“Nature made me a freak. Man made me a weapon. And God made it last too long.” - Logan
Since I was six years old, I’ve loved superheroes. Batman was my idol growing up, and actually, 51 years later – he still pretty much is.
Can’t explain it. Can’t fathom the reason for it. But the plain truth is that reading about those imaginary, colourful, mysterious caped and masked characters has given me decades of joy when I was otherwise sad, company when I was alone and a moral compass when nobody else did. They do good when they don’t have to – they have the power to pretty much do whatever they want.
They’re strong, they’re infallible and they’re pretty much immortal – forever stuck, for the most part, at a static age, never getting older.
I’ve often wondered what happens when a superhero gets older. When the fights are pretty much fought and they’re at the twilight of their career. The Dark Knight Returns answered this in the case of Gotham’s caped crusader – but what about some of the others?
This is what Logan answers, in the case of both Wolverine and the X-Men.
The X-Men is a comicbook that I didn’t read all that much of when I was a kid. Some reprints in the long gone UK versions of the Marvel titles was about it. Much of what I’ve read has been in the past few years with the release of the Marvel Essentials range of reprints. (Through the Essentials and the DC Showcase volumes, I’ve managed to reacquire every silver age title I owned in the sixties that was trashed by an overzealous parent.) Incidentally – THIS, for the record is the cover of the first American comicbook I ever owned. Sadly long gone.
But I digress.
Point is, I didn’t read any Wolverine growing up. In fact, I don’t think I knew anything about the character until he turned up as a guest star on an episode of the Spider-Man animated series in the early nineties. I definitely STILL hadn’t read any up to the point I saw The X-Men on the big screen in 2000. I remember clearly loving the notion of casting Patrick Stewart as Professor Xavier, and the previously unknown to me guy chosen to play Wolverine just looked the part with the strange hairstyle and the frown.
It’s not often that you get a person acting a part who looks just dead on right for the part. To me, it’s only happened a handful of times. Lynda Carter in the seventies was the embodiment of Wonder Woman as drawn in the comics. When I first saw a publicity still of Christopher Reeve as Superman, he WAS Superman. It was as if the artists had been drawing Reeve all those years, without knowing it. Same goes for Hugh Jackman as Logan/Wolverine.
It’s unbelievable to me that Jackman has been in the role now for seventeen years. The longest any one person has ever played a comicbook character. He has been the highlight of ALL the X-Men movies in the franchise, as he’s actually the only cast member to have been in all of them.
The X-Men films are films that I enjoy – as long as I don’t spend too much time looking for any kind of cohesive flow in the continuity from film to film. Actually I find the sloppiness of the continuity to be so frustrating that I wrote a Starburst article entitled Daze of Future Past and Present that was published in issue 424 (May 2016).
Logan is set after the films we’ve seen so far. The character is still the same though – maybe shorter tempered and more prone to profanity than we’ve seen before. This film is based on a story arc called Old Man Logan, which (once again) I’ve yet to read – but am now anxious to set this right.
Logan’s glory days with the X-men are over. He’s aging. He’s tired. The battles and the adventures have taken their toll. Logan hasn’t retired to a comfortable dotage in a home for retired superheroes. He’s living by a rail track in a shack. He’s making a marginal living by driving a limo as a chauffeur. He has grown a beard and hopes nobody will recognise him. The mutants he fought alongside and against have mostly gone. They weren’t the big bold step in evolution they were thought to be – they were a temporary glitch.
He’s living a hand to mouth existence, making just enough money to keep his old mentor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) in the medicine he needs. The years haven’t been kind to Xavier either. The most powerful telepathic brain humanity has ever known is succumbing to a degenerative disease. Professor X has Altzheimers and Logan is caring for him in his last years.
This disease is causing Xavier to have psychic convulsions, which has resulted in the Westchester Incident mentioned in the film. One of these uncontrollable and involuntary attacks wiped out the X-Men and their base years earlier.
Logan and Xavier become the involuntary guardians of Laura – a glowering, feral eleven year old (aren’t they all?) who is the daughter of Logan. (Not in the conventional sense – she is the result of a genetic experiment with Logan’s DNA and has the same Adamantium claws as her father, except she has some in her toes as well.) The authorities are after Laura and it’s up to Logan and Xavier to get her to a place of safety called Eden, which Logan doesn’t believe exists, having seen a reference to it in an X-Men comic book, which he dismisses.
I’ve read a review that compares this film to a Western – and thinking about it, I’d agree. There’s a scene where Xavier is watching the classic Shane on TV, fondly remembering when he first saw it. The parallels between that film and this one become stark, when the trio take a detour to assist a farming family suffering at the hands of the local bigshot rancher with Logan very much in the role of the mysterious gunfighter. Logan’s fights this time are brutal, vicious and deadly. Over and over we see that the human cranium can’t withstand a savage thrust with Adamantuim claws.
The highlight of the film though is the interaction between Logan and Xavier – very much a father and son relationship. Both Jackman and Stewart are plainly having a ball with the dialogue and it just sparkles, both with emotion and a raw realism as both the tired Logan and Xavier now a crabby ninety plus old man, holding on to what’s left of his dignity often irritate and exasperate each other are bonded to each other as family as well.
I’m currently rewatching all of Star Trek and Patrick Stewart’s range from Picard to the ageing Xavier is pretty amazing. But this is his finest performance, mixing pathos with comedy in a masterclass of acting.
As for Hugh Jackman – he has stated that this is his last bow as Wolverine, and sad as that is – I can’t think of a better way for him to end his amazing run in the role than this bittersweet masterpiece of a film.
Superhero films have not only come of age – they’ve become Oscar worthy, and not just for special effects.
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