It’s always tempting, when a creator reveals themselves to be a bit of a shit, to look back on their past work and say “ah, I never liked ’em anyway”. This was certainly the case with comic book creator Frank Miller, whose politics took a hard right turn after 9/11 resulting in such works as Holy Terror, initially intended as a Batman story for DC before they dropped it like a hot, extremely Islamaphobic potato. This in turn led to many comics fans deciding that Miller had never been that good or important a comics creator to begin with. And, frankly, that’s not entirely unwarranted. Dodgy politics aside, a lot of Miller’s back catalogue simply hasn’t aged that well. There were always dodgy undercurrents of racism and misogyny in Miller’s work (he wrote origin stories for Batman and Daredevil that both had scenes of the protagonist fighting prostitutes), and knowing the path he went down makes those elements a lot harder to overlook now. Also, whereas Alan Moore (Miller’s contemporary and the creator he is probably most often compared to) brought a real intellectual and emotional richness to the comics genre, Miller’s most successful works were often empty showcases of style over substance. Sin City and 300 are visually striking as all hell. But ultimately, they’re hollow, emotionally stunted things. That said, there is at least one work that I will defend as still holding up (mostly).
The Dark Knight Returns depicts an aged and embittered Bruce Wayne, coming out of retirement to fight the sky-rocketing crime and urban malaise that was such a feature of Reagan’s America. As he becomes increasingly violent and unhinged in his methods, the US Government sends in the only man they think can stop him:
What gives the story its power is the incredible weight of the history of these characters and an overwhelming, almost crushing sense of despair. This, Miller, seems to be saying, is how your heroes will always end; either bitter fanatics who were unable to change, or corrupted, toothless stooges who sold out to a corrupt status quo. This is how the World’s Finest Team ends, two old men beating each other to death in an alley way. And it’s depressing, and it’s cruel but it also feels true. And the inescapable knowledge that all those decades upon decades of stories and triumphs and battles of these, THE two greatest superheroes, that it was all leading to this awful, final confrontation? That’s when the story stops being merely tragic and becomes proper, classical, Tragedy. It’s Twilight of the Gods. It’s Ragnarok. It’s epic as fuck.
And that’s why Batman v Superman Dawn of Justice is fucking terrible.
Sorry, that’s one of VERY MANY reasons why that movie is terrible but I will never, for the life of me, understand why no one twigged that a fight between Batman and Superman means nothing if they don’t even know each other. That’s what gave the final confrontation in DKR its power. The weight of history. The tragedy of watching two men who once loved each other as brothers reduced to this brutal slugfest. All that goes out the window if they’ve just fucking met.
I’m getting there. Okay, with DKR Frank Millar created (possibly?) and popularised (definitely) the stock superhero trope of the Last Story. The Last Story is a tale (almost always out of continuity), that shows you how a certain superhero ends. They are almost always set in a bleak future, and will usually depict the hero coming out of retirement for One Last Job. These stories often will try to serve as a capstone, and a summation of the meaning of that hero. When they work, they work because they are able to deliver the things that most superhero stories by their very nature can’t; climax. Conclusion. Finality. Stakes. Characters can finally die and be at peace without an inevitable resurrection on the horizon. Arcs can be concluded. The story can finally end (at least, in this one corner of continuity). Pretty much every major character you can think of by this point has had a Last Story; Superman, Spider-Man, Punisher and of course, Wolverine, who’s died more times than Kenny McCormack and so has had plenty of opportunity for “Last Stories”. One of these, Old Man Logan was a miniseries that released in 2009 and was written by Mark Millar.
This series sees an aged Wolverine having renounced violence and living in a dystopian future where the villains won and everything’s awful and the Hulk’s an incestous cannibal who fucked his own cousin and spawned a whole tribe of inbred hulk hillbillies and Jesus Christ we made Mark Millar one of the most successful comic writers of the aughts what the fuck were we thinking?
Anyway, apart from both featuring Old Men Named Logan there is actually very little connecting Old Man Logan and the movie that it nominally inspired (thank fuck). Logan arose out of a desire of Hugh Jackman and The Wolverine director James Mangold to do something radically different with the character and genre. That is, after all, the great strength of a Last Story. You get to take some risks.
So how much of a departure is this from the previous X films? Hold onto your monocles folks, this movie actually tells us when it’s taking place. I know, none of that “in the near future” BS.
It’s 2029 and America is a dystopia. But not a “giant robots taking over” dystopia, more a “like the present but shittier and more depressing” kind of dystopia.
