However, when Laura first meets Logan, she encounters a man far removed from the Wolverine of her comic books; that this haggard and pessimistic Logan is her father adds further insult to injury.
They confront each other with suspicious but curious stares, watching each other with the same intense and wary look.
And as the film continues, we see Logan’s reluctance in helping her. It is due to his commitment to ensuring the safety of Charles Xavier, who in the wrong hands may just become the weapon of mass destruction Logan fears he will become. But it is also because Logan is fucked up. He knows Laura is his daughter, not matter how twisted her conception may have been. He senses it almost immediately.
But his care and affection have only brought pain to those he has loved. And now with the adamantium within his body finally killing him as it had killed so many of his targets, he recognises that he could be the worst thing Laura could receive. He is not the man or the father she wants him to be or even the Wolverine in her comic books. It is significant that the comics depict Wolverine trying to save Rogue from some unknown fate; Rogue was also a young girl like Laura. But while Rogue was naive and dependent on Wolverine’s aid, Laura is far removed from being solely dependent on Logan’s claws.
Laura is no ordinary child. The film even exploits this misconception that we would have by layering Marco Beltrami’s seemingly slasher-horror music over the henchmen moving to capture Laura. But she calmly continues to eat her cereal, watching their approach on the surveillance monitor. This moment is reminiscent of the Matrix’s introduction to Trinity, where both her and Laura have similar preconceptions placed on what would be their perceived physical disadvantages in facing a group of armed men.
But both women have subtle cues that indicate that those preconceptions are about to be shattered, as they await their would-be captors with silent but deadly caution. They act not as desperate-to-be victims of an all-out assault, but as lionesses do when stalking through the high grass in the darkness, anticipating their prey.
But unlike Trinity, Laura is mercilessly brutal and methodical in her killing, which is still unseen until she walks out of the building, carrying the head of her assailant. She tosses it at the henchmen not as a warning, but as an indicator of the massacre to come.
But she alone can not take the full force of the attack. She is eventually defeated and pinned down, unable to defend herself. And it is in that moment of need that Logan unleashes his fury, reacting to the primal urge he has to protect those in need. We know this to be the case because Laura shares that exact instinct, as she shields Charles from the gunfire that chases after them.
Laura symbolically represents a chance at redemption for both Logan and Charles. Though Charles cares greatly for Logan’s well-being, he has an immediate fondness for Laura, not just because she is a young child, but because she is the first young mutant he has encountered in over a generation. Although the machinations behind the death of mutantkind are later revealed to be work of the ethereal corporation Transigen, in a film filled with symbolic references to corporatism of America and its split-personality treatment of immigrants, Laura rekindles the hope within Charles for his vision of mutantkind’s uneasy existence with humankind. Always the defender and never the aggressor, Charles recognises what Laura can be against the starkness of their fallen world.
But he also recognises what she is to Logan, even though Logan himself initially refuses to believe it. It is in Laura that there can be a future for the legacy of the X-Men, as the three of them are remnants of the impromptu family of mutants, now desperate to find refuge across the border.
There can be no denying that the Logan we once knew would have made for a capable Xavier to this new generation of mutants. That Wolverine had spent the better part of the 21st Century atoning for his past mistakes. The Days of Future Past Wolverine was wizened and thoughtful, and instinctively cared for those in need, which would have especially included Laura. This Logan may still be that same man, but at the start of the film, that hopeful man is buried below intense bitterness and hard sorrow.
But while the resolution for this only comes at the end of the story, this Logan still looks out for her in his own gruff and beat-up way. He could have been dismissive of her given the results of his past actions, but deep within, he is still the hero we all need.
He scolds her and tries to educate her, but does so as a helplessly lost father, now dealing with the responsibilities of having a daughter thrust upon him. Yet, he does so with a certain grace, perhaps even further infused with Jackman’s natural charm and presence. He gives her the hard lessons of what it means to be a Wolverine outside of being a Weapon X, lessons that he had spent many years figuring out. From Logan, there is a real sense of hope that Laura will have the mentor needed to deal with her hyper-violent abilities and temperament.
But all Laura wants is to have her father. Logan understands this, and he hesitates to embrace the responsibility of being her father, based on how much havoc and terror has been inflicted on those he loved. But he eventually does embrace it at the film’s conclusion, finding the joy of being a father for that all-too-brief moment. But Logan is not the only caregiver that Laura stands to benefit from; in Charles, Laura can find a grandfather willing to guide her further, perhaps even further than he could for Logan himself.
