In 2008, Mark Millar and Steve McNiven did an eight-issue storyline in Wolverine’s solo book entitled “Old Man Logan,” riffing on an appearance by a future version of Logan that same year in Fantastic Four (also written by Millar). Postulating an alternate future where super-villains won and killed most heroes, the older Logan in a dystopia proved hugely popular, and he got his own title, and was brought into the present of the Marvel Universe after the present-day Logan was killed.
When Hugh Jackman and James Mangold sat down to figure out the third and final film in the Wolverine trilogy, Old Man Logan was a natural starting point.
Given the dystopian future for mutants postulated by X-Men: Days of Future Past (which we’ll get to later this year in this rewatch), portraying a future in which things had gone badly for mutants worked quite well in the movie X-continuity, just as it had in the comics. (In fact, the comics version of Old Man Logan followed a similar character arc to that of Rachel Summers, a.k.a. the second Phoenix, trying to stop an awful future from happening.)
Seventeen years after debuting in the role, it makes sense that Jackman would finally grow weary of Wolverine—and, more to the point, start aging out of it. It’s a very physical role, so it makes sense to lean into that aging process, especially when the comics provided a ready-made solution in the Old Man Logan storyline.
Mangold and his cowriters also worked several other comics characters into Logan’s dystopia: Laura, a.k.a. X-23 (played by Dafne Keen), Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) and the Reavers, Caliban (Stephen Merchant), Dr. Zander Rice (Richard E. Grant), and, of course, Professor Charles Xavier (Sir Patrick Stewart, the only person besides Jackman to appear in all three Wolverine solo films). X-23 was originally created as a younger, more fun version of Wolverine for the X-Men Evolution animated series, later incorporated into the comics, and taking on the mantle of Wolverine after Logan died. Pierce was a member of the Hellfire Club, a longtime foe of the X-Men, and the only founding member of the Club’s Inner Circle who wasn’t a mutant, but rather a cyborg—his distaste for mutants led to a break from the Club and he formed the Reavers to hunt mutants. Caliban, Rice, and Xavier are all more or less as they were in the comics, respectively, a mutant who can detect other mutants (though the movie’s Caliban is more eloquent than the third-person-speaking comics character), the son of someone Wolverine killed when he went crazy after having adamantium inserted into his body, and the founder of the X-Men. Early drafts of the script had Victor Creed as well, and Liev Schreiber had expressed an interest in reprising the role, but the part wound up cut from the screenplay.
Both Jackman and Stewart have stated that Logan was the swan song for them as Wolverine and Xavier, respectively, but both also left open the possibility of coming back under the right circumstances.
“Bad shit happens to people I care about”
Written by James Mangold & Scott Frank and Michael Green
Directed by James Mangold
Produced by Lauren Shuler Donner and Hutch Parker and Simon Kinberg
Original release date: March 3, 2017
In 2029, Logan is working in El Paso as a limo-driver-for-hire. Some Mexican gang bangers try to boost his car while he’s taking a nap in it, a decision they don’t live to regret.
Logan still heals from his wounds at the hands of the would-be thieves, but it’s much slower than it used to be. He crosses the border into Mexico, where he’s caring for the 90-year-old Charles Xavier, giving him meds to suppress his telepathy and control his seizures. When he does have a seizure, it’s felt by everyone in the immediate vicinity. To that end, Logan—with the help of a mutant named Caliban, who can detect other mutants—has Xavier holed up in an abandoned smelting factory. Xavier is not dealing well with his weakened state, as the meds Logan has him on also make him loopy. We learn from a radio report later on that many of the X-Men were killed by a telepathic attack by Xavier during one of his seizures; Xavier himself doesn’t remember this, though he does recall that he did something horrible.
During a funeral that he’s driving some of the mourners to, Logan is confronted by a woman named Gabriela Lopez, who tries to appeal to “the Wolverine,” but Logan wants nothing to do with her. Logan also has come to the attention of Donald Pierce, who works for Alkali-Transigen, an offshoot of William Stryker’s concern that put the adamantium in Wolverine way back when. Pierce is a cyborg, and he’s after Lopez, urging Logan to contact him if Lopez should get in touch with him again.
Lopez actually hires Logan formally, though Logan doesn’t realize it’s her at first. Before he leaves, Xavier makes noises about there being a new mutant nearby and that they’ll meet at the Statue of Liberty, but Logan reminds him that there’ve been no new mutants born in twenty-five years and the incident at the Statue of Liberty was a long time ago.
As it happens, Lopez is staying at the Liberty Hotel (ahem), and when Logan arrives, he’s pissed at being tricked. But Lopez is offering thousands of dollars—enough for Logan to buy the boat he’s got his eye on. Xavier will be safer out on the ocean. (For his part, Caliban—who can’t abide the sun at all—isn’t particularly sanguine about the boat plan, but Logan doesn’t seem to give much of a shit about that.) Lopez wants him to take her and her daughter, an eleven-year-old girl named Laura, to North Dakota.