The movie begins with Logan passed out drunk in the back seat of a rental limousine. He is awoken by a gang trying to boost his wheels. At first he tries to reason with them but, after they shoot him and start kicking the crap out of him he finally loses patience and pops his claws. And now, for the first time in this series, we finally see Logan actually use those things for more than creative non-verbal profanity. The movie wastes absolutely zero time in earning its R-rating with spurting blood, severed limbs and just the most vulgar language.
Logan limps back into the car and drives away and stops at a gas station bathroom to ditch his bloodied clothes and clean up.
This scene is wonderful, wordless storytelling. We see Wolverine wincing and gasping in pain as his healing factor slooowly pushes the bullets out of his flesh to land in the filthy sink with an audible “clink”. We see his hands trembling as he slowly, painstakingly buttons his shirt over a body laid over and over with a patchwork of scar tissue. We see him looking at his lined, weary face and mostly-grey beard in the mirror as if he barely recognises the man staring back. Without dialogue we’re told a story of a man now paying the terrible debts of age and a life of constant violence. And this is why it was absolutely pivotal for Jackman to play this role, despite probably being a good two decades too young. It’s the shock of seeing the once virile indestructible Wolverine reduced to this that gives the scene its power. Like I said before, it’s the weight of history. You can’t cheat that.
Logan now makes his living as a limo driver, ferrying asshole frat boys, drunken hen parties and douchey businessmen to their destinations. He lives in an abandoned factory out in the New Mexico desert where he’s been keeping the now ninety-something Charles Xavier in a converted water-tower. Charles is now half senile and suffers terrible psychic seizures which make him incredibly dangerous to everyone around him. Helping Logan care for Xavier is the mutant Caliban, who humours the old man’s dotage like the Fool to his Lear. Which makes Logan…I dunno…Ophelia? Anyway, just as Jackman is finding all kinds of new layers to this older Logan, Patrick Stewart as Xavier is just…well damn. Look, I love Stewart’s Xavier but let’s be honest, the role was never really much of a challenge for him. He could play this part in his sleep. But here we get an Xavier who’s not simply the voice of moral certainty but a terribly tragic, deeply broken man filled with impotent rage at how his life’s work turned to ash. It’s a phenomenal performance, his best as Xavier (I don’t think that needs to be said) and honestly one of the best of Stewart’s career. The scenes of the long suffering Logan caring for a now half-mad Xavier spitting bile as he zooms around in his wheelchair feel less like a superhero movie and more like Endgame.
Samuel Beckett’s classic Absurdist dark comedy play about two people who may be father and son trapped in a hateful parasitical relationship that they are unable to break due to the existential dread of their impending deaths, I’m glad we all remember it.
While out getting the drugs that keeps Charles from frying his brain like an omelette, Logan is approached by Donald Pierce, a man with a cybernetic arm working for the US government. I’m going to take a minute to praise Boyd Holbrook’s performance here. Obviously when this movie came out he was a bit overshadowed by Jackman, Stewart and Keen but I think he gives a wonderful turn here as Donald, charming and sinister. Anyway, Donald tells him that he knows about those gangbangers that Logan carved up at the start of the movie and tells him that a woman named Gabriela is going to try to make contact with him and that Logan should tell Donald when she does.
Logan wants nothing to do with any of this but when Gabriela approaches him she offers him enough money that he could buy a boat to take himself and Charles out on the ocean where they wouldn’t have to worry about Charles’ seizures hurting other people. Gabriela needs Logan to take her and her daughter Laura (Dafne Keen) to North Dakota. Logan reluctantly agrees.
Back at home base, Caliban tells Logan that he found an adamantium bullet in Logan’s pocket while doing the laundry and knows he’s planning on killing himself. Logan tells him to mind his own damn business and heads out to meet Gabriela. Unfortunately, he finds her murdered in her motel room with the last text on her phone being from Logan saying that he’s on his way. Which is what the kids, and most police forces, call a “bad look”.
Logan hurries back to the factory and finds that he has a stowaway: Laura hid in the trunk of his car.
I am genuinely struggling to remember a child performance that impressed me more than Dafne Keen as Laura. She has an intensity, poise, range and expressiveness that actors literally seven or eight times her age never master. She is scarily good.
Laura’s arrival lights a fire in Xavier and suddenly he’s almost his old self again, full of hope and optimism. You see, while Laura doesn’t speak, she can communicate telepathically with him and he knows that she is a mutant, one of the first new mutants to appear in years. In this future, mutant births have mysteriously stopped and the species is slowly dying out. While Laura has breakfast inside, Donald arrives with a load of hired guns to take custody of her. Logan tries to escape with Charles but he’s overpowered and Donald sends the goons in to capture Laura. There’s a bit here that I absolutely love, just a wonderfully subtle piece of badassery. Laura watches all these heavily armed guys coming for her on the CCTV screen and her reaction is to…calmly continue eating her cornflakes.
