In its opening scene, Logan immediately distinguishes itself from all X-Men movies, and all superhero movies, that have come before it. I once heard it said that the first season of a TV show teaches its audience how to watch the show, and likewise, I believe the opener fulfills a similar role in the film. Logan opens with its titular character getting shot, whilst a group of men attempts to steal the tires off his car. In other words: this is no longer the Wolverine we once knew.
The attempted tire theft holds more narrative weight than is immediately apparent. The weight of the movie rests upon those wheels, as Logan essentially boils down to an extended car chase, and one with a sobering Western flavor rather than the high-octane action you might expect. Elsewhere, others have labeled Logan a road trip movie, but I don’t think that’s quite accurate. After all, it’s not where Logan is going that matters so much as what he’s running from.
For the uninitiated: Logan takes place in 2029, in a timeline where mutants are nearly extinct. Logan and Charles come across a young mutant named Laura (also known as X-23), who has powers that are remarkably similar to Logan’s. Together, the three of them travel across the US to deliver Laura to a safe haven for mutants known as Eden.
Logan is based off the graphic novel Old Man Logan, a grim revenge Western-esque tale that is similar to the film in tone but varies significantly in terms of plot. Rather than a direct adaptation, Old Man Logan seems to serve more of a loose inspiration for Logan, as the movie eschews the revenge plot in favor of a more sober tale centered on the difficulties of closeness and connection in a world as bleak as the one Logan presents.
In addition to setting the tone, the attempted tire theft in the opening also highlights a certain mundanity that lingers throughout the movie. Many of the conflicts that crop up throughout Logan are smaller and more personal in scale compared to the grandiose world-in-peril scenarios that fueled the previous X-Men movies. The villains are not the greatest threats that Charles and Logan face, but rather their age and their own failing health. Logan struggles under the weight of other people’s expectations, and consequently, their disappointment in him. He and Charles frequently butt heads over whether to lend a hand to strangers in need. This culminates in an extended sequence in which Logan assists a man with what amounts to a plumbing problem. It’s odd, unexpected, maybe even bewildering — and Logan is all the better for it.
If it isn’t clear enough already: the movie is, at times, consciously despairing. Logan is a shadow of his former glory, and for once, there are no attempts to hide Jackman’s true age. There are constant references to Logan’s physical deterioration and fatalism, all of which is represented through the movie’s villain. (I’ll refrain from spoiling the identity of the villain here, although I will say that it is one of the most brilliant uses I’ve seen for this type of villain, in film or otherwise). The action scenes are incredibly violent and earn the film’s R-rating through the sheer frequency of onscreen head stabbings alone. It’s a deliberate departure from the hopeful optimism that pervades most of the other X-Men films and most other Marvel films at large.
This rebellious streak extends to every aspect of the film. At each turn, Logan chooses to subvert expectations and distance itself from the rest of its genre. There are no big, eye-catching set pieces and no major chase sequences, despite a large portion of the movie taking place inside of a car. The cast is small, and the movie consistently bucks the temptation to dangle familiar, well-established characters before its audience. The X-Men comics make an appearance within the film, but Logan is quick to dismiss them as idealistic “bullshit.” No one looks or dresses like a superhero at any point. There is no post-credits sequence.
The decision to title the film Logan instead of Wolverine speaks to this conscious veering away from the superhero mythos. The movie focuses on Logan not as a hero or even as a member of the X-Men, but as a person. This approach directly contrasts that of the much maligned X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which superficially chronicled the earlier events of Logan’s life without delving into the psychology of his character. Logan delves, and it delves deep. During a pivotal scene, Logan says an easily-missed line: “It wasn’t me.” As insignificant as this seems on its own, it is incredibly revealing in context, not only in terms of this movie but for Logan’s characterization as a whole.
Logan is littered with moments like this. There are a wealth of smart ideas on display here and references that carry weight not only within the movie’s universe but also in relation to the real-life retirement of Jackman’s iteration of Wolverine. Aside from some parallels between Laura and modern day refugees, the blanket social metaphor of mutant discrimination and otherism largely takes a backseat in this film. The focus instead shifts to Logan as a character: where he’s been, where he is now, and what his legacy will be.
This last point is of particular importance. Though we see this story through Logan’s perspective, in many ways, Laura is the axis upon which the movie spins. She is the catalyst who sets the events of the movie into motion, she exhibits a greater sense of agency than Logan himself, and it isn’t much of a stretch to claim that she does the most saving of anyone in the movie. There is a strong possibility that Laura will appear in future films, and I for one would be interested in seeing a solo movie that rests upon her small, but capable shoulders.
When speaking to his retirement of the Wolverine role, Jackman said this film “is the perfect way to go out.” And I agree. Granted, Wolverine is too popular to put on the backburner for long. Marvel will inevitably reboot his character in some future movie, and it will likely happen sooner than anyone wants. But until the next trilogy comes knocking, this weary, wandering soul can finally enjoy his much-deserved rest.
Author: Helen from Overlooked
Editor: Han Angus