And for a while, it seems that everything will work out in the end. Between Logan and Charles, Laura has the chance of having a normal family; one she can break bread with as she and her friends find their path forward. Charles recognises this; he implores Logan to see this, even when Logan tells him that Eden may not be real. He accepts this, but he tells Logan what matters – that Eden may not exist does not matter; for Laura, it is real. Charles reminds him that it does not matter what happens to them as the last of the X-Men; all that matters is that Laura finds safety, far beyond the failures of the X-Men.
Professor X and his terrible failure
“What a disappointment you are.”
Throughout the X-Men film series, the stories have alluded that Charles Xavier (Professor X) is somewhat a father to Logan. Even though Logan is far older than Charles, his healing factor and repeated memory loss caused by others resulted in a relatively young man meeting Charles for the first time. And as the films progressed, their relationship, at first based off a mutual respect, developed into a closer father-son relationship, with Professor X guiding and mentoring Wolverine through the chaos of his memories and emotions.
This film explicitly shows that this relationship has reached its logical conclusion. Charles is Logan’s ailing father, and he’s at a stage where his mental illness has rendered him sometimes senile and prone to violent seizures. Anyone who has had a loved one with mental illness will recognise the pain and despondency in Logan’s eyes at seeing a man he loved and respected attack him with sharp ramblings.
And Charles does not stop at attacking the character of the man; he questions Logan over his captivity, having forgotten the Westchester incident, the event that forces them to exist like this; running and surviving day-by-day, holding onto the sole hope of escaping the horrors of their world by way of the Sunseeker. Logan takes the brunt of the silence needed to spare Charles the horrific truth of his actions. Both men loved the school and its students, and in many ways, Charles had been the catalyst for Logan to rediscovering his heroic human nature, cultivating in him the possibility of becoming his successor.
That is why Charles’s words cut the deepest for Logan; he gave up everything to look after Charles after the Westchester tragedy, and though the severity of the incident is never fully revealed, it is clear that the damage was enough to end the hope of family and peace within Logan once and for all.
That Logan is a disappointment to Charles barely scratches the surface of the bitterness within Logan towards everything that has failed around him. But still, he values and loves Charles, caring for him in his old age, as a son burdened with the care of a fading parent.
Logan is the last of Professor X’s X-Men, but it is not a proud statement for him. He carries this unfortunate fact and his deep pessimism with equal weight to the poisonous adamantium. He is now a former idealist who has lived through the literal and figurative decay of Professor Charles Xavier’s legacy and vision for the world.
“You’re waiting for me to die.”
In Charles saying this, we do not just experience the savage bite of a senile old man deploring his despondent yet loyal son; we experience the failure of the X-Men’s legacy, with its last two heroes now wasting away in the dark.
But Charles does love Logan as a son. The father-son narrative held between them manifests in many small ways that are both sentimental and sombre. Logan helps Charles to go to the bathroom in a moment of vulnerability for the nonagenarian patriarch. The irritated banter exchanged between them is reminiscent of the many similar and real exchanges shared by adult sons and their ailing fathers. And Charles’s ailment and old age are expertly portrayed by Stewart, who in every scene and sentimental action represents the decaying age of Charles Xavier to full effect.
But it is Charles’s failure that haunts and frames most of the film’s story. Logan actively hides the truth of Charles’s past horrors from him, knowing full well that the truth of what happened would finish off Charles’s mind and soul. And we are given glimmers of the real horror Charles accidentally inflicted in the Westchester incident. The initial telepathic seizure he has brings awareness to how potent the disaster could be without him taking his medication.
But it is the second attack that reveals the real devastation possible when the world’s most powerful mind suffers from mental degradation. This horrific seizure is a clear indication of why Professor X could be not allowed to be off his medication.
It is that Logan has to keep Charles medicated for his good is symbolic of the modern-day treatment of elderly parents by their children. And Logan does so with a profound exhaustion; he is waiting for his own death. It is out of love for Charles that he postpones it.
But eventually, at the end of things for Charles, he finally understands that it was he who was responsible for something terrible happening. He looks out on the cornfield of the family with a trepidation, telling who he thinks is Logan that they had spent ‘the most perfect night in a long time’.