Outside Donald, Logan and Charles hear screams and gunfire and watch as Laura emerges holding the severed head of one of Donald’s men.
Logan watches in amazement as Laura pops some adamantium claws and starts killing enough people to cause a dip in the average American life expectancy. In the chaos, Logan, Laura and Charles are able to escape in Logan’s limo but Caliban is captured. Donald tortures Caliban until he agrees to help him track the other mutants.
Logan and Charles watch a video where Gabriela explains that a company named Transigen created Laura and several other mutant children as part of a covert weapons programme. But, as any parent could tell you, children cannot be controlled and so the programme was due to be scrapped and replaced with “something else”. Rather than let the children be killed, Gabriela and some of the other nurses staged a breakout and got the kids out. The other kids are waiting for Laura near the Canadian border where they’ll be crossing once they’ve been granted asylum. Logan has to get Laura there in three days. Oh, and one final bombshell; Laura was created from Logan’s DNA, making her his biological daughter.
The gang make a stop at a hotel in Oklahoma city where Laura and Charles bond over the old cowboy movie Shane, about a gunslinger who has to come to terms with the price of a life of violence just in case you were still trying to figure out the theme of this movie.
The trio have a narrow escape when Pierce and his men arrive and almost take out Xavier and Laura. Xavier has one of his psychic seizures which freezes everyone in the hotel and Logan is able to barely get them to safely. Donald’s boss, Zander Rice (Richard E. Grant) arrives and tells Donald that it’s time to bring out the big guns…
Now, as we all know Logan has three superpowers:
- Enhanced senses.
- Superhuman healing.
- An ability to be found be good, decent, Christian farmers who will take him in and give him food and shelter and not ask no questions cause that ain’t none of their business they’re just simple God-fearin’ folk who will inevitable be horribly murdered for helping him.
This time around its the turn of Will Munson and his wife Kathryn who invite the trio back to their farmhouse for dinner after they help after a road accident. Logan, Charles and Laura get to enjoy a nice family meal in a loving family enviroment which Laura seems to think is pretty neat.
Logan accompanies Will as backup when some local hoods shut off the farm’s water supply. Lying in bed, Charles thinks he hears Logan coming into the room and tells him that this was one of the best nights he’s had in many years and that he knows that he doesn’t deserve it. He’s finally remembered what happened to the X-Men (he killed them with one of his seizures) and he realises that he’s been running from his past ever since. Charles says that he finally understand Logan. And then “Logan” stabs him in the chest.
Honestly, X-24 is one of the elements of this movie I don’t really like, much as I can appreciate the flawless effects work it took to have Hugh Jackman fighting a younger version of himself. In a movie that makes such an effort to downplay the science fiction elements and keep everything as grounded and realistic as possible, suddenly springing an adult flash-grown clone (rather than a test tube baby) on us is a little jarring. And yeah, I get that X-24 represents Wolverine’s feral nature that he has to overcome but you know what other character has always filled that role?
Now, apparently Liev Schreiber was approached to reprise his role as Sabretooth but scheduling conflicts with his show Ray Donovan prevented that. According to interviews I read, Sabretooth was going to be an ally of Logan, not an enemy, but I think he would have been a better choice for the X-24 role. And I think Mangold would agree with me because X-24’s hair and costume have clearly been designed to resemble Schreiber’s Sabretooth as closely as possible.
Alright, so Will and Logan return to the house to find Will’s family and Charles murdered and X-24 carrying a screaming Laura out of the farmhouse. Will seemingly manages to kill X-24 with a tractor and Logan and Laura leave with Charles’s body which they bury in a forest.
While Laura watches in silence, Logan has a complete emotional and physical breakdown and collapses in the middle of the road. He wakes up in an emergency clinic where he’s been treated by the laziest doctor in the world.
Honestly the whole detour to the doctor’s office should probably have been cut. Laura boosting someone’s truck, somehow dragging Logan’s adamantium laced unconscious body into it and then driving all the way into town without getting arrested…I could buy her doing one of these things maybe, but not all three. Logan’s line: “I don’t know how you did this…” just makes it more glaring that she really couldn’t have, plausibly. There’s no reason why we couldn’t have just skipped to Logan agreeing to take her to North Dakota after they bury Charles.
