The Fox era of X-Men movies has just come to a end with Dark Phoenix—the first film in the series which doesn't include Wolverine in some way—and I take the opportunity to finish my review of Hugh Jackman's epic portrayal of the fan favourite character which ended in Mangold's brilliant Logan.
In Logan's Run: Wolverine and The Future's Past I gave an overview of his entire trajectory until Days of Future Past and argued that the smaller scope of the second stand-alone Wolverine film, The Wolverine, allowed for intimate character development, portraying a subtle version of The Dark Phoenix (via Famke Janssen's reprisal of the role) by way of disturbing visions.
In Logan, Mangold follows up The Wolverine with a loosely based homage to the comic series, Old Man Logan and we get the best finale for Wolverine's cinematic run we could have hoped for. One which solidifies Fox's X-Men movie franchise as a great comic book adaptive series, and my personal favourite.
No other continuity put to film, including Nolan's The Dark Knight Trilogy or the MCU (which the X-Men seem to be headed for) could give us the tone, style and tension of Logan, and remain so limited in story scope which Mangold's Unforgiven-esque, Logan delivers.
The structure and evolutionary path of the X-Men franchise has allowed much more freedom for film-makers to concentrate on the film at hand, rather than overall continuity and canon. This is something which is actually a more realistic representation of the way comic book runs have been written over the years. With new creators putting a spin on characters that may not adhere to previous plot lines.
While not always panning out for the best, such as with the maligned, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, it allowed for the creators to course correct freely. Ironically, from the failure of the first Wolverine stand-alone film, both sequels got better and better and Fox also spun off Deadpool, which was able to acknowledge the mess they had made with the character candidly.
*** SPOILERS ***
Logan begins years after the saved future we saw Logan return to at the end of Days of Future Past. He, and presumable Professor Xavier along with Beast are the only two who realise what transpired regarding time travel, understanding his mission back in the 70s was a success.
A happy ending, which included the resurrection of Jean Grey. However, as with all previous examples in Logan's long life, happiness doesn't last. We find Logan, many year later working as a limousine driver and living in a hideaway warehouse where he can watch over the aging and ailing Professor Xavier.
In this future—unlike the science fiction dystopia of Days of Future Past—we see a world which has stalled of progress and we are told there have been no new mutants found in over twenty-five years. The dusty brown tones of the setting give us the feeling that by ridding the world of mutants, it's been rid of progress.
Logan is working toward getting enough money together to buy a boat so he can get away with Xavier and live out the remainder of Xavier's life far away, safe in case the professor has another episode. We don't get all the details, however it seems Xavier caused a massive incident which wiped out all mutants. It's not clear on how or why but Logan knows Xavier is dangerous and is doing all he can to suppress Xavier's powers in case he loses control again.
Patrick Stewart's acting is amazing, demonstrating the fragility of an aged Xavier battling what might constitute Alzheimer's disease in a mind as powerful as his.
This quiet life of sacrificial burden soon gets noisy for Logan however when Gabriela, an insistent carer comes looking for him. She demands that he help Laura, seemingly her daughter, cross the border into Canada. Gabriela offers a lot of money but Logan doesn't want to get involved. However, it turns out that Laura is a young mutant (known as X-23) and like Logan was experimented on as part of a new edition to the Weapon X program.
Gabriela asks Logan to take Laura to a set of co-ordinates which she believes they will find sanctuary; dubbed Eden. Logan of course doesn't want to get involved, believing he needs to lay low and keep Xavier under control. Soon however, he has no choice in the matter when a search party of cyborgs known as Reavers, led by Donald Pierce, come looking for Laura.
Thus, the trio of Logan, Laura and Xavier begin a road trip as they run; setting up a series of very suspenseful and violent, action set pieces.
One of the more interesting concepts explored in Logan is the inclusion of the Uncanny X-Men comic books, in-world, and they tie in directly with Eden. Logan discovers that the co-ordinates are actually printed in the pages of the comic and realises Gabriela has sold Laura the hope of finding sanctuary on stories which are, "all bullshit!"
Addressing the mythology of comic book characters head-on in this way allows the exploration of choice which underpins Logan's arc. Destined to become a killing machine, he is given the choice by Xavier's nurturing to become something else. Provided he can forgive himself for his violent past, and stop blaming himself for the fate that has bestowed those he has ever cared about.
While the comic may in fact be fiction, Laura, and the other children have clung to them for hope and decided to make them real. The inspiration leads to a self-fulfilled promise of Eden, which only strengthens the belief the X-Men were real and the stories did happen.
Interestingly, the portrayal of the X-Men and Professor Xavier's use of them to encourage the acceptance of mutants in Dark Phoenix actually fits into this narrative quite nicely.
The journey in Logan the film plays out as a micro-cosm of Logan's entire life. When they are invited to dinner by a caring family which Logan helps on the highway, he warns Professor Xavier that it isn't safe for them to stay. However Xavier insists that they have at least one normal moment as a family.
Of course, tragedy strikes when they are found by Pierce and company, who this time have a much greater weapon with them, X-24. X-24 is a clone of Logan, or at least, what Wolverine was meant to be; an unstoppable force of death. A soulless killing machine who kills Xavier in a tragic scene where Xavier sees the version of Logan he most feared; the one he couldn't save.
As Laura and Logan escape once more, she insists they continue toward Eden despite his claim that it isn't real. The weak and weary Logan— being poisoned by the adamantium in his body which his healing mutation now struggles to control, due to his age—can't put up much of an argument. This leaves Laura to drive most of the way when he passes out. To his surprise, there is an Eden, and there are other mutant children waiting for them to cross the border. Knowing they won't be safe long, Logan must make one last stand so that the children can cross safely into Canada. Here, we finally see Wolverine go full Berserker, and it's glorious, violent and tragic.
Logan's final sacrifice is emotional but also fitting. He overcomes the version of himself which is a perfect weapon and with it, the inner demons that kept him from peace. Despite all his flaws, he inspires hope in Laura and the other young mutants he saves from the reavers.
Logan is a fitting end to Wolverine's greater arc throughout the franchise, and in terms of timeline—with Dark Phoenix set in the 90s—it is a fitting end to Fox's X-Men franchise as a whole, handing over to a future generation of new mutants.