He says so with the pain of responsibility, having realised that their current predicament was because of him. Charles is unable to run away with having caused harm and death to his own students and friends, those whom he had held close as his own surrogate family. It is tragic that these bitter memories and regrets are the last we know of Charles Xavier, the kind and elderly man we have known for over seventeen years in the film series as Professor X.
These are the last moments of the original X-Men that lends sorrow to when we hear Charles say Sunseeker for the last time. His hope of continuing his mission is now gone, and all that is left of who he was is in Logan and Laura, the latter of whom will only have the pain of his brutal loss as her key memory.
And it is bitter to know that it is Logan who unknowingly causes Charles’s death. It came from a monster recreated from the worst parts of the weapon he was once turned into. And though Logan pleads with Charles to understand that it was not him, it was his signature weapon that ends Professor X, like it once had for the love of his life, Jean Grey.
A new monster wields Logan’s claws but without his experience and humanity, though it has his terrible rage; claws wielded by X-24.
“A man has to be what he is. You can’t break the mould. I tried it, and it didn’t work for me.”
X-24 is symbolic of the unresolved and bloody-thirsty rage that never left Logan’s psyche, one cultivated and conditioned by the brutality of conflict and death in James Howlett’s life. He is the Wolverine in his killing prime, a war machine sent into battle to massacre the enemy. No one but his master can control X-24, much like with Weapon X and William Stryker. But unlike Logan, there is no trace of humanity in this monster. X-24 is not much different from a killing robot, possessing all the technical superiorities of Wolverine but none of his soul.
By himself, the old man that is Logan cannot physically match his hyper-violent self. Perhaps this can be extended further in that only the monster within the Wolverine can defeat the man within Logan. And in the battles between the two, Logan is severely beaten by X-24, saved in both cases by outside intervention. It takes the desperate intervention of his daughter to end the monster and save the man.
Their battle is a representation of masculinity fighting against its worst enemy – itself. And all the rage and violence of the pseudo-masculinity can only be defeated by the best of real masculinity – to care for and defend what is loved, and to do what is needed to stand true by what is right and just.
But Logan pays the ultimate price in protecting his daughter from the monster he is ultimately responsible for. And though he has finally defeated his literal demon, he will not be there to see his daughter go on. And he recognises that this may be for the best.
He comes from a time of violent problems and violent solutions. He cannot follow his daughter into Eden because while he was the sentinel needed for Laura and her friends to cross the broken land where their race is hated and vilified, he will not be what is needed for her to thrive in Eden.
For Logan, violence has always been the beginning and the end of the cycle that was his life. He can only break the cycle with his death, and he does so while giving Laura the sole task that only he as the Wolverine could have asked of her, having been the victim of the cruellest manipulation and deceit.
In the end, Logan finally embraces what it is to be one of the X-Men, to be one with Professor X’s hopeful but ultimately flawed vision of peace. But even in death, Logan is victorious; he takes the pessimistic truth of the X-Men’s failure to the grave with him, leaving Laura and her friends with the legend of the ideal X-Men from their comic books; a legend that they witnessed in the heroic sacrifice of the last X-Man.
The Last X-Man
“There’s no living with, with a killing. There’s no going back from it. Right or wrong, it’s a brand, a brand that sticks. There’s no going back. Now you run on home to your mother and tell her, tell her everything’s alright, and there aren’t any more guns in the valley.”
Throughout the film, Logan attempts to shirk his responsibility of being an X-Man. He ridicules how he and the others have been represented in the comics, how the comics have made them into an idealised legend. The perception and the reality of the X-Men often stand in contrast in Logan’s world, with their failures defining Logan’s pessimism with Xavier’s fading vision for mutantkind. Logan is their remnant, and the memories of his old friends are bitter and nightmarish, haunting Logan without end.
But he is still capable of being heroic, and Charles continuously reminds him of this responsibility. He asks Logan to find meaning and purpose in saving the lives of Laura and her friends. Even in the smallest of their interactions with ordinary people, Charles reminds Logan that ‘someone has come along’. But it is in being a hero that Logan has experienced his heaviest losses. He has suffered much in doing ‘the right thing’.
However, even though we find Logan in this story at the end of the tether of heroism he allowed for himself from the first X-Men film, being a hero is deep in his bones, even if they are now fused with the poisonous adamantium. Though he was once a brutal killer and a honed weapon, it is far more important that he is still a man of heroic proportion. And it is the children who help the revive the hero in him once more. They look to him as their protector, and they even give him a shave reminiscent of the first time we met Logan when he aided a young Rogue.