Anyway, Logan really doesn’t want to take Laura to North Dakota because, y’know, he’s clearly dying but he finally gives up and they drive off. They finally reach their destination, a kind of Neverland of mutant kids. The kids leader, Rictor, gives Logan a drug that can boost his healing factor but warns him to use it sparingly. He also offers Logan his payment for brining Laura to them but Logan tells him to keep the money. Logan thinks Laura should be happy that he’s finally brought her where she wants to go, not realising that she’s started to think of him as her father. He tells her to take a hike angrily yelling “it’s better this way! Because I suck at this! Bad shit happens to people I care about”.
She answers: “Then I’ll be fine.”
Obviously KO’d be sheer weaponised “oof”, Logan wakes up the next day to find all the kids gone and headed for the Canadian border. But he sees Rice’s troops chasing after them along with a still-alive and fully healed X-24. And all Logan’s got is a bottle of medicine that will amp his powers up to insane levels before killing him so desperate last stand it is.
In the forest, all the mutant kids are captured except Laura who gets rescued by Logan and they team up to massacre the soldiers. As a family.
Logan confronts Rice who reveals that his father worked on the Weapon X programme and that he was the one that eradicated the mutant gene “like polio”.
Minor nitpick, but I don’t like that it’s some shady government plot that ended the mutants, and not just because my tolerance for medical conspiracy theories (even fictional ones) is considerably lower than it was in 2017. It just strikes me as weird that the guy who wiped out mutants is now creating new ones. That seems like it would be two very different skillsets. I also think it’s just more tragic and keeping with the tone of the movie if there really was no reason for the end of the mutants. It was just one of those things. The mutants thought they were the next step of human evolution. Turns out they were just a random fluke. They weren’t special after all. They’ll be gone soon, and it will be like they never existed. And that’s what the movie is about after all. Getting old. Life’s impermanence. Death.
Anyway, there’s a final battle with X-24 where Logan gets absolutely wrecked until Laura uses the adamantium bullet Logan was saving to shoot X-24 in the head. As he lies dying, he tells his daughter what he hopes for her.
LOGAN: Go. Don’t be what they made you, Laura.
While it may not be my favourite comic book movie of all time, and is lightyears in tone from the movie I do consider the greatest comic book movie of all time, Logan has one thing in common with Into the Spider-Verse. It pushes and pushes hard against preconceived notions of what superhero movies can and should be. It’s almost certainly the best acted movie in the genre and the high watermark for its series. And it made me cry like a little baby.
No stinger. This is, after all, Logan’s Last Story. There’s nothing left to set up.
And the audience went
Hey, was that Stan Lee?
Stan Lee doesn’t do Wolverine films, we’ve established this by now.
Department of Duplication Department
So now we come to the riddle of Caliban. The X-Men movie wiki claims that the Caliban we see in X: Men Apocalypse and the Caliban we see here in Logan are the same guy which is why someone should tell the X-Men movie wiki that lies make Baby Jesus cry. Look, either Caliban grew a solid foot and a half, lost his Icelandic accent, gained a South West English one (all while living in America) and aged around two years in the interim between 1983 and 2029 OR there are two mutants with the same name and power-set. Frankly I find the latter explanation more plausible (or of course, this could be the first Caliban’s son). What clinches it for me is Caliban’s line to Donald Prince: “I think you’re confusing me with someone else”. You know what? I think we are.
How worried is Guinan right now?
Guinan used to worry about the timeline. But that was long ago. She used to think she was part of God’s plan. Maybe she was God’s mistake.
Wait, Magneto is how old?
Not that it matters, but if Magneto had made an appearance he’d have been 99.
Mutant Heaven has no pearly gates, only revolving doors.
Fittingly, death in this movie is very, very permanent.
Today, mutants are…
This movie is…
NEXT UPDATE: 31 October 2021.
NEXT TIME: Well, just in time for Halloween we check in with Marvel’s Spooooookiest Hero: Black Widow. I mean, spiders are scary. That works. It totally works. Man, I can’t wait to find out how Natasha survived falling off that cliff…
Yup, saw it in the cinema and I was doing fine, holding it together and then she goes back and turns the cross into and X and I was sobbing! Excellent movie, Sir Patrick was phenomenal, In fact all the leads were really great
Ah, the movie that made me cry, and made my sister cry so hard that i have to assure it’s not the canonical ending for the Logan we grew up with literally EVERY TIME it comes up.
“It’s toootally an alternate universe, I’m sure our childhood icon is still calling Cyclops a dick.”
I love it, but imagine if RDJ’s Iron Man ended with a movie where all the Avengers were dead, his lasers explode people into little chunks, and he’s gone full alcoholic. It’d be A Lot To Handle, is what I’m getting at. Also probably not as good as Logan. Or Endgame, really.
