I’m a big fan of all most Wolverine focused X-Men movies. And yet, I’ve only just watched Hugh Jackman’s final take on my favourite fictional hero; 2017’s brutal swan song Logan.
What? Wolverine may be my favourite but I have a comfy couch and a Netflix subscription. Also, I’ve never successfully paused a movie in theatres so that I won’t miss anything while dealing with the repercussions of drinking too much over-priced sugar water.
Logan, despite being a fantastic film, left me unsatisfied with its ending. It delves into some big questions and because it uses its status as a sci-fi/superhero flick to explore humanity I’d argue that it’s the best superhero film out there. I’m not going to make that argument here because it’s just me and I know I’ll lose.
Can a man change? Must he always be a clawed killing machine or can he “break the mould”? That’s the question at the heart of the film. That old dog Logan is dying and two warring factions offer answers to that question. The baddies at Transigen offer medication to regain the strength of his youth and continue to be the rage-filled Wolverine he’s always been. Xavier offers a different solution by guiding his former pupil towards choosing to nurture the daughter Logan never had… or did have… sorta. It’s complicated.
The film answers the question early on by saying “no.” Neither Xavier nor Transigen offer a solution that ultimately breaks the mould. In fact, Logan’s solution is the most revolutionary but is framed as a selfish by-product of Logan’s exhaustion and cynicism. He wants to buy a boat and float beyond and influence and reach of law and society.
But wait, doesn’t Charles Xavier, the aged gardener of the film, want Logan to leave his bloody past behind and nurture his DNA daughter? Sure, but that doesn’t really break the mould. Xavier’s solution to dealing with the beast is to nurture and guide that beast toward the protection and defense of the weak (spoiler: she’s not that weak). Think of it this way, of all the mammals in the world, which ones look to some opiate to live out a catatonic life? Not a wolverine and not a lion, the beast Xavier strategically uses to explain Laura’s foot claws. Imagine the cogs turning in Wolvey’s mind.
“Wait? Lions use their claws to protect their young,” Logan ponders. “I have claws… maybe I could use them to keep Laura from harm.”
While Transigen’s argument is one of brute force to assert dominance over all, it’s ultimately the weaker influence on Wolverine, we see this after Logan brings Laura to Eden. After many scenes of bloody bullet point arguments from Transigen, our hero of sorts says he’s looking for the nearest bottle of booze. Despite Xavier’s best attempts and the events of the plot conspiring against him, he’s not yet abandoned the hunt for the perfect opiate.
Stuff happens and, in the end, the years of bearing witness to the benefits of Charles’ nurturing Logan and his students, our hero decides to use his beastly power to save Laura, dying in the process.
Okay, so the good guys win. What’s unsatisfying about that? I’ll admit it’s refreshing that this film inverts the pristine sheen of a superhero and shows the effects of years of violent behaviour and the emptiness it can bring. However, it doesn’t offer a strong redemptive arc for Logan. He still needs to use violence to solve his problems. This is why the film betrays its own presumed conclusion. Can a man change? The film wants us to think he can, so as long as love and hope persist. Logan’s care for younger mutants throughout his life on film and his respect for Xavier combine to soften his rage-filled heart and make Logan a different man, he’s overcome his obstacles, he’s no longer the Wolverine. He’s dead.
Real mould breaking could have seen a repentant Logan act sooner and open his heart to the needs of others, like Laura and head north before Transigen gets too close. A lot of violence would have been avoided. Logan and Laura would have reached Eden and left with the other mutants for the Great White North where he could’ve remained in his homeland enjoying the benefits of universal health care.
More than two hours of great cinematic storytelling was hampered by not acknowledging the complex reality that though people can change we are terrible at making that change happen. Sometimes we try to change for the worse, which is what Logan was trying to do from the outset. And even though we would want the healthy change that minimizes violence and death, we don’t often trust that it is possible or good.
I should give the filmmakers the benefit of the doubt and believe that this complex reality is what they were getting at but it would have been better communicated if Logan had to struggle with choosing his claws as a last resort. It’s not like this is impossible, the titular hero of Doctor Who has done this over and over again. Sure, have Logan accept the violent means but after attempting non-violent resolution with the aggressor. A non-violent superhero could make for compelling cinema. Well, it could also make for a horrible film because fight scenes without violence are not easy to write or choreograph. Regardless, a little more work could have made this great film spectacular.
Now to watch something from the DC Cinematic Universe. That won’t be disappointing, right? They didn’t screw up The Dark Knight Returns source material with Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice… Right?