And that is why he gives it all to save the children from the monster he unknowingly created. He sacrifices himself, as he always has done, to protect those in need of a sentinel like him. And he does so because he has finally accepted his responsibilities of not just being the last X-Man, but as a father to his daughter.
A story of Violence and Family, and the great American Dream
In the end, Logan is a film about family and the effects that violence has on not just a person, but a family as a whole. The closest Logan has to a family moment is immediately shattered by the result of the violence he has afflicted over the years. The precious time that he, Laura and Charles have as the Howletts could never last because of the unstoppable force that stalks them, one determined to rip apart these refugees and use them for their material worth.
But this is why Logan is not just a film adapting the best of comic book stories. It also does not obey the rules defined by the X-Men Cinematic Universe, as the very essence of what made that universe heroic has now passed on.
What we now have is a drama based on the realities of consequences. These are consequences of all the violence that Wolverine has inflicted, stemming from the first days he had spent as James Howlett to these, his last days as Old Man Logan. He has come to terms with understanding his full identity and has even resumed using his birth name, a sign that he has accepted the man he once was and has found a way to harness the weapon he was once turned into.
The Logan we see in this film is unlike any iteration we have previously seen; this is a man whose age has finally caught up with him. And in the end, his very literal inner demon comes out to fight him one last time to the death.
It is fitting that it be Laura that kills X-24 with Logan’s last adamantium bullet. In doing so, she frees her father of the Wolverine and grants him the ultimate meaning of his sacrifice for her and the other children.
So it is when Logan breathes out his last breath, saying to his daughter, “So, this is what it feels like,” that we know that the story of James Howlett has finally come to its conclusion. It is not just as a remark at him finally experiencing his death, after spending a lifetime as both its dealer and its ultimate escape artist. He says it as he comes to terms that Laura is his daughter.
He says it is a father finally embracing his child.
But for Laura and us, this moment of love is ultimately cut short by the reality of Logan’s passing.
I think what hit me the hardest about Logan is that, like Moonlight, it is a story of a broken man just trying to do right by the ones he loves. The main character is a broken man trying to make amends with his family in the twilight of his life. He is a broken man looking for redemption against the horrific failures of his life, just trying to pass on the only thing he can give to his daughter – a message of comfort and hope against a stark and brutal yet often beautiful world.
I am glad that this is the last one that Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart chose to do. The X-Men film series has always been about the responsibilities of heroism in the face of terror and conflict.
Both Logan and Charles are the guardians of the X-Men through their many phases in the films. The first film began with Logan coming across a lost and confused girl living in mortal fear of powers, a girl who could be turned into a weapon. He became Rogue’s guardian, with all the necessary growing pains attached to that role.
And it is fitting that Jackman’s final outing as the Wolverine is that of his character once again saving the life of a new lost and confused girl, but this time his own daughter. He does so not just for his family, but for a generation of children fleeing the tyranny of racism and corporatism; a group of innocent migrant children trying to find asylum in a country that will welcome.
And this is the X-Men at their best. In their most powerful moments, they have represented the best of what America could be in the worst times of its own moral and ethical crises, those both self-inflicted and borne of international manipulation. The parallels between Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr, and Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, have been just a part of the American ethos of tolerance and liberty.
The mutants have always been symbolic of those groups of people that have victimised and brutalised by supremacist groups. These stories have stood tall to the task of telling and retelling USA’s history of dealing with prejudice, and its global lead in defining democracy and freedom for all in opening its arms to the world’s migrants. Its constitution and liberties, in particular, are based on the principle that America will open her arms to the unwanted and most disparate of the world’s people, allowing them to be great in being one with its people.
The Statue of Liberty, a strong focal point for the X-Men films, is symbolic of this.
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbour that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
– The New Colossus
And once more, the X-Men save the day with the extraordinary effort by Logan, who in time, has proved himself to be the best of them. And he is briefly the guardian of the new mutant children, fulfilling the role that Charles envisioned for him when they had first encountered each other. And so Logan’s story ends with how first X-Men story began; a group of young friends holding onto each other as they go on to survive an unknown world.
But this time, it will be without the soft-hearted sentinel; a man whose life had been torn apart and put back together so many times before.
This time, it is with the children leaving the last X-Man in his final resting place, with his daughter having set his grave marker into an X.
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