This movie is amazing, mostly on the strength of the performances.
Liked the comparison with DKR and BVS. There still exists a subset of both fans and creators who think “dark” is the same as “deep”. BVS is how you do that wrong, Logan is how you do it right.
I Hate Logan and I love Batman V Superman.
I love Plan 9 from Outer Space and hate Alien. Is basically what you just said.
Everything wrong with Miler’s take on Batman was already there in DKR. BvS is the better version because I’d rather before being friends then after. And it works better if Batman is the one who’s effectively the Bad Guy.
It’s a shame then that, through Snyder’s lens, Bruce’s degradation is framed as a “Yeah…but isn’t it also kinda cool?” It was the same problem as all the characters in his Watchmen adaptation.
In DKR, Bruce is very clearly a man broken in both body and soul. There’s nothing virtuous about what he’s doing other than his own deranged mind or Carrie, who is still foolishly naive enough to side with this living legend. He takes a sadistic final thrill out of pummeling Clark, even if he would ultimately live and Bruce himself would die from the strain of his assault; it gave him near closure to run off on his mortal coil to know that he inspired mortal fear in the Man of Steel.
While I will give credit that BvS at least laid the seeds out for something interesting (Bruce’s “virtuous” goal to enact revenge on the perceived destroyer of Metropolis more of an excuse of overcompensate his impotence at a life wasted, or the sobering reality that, after a lifetime of brutality and building walls around himself, Bruce has found himself on the other end of the gun that started it all), but could not tend to the seedlings nearly long enough for them to properly grow. It’s very telling how the initial announcement of the movie was using the clip of the animated adaptation of DKR, which also kind of missed the point of the source material by portraying Bruce as a stoic, levelheaded guardian and not an embittered, unstable senile old man.
Why does it work better if they are near-strangers than old friends who have fallen out, exactly? And why does Logan supposedly fail at similar themes?
I get the emotional arc of this movie, I really do.
But I honestly feel nothing all the same.
When I saw that not only were the X-Men wiped out offscreen but apparently the entire mutant population too, the only thing I could think of was, “Of course they were. These movies never cared about anyone who wasn’t Wolverine, Xavier or Magneto. So it stands to reason that it would end with only Wolverine, Xavier and another Wolverine to make up for the lack of Magneto.”
I just felt so…blah about the end of this era. It never took advantage of the legions of characters they had at their disposal, so everything not involved in with the aforementioned trinity just feels like wasted potential. Combine that with the mediocre Dark Phoenix and the whole X-Men universe went with a whimper.
New Mutants didn’t do it for ya?
Oh yeah, completely forgot about that movie.
And no, came off as too little too late.
In fairness I think Disney did too
Did you guys hear that they were thinking about making Karma, the disabled war survivor who already was given a raw deal as something of a third wheel of the New Mutants back in the day, the villain of a proposed sequel?
Always had a soft spot for Karma. She was in one of the very first comics I ever read
You finally write about my favorite book and did it for several paragraphs. I can scratch that off the bucket list.
Big DKR fan?
Yes! It changed my life. It brought me out of my unemployment slump (fittingly with a night job), turned me into a deontologist, and it has been a constant source of inspiration for dealing with this pandemic.
Everything wrong with Miler’s take on Batman was already there in DKR. BvS is the better version because I’d rather before being friends then after. And it works better if Batman is the one who’s effectively the Bad Guy.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on The Owl House or Amphibia
Yeah, this movie is one of the greats. It’s kind of wild how much of a quality gap there is (in my opinion) between Logan and every other X-Men film they put out, and even most of the MCU films. Like you said, it rises above the usual conventions of a comic book flick and achieves being a legitimately excellent movie in its own right. That last shot STILL hits hard, even down to the score and the view of the sunlit forest (also the Johnny Cash song over the credits). Just achingly bittersweet, the prospect of the mutant kids finally being free after immeasurable loss and hardship.
Out of curiosity, Mouse, what are your overall thoughts on Batman: Year One? (Aside from the scenes of Bruce fighting sex workers I mean). Would you hold it as a work of similar importance to DKR or not?
Okay Batman story, GREAT Jim Gordon story.
I cried for 45 straight minutes in the middle of the movie theater over this and I still have been unable to go back and watch it on HBO. I was traumatised for 3 days. The worst, the *worst* part has been watching Picard and seeing Patrick Stewart be as old and shaky in that show as he was in Logan, but not really acting this time. My husband and I keep looking at each other and going “we’re going to lose him.”
WHy is this in the Hall of Shame?
Let’s face it, Stephen Merchant playing a grotesque mutant is the most on the nose casting of all time.