Since 2000, we’ve seen three completely different iterations of Spider-man, two Hulks played by three actors, two Batmen, two Supermen, two completely different Fantastic Fours and many many more reboots.
At this point, rebooting is basically the norm for comic book movies. When a single movie gets a bad review, just dump that version down the toilet and go for a re-do with different actors. If that fails, rinse and repeat. Granted, the Marvel Cinematic Universe put an end to it on Disney’s side, however one franchise has managed to survive longer than the monumental MCU. And that’s the X-Men universe.
Granted, you can argue that First Class was a reboot of sorts, however in a world where every single producer and their mothers were dumping old superhero movies down the wayside with extreme prejudice, Fox’s respect for what came before seemed a bit like a crutch. When Marvel was busy forgetting about Ang Lee’s Hulk, Singer and co. were trying to write around The Last Stand. When Sony was pretending Spider-man 3 never happened, Fox was busy MAKING The Last Stand never happen. These two subtle differences in approach highlighted the strength of the X-Men franchise: Everybody still loved the characters and most of the cast (sorry, James Marsden, you can stay in Westworld), however they knew that they fucked up, and they needed to fix it. And they did just that with the prequels. In a world where you either succeed or dump your failures in the trash and pretend they’re not there, Fox managed to use their failures to their benefit.
Because the truth is that despite the monumental fuck up of X-Men 3 and, to an extend Origins: Wolverine, the X-Men