However, when he decides to take the job, he arrives at the Liberty Hotel to find Lopez dead and Laura missing. He returns to Mexico only to find that Laura stowed away in his car—and Pierce and his gang of Reavers has found him. Xavier is thrilled at the arrival of Laura—she’s the new mutant he told Logan about—Logan is more concerned with the fact that their hideout is blown.
To Logan’s abject shock, when he takes on the Reavers, he gets help from no less a source than Laura herself. She’s an even fiercer fighter than he is (especially in his weakened state), with two adamantium claws per hand instead of three, and also single claws in her feet.
They manage to escape, leaving a lot of dead Reavers behind, but Pierce captures Caliban. They head north, and watch the video on Lopez’s phone. Laura isn’t actually Lopez’s daughter, but she is part of an experiment being conducted in Mexico by Transigen to create mutant children, using genetic material from other mutants—Laura was created using Logan’s DNA. Lopez was a nurse at the facility, and she worked to get the kids out of there once it was clear (a) that they were created to be soldiers and (b) that that aspect of the program wasn’t working and Transigen was going to kill them all.
Lopez had no idea if any of the other kids got out. There are coordinates in North Dakota that they got out of an X-Men comic book (which Logan reads at one point and finds contemptible). Allegedly from there you can get to a haven for mutants in Canada called Eden.
Logan thinks the whole thing is nonsense, but Xavier encourages him to go anyhow, especially since the smelting plant is burned, so they drive north.
They stay in a hotel/casino, but Pierce tracks them with help from Caliban. Logan returns from trading in the limo for a pickup truck only to be hit by one of Xavier’s seizures—which is the only thing keeping Xavier alive, as Pierce’s goons are trying to kill him, but the telepathic attack is freezing them. Between them, Logan and Laura, thanks to their healing ability, are able to resist Xavier enough to kill the Reavers before injecting him with his meds.
The trio get into the truck and continue to drive north. At one point, they’re nearly run over by some automatically driven trucks, which also run a family transporting some horses off the road. Xavier telepathically calms the horses enough to make it easier to corral them, and Logan helps with the corralling, and also aids them in getting their car out of a ditch. In gratitude, the Munsons offer them a meal and a place to stay the night. Logan wants to keep moving, but Xavier accepts on behalf of his “son” and “grand-daughter.”
They enjoy a meal with the Munsons; Logan even smiles once. But as Xavier is preparing for bed, the water conks out. Turns out the Munsons are in a constant fight with a corporate farm (it was their trucks that ran them off the road) that bought up all the land around them. They constantly mess with their plumbing and other things. Eric Munson goes to the corporate farm to restore the water, and Logan goes with after putting Xavier to bed. The farm owners threaten Munson with a shotgun, which Logan breaks over his knee, convincing them to go away and impressing the heck out of Munson.
While they’re gone, Dr. Zander Rice, Pierce’s boss, steps in, giving the Reavers another soldier: a more direct clone of Logan. Its growth was accelerated, and he’s a pure rage monster with Wolverine’s powers. He kills Xavier and the entire Munson family, and he comes close to killing Logan and Laura, but they’re saved by Munson’s dying act, which is to drive a truck into the clone—dubbed X-24 by Rice; Laura is X-23—and shoot him in the head. While X-24 can heal from that, it’ll take a while, and Logan and Laura get away with Xavier’s body. Caliban meanwhile kills himself with a couple of grenades rather than continue to betray his friends.
The truck breaks down after they bury Xavier, and Logan collapses from his injuries and exhaustion. Laura steals a car, gets Logan into it, er, somehow, and drives to an urgent care facility (with the help of some boxes serving as a booster seat so she can see out the windshield). The doctor urges Logan to check himself into a hospital, advice he naturally doesn’t take.
For the first time, Laura speaks, albeit in rapid-fire Spanish. She all but bullies Logan into continuing the journey to North Dakota even though Logan is convinced that Eden is not real. En route, Logan falls asleep at the wheel, exhausted. Laura helps him pull over, and then he takes a nap, but once he’s asleep, Laura gets behind the wheel and drives the rest of the way to the coordinates from the comic book.
Logan keeps an adamantium bullet around. Xavier warned Laura that Logan might try to kill himself, and he asked her to make sure he didn’t. Laura winds up putting the bullet in her pocket.
The other kids are waiting for Laura there. Logan is shocked to see that they’re all okay. The leader of the kids—Rictor—gives him the envelope of money Lopez had originally offered Logan, but he says the kids need it more than he does. (The kids also trim his beard and cut his hair so he looks like he did when he was with the X-Men.)
The kids head off to the border to Eden, but Rice, Pierce, and the Reavers have tracked them with drones. Logan takes on the Reavers, as do the kids themselves. Laura uses the adamantium bullet to kill X-24, but it’s too late to save Logan, who dies—but the Reavers are toast, at least. The kids bury Logan and then continue north.
“I suck at this”
It’s funny, James Mangold’s goal with this movie was pretty much the same one Christopher Nolan had with The Dark Knight Rises: to take an iconic superhero and show the end of his career, the one story that you almost never see in the source material. By their serialized nature, superhero comics are ones that are geared toward never ending, and even when they do end, half the time, they come back later on anyhow.
But where Rises was an incoherent mess, Logan is much more tightly plotted, much better acted, and generally more effective.
Jackman has said that Unforgiven was a major influence on this film, and one of Logan’s strengths is the same as that of the Clint Eastwood film, specifically with regards to the aging process and how it can affect someone for whom violence is an everyday part of life.
To Jackman’s credit, he looks old in this movie. He doesn’t just count on the gray coloring they put in his hair. Throughout the movie, he’s slow, broken-down—defeated. He’s going through the motions. We see it in his very first scene: the younger Wolverine wouldn’t have hesitated to tear apart the guys trying to boost his limo. But now, he gives them the chance to walk away, and even after they shoot him and he gets back up, he is reluctant to go full crazy on them.
Eventually he does, but unlike every other time we’ve seen him, Logan hesitates. And when he’s finished, it takes him a while to recover. There are lots of wonderful little touches showing how much he’s slowed down, from one claw not coming all the way out to the limp he walks with throughout, to the simply defeated look in his eyes. Just to remind us what he used to be, we have his performance as X-24, a pure killing machine who is the old Wolverine turned up to eleven.
And yet, he’s still recognizably Wolverine. Heroic impulses aren’t his forte, by his own admission, but he will protect people who need it, whether it’s the person who gave him a family all those years ago (Xavier), or yet another young woman who needs his help (Rogue in X-Men, Laura here).
What I particularly love about the movie, though, is that it still has the same message that all the best X-Men stories have: hope. Xavier’s dream has always been for mutants and humans to live in peace, and his actions have always been to make sure that mutants are safe and cared for in a world that hates and mistrusts them. Those themes are still at the heart of this story, whether it’s the search for the mythical Eden, or simply the act of helping Laura get away from Transigen.
The theme is given added tragedy by Xavier’s awful mental state. Sir Patrick Stewart gives one of his greatest performances—in a career full of truly great performances—as he goes from broken down and scattered to suddenly much more focused when he has a mutant to help in Laura. His breakdown is heartbreaking, seeing this regal, noble figure whom we’ve seen played by two different actors through a long and heroic life reduced to hiding in a giant metal box in Mexico so he doesn’t accidentally kill any more people he loves.
In the end, both Logan and Xavier give their lives so that the kids Transigen created have a chance at survival. Tellingly, we never do find out if Eden exists or not, but at least the kids have that hope. It might be enough, it might not, but at least they’re fighting; at least they’re trying to make a better life for themselves.
So much of this movie hinges on the performances of its three leads. Jackman and Stewart are more than their usual brilliant selves, taking the characters they’ve already done extensively in several films and kicking it up a notch for their twilight days. But we also expect great things from these two actors, who are among the finest we have. No, the revelation here is the newcomer, Dafne Keen. The character she plays has three modes, Laura before Xavier dies (who stares intently without speaking), Laura after Xavier dies (who speaks in rapid-fire Spanish and broken English, but who still has the same intensity), and X-23 (a killing machine who screeches just like an actual wolverine). Keen absolutely nails all three modes. What I particularly love is that she does a picture-perfect imitation of Jackman’s pissed-off glare that he made Wolverine’s trademark way back in X-Men—a stare Jackman himself never really uses in this movie (except as X-24, that is; never as Logan, though). It’s a stellar performance, and one suspects we’ll have lots more of Keen being amazing to look forward to in what should be a brilliant career.
The other performances are a bit hit-and-miss. Boyd Holbrook is quite good as Pierce, as they changed him to a good ol’ boy who’s a bit of an X-Men fanboy, but still quite happy to kill folks on Rice’s behalf. The Pierce of the comics is quite possibly the blandest antagonist in the 55-year history of the team, so any change is for the better. The same cannot be said for Caliban, as the Gollum-like character of the comics has been altered into Yet Another Snarky Dude In A Marvel Movie (latest in a series! collect ’em all!). The normally reliable Richard E. Grant creates no impression whatsoever as the very bland Rice, and Eriq LaSalle mumbles his way through the part of Munson (I needed the closed captioning to know what the heck he was saying). Having said that, LaSalle absolutely nails Munson’s final moments as he takes out X-24 with his truck and tries to do the same to Logan, but he’s out of ammo in his rifle, and then he falls dead. The sheer fury on LaSalle’s face is palpable.
This is a fantastic movie about aging, about hope in the face of unrelenting despair, about redemption, and about trying to make a better life for yourself in a world that wants to kill you. It’s nothing like an X-Men movie and yet it’s the quintessential X-Men movie.
Next week, we’ll do another Mark Millar creation, Kick-Ass.
Keith R.A. DeCandido is at Dragon Con 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia this weekend, doing an obscene amount of programming, including panels, autographings, a reading, and tons and tons and tons more. Find the (very) full schedule here. If you see Keith at the con, feel free to hand him a mug of coffee, as he’ll likely need it.