Before I continue, I feel as though some basic housekeeping should be done:
- This is not an indictment of the genre, just an observation.
Alrighty. Let’s get started.
The story places an ageing Wolverine in a bleak, near distant future where mutants have apparently died out. All who are left from the days of yesterday past (see what I did there?) are Professor X and a tracker named Caliban. Caliban and Wolverine, who has since retired the title in favour of Logan privately and James Howlett publicly, spend their days caring for a sick Professor X. As the story progresses, it is revealed that Professor X is not the only one dying— so is Logan. The adamantium in his bones has gradually poisoned his body, leaving him with a diminished healing factor. He is no longer able to heal like he used to.
As the antagonist of the story presents itself, we learn that there is a company attempting to engineer weaponized mutants. From this very program we meet X-23, the genetic offspring of Logan and every bit the fighting mutant (if not more so). Anyone who has watched a movie ever would be anticipate that she would eventually carry on the mantle of the Wolverine Legacy (also side note, Wolverine: Legacy would be a kick-ass title to mirror the Origins instalment… just saying). The young X-23 seeks the help of Logan in order to find asylum in a supposed mutant safe haven while the company closes in on them. Worse still, an exact clone of Logan himself on their leash, capable of annihilating without conscience nor question.
There are several occasions in the film where the metaphor is most obvious. First and foremost is the issue of mortality. With the old guard of mutants evidently dying off with a last rattle (I avoided using the word ‘stand’ because, you know… we don’t like to talk about it), we are introduced to these young, new players of the X-Men game. While Logan’s battle-hardened career means he can definitely still hold his own, he struggles to keep up physically throughout the run of events, occasionally being saved by a secondary character. There are literally sequences where he is forced to face off with a CGI version of his younger self. I think that says it all.
What does this mean for us in the real world? Simple. The world is not what is used to be. Years ago, we would have been lucky to be given one superhero film every few years. Nowadays it seems like there isn't enough hours in the day to watch them all. We have reached a point of not only saturation, but a point where the scale and magnitude of the superheroes itself are so immense, we can no longer keep up. Expanding cinematic universes, rapidly improving special effects, dozens of spin-offs. We as an audience are a struggling Logan, barely able to keep up. As is the genre. With all this stimulus, we may be reaching a point where superhero films may not be able to recover from the overexposure. This can also be seen in the film by references of nostalgia, with the appearance of actual X-Men comics, followed by a disapproving grunt from Logan.
On the subject of genre, Logan as a film speaks volumes about the state of it. Three key messages can be taken. The first, is that superhero movies need to be more than spectacle, novelty, and fan service to survive. It needs to evolve beyond the bells and whistles. If you break down the structure and conventions of the film, Logan isn’t just a superhero movie. It’s a western. And a damn good one at that, which is no surprise given James Mangold’s track record. It has all the makings of a captivating tale about a lone gunslinger making his way through a dusty wasteland towards redemption, and coming to terms with the consequences of his life.
That being said, we come to the second message. Superhero movies need to stop taking themselves so seriously and being needlessly dark for the sake of being needlessly dark. While Logan boasted of a rightfully earned R-rating complete with bloody gore and violence, as well as quite mature thematic concerns, it did so within reason to highlight the time, setting, and circumstances, while also maintaining the heart of it all. This was the only way a man who had lived as Wolverine could end, in a Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid style blaze out. And it was all for the sake of his daughter. To ensure that some good would come from his tragic existence. That was essentially the heart of it all, counterbalancing the grim.
And finally, the key lesson I hope more people will learn is to know when to stop. After seventeen years in the franchise, this feels like a poetic exit for Hugh Jackman as Wolverine/Logan and Patrick Stewart as Professor X/Charles Xavier. The currency of meaning can only endure so much dilution, before the 20th iteration becomes completely meaningless (see: Transformers). Cash your chips in, and retire on that yacht. Life is only long enough to spend some much time on a certain amount of things. I've never been good at farewells, but even I know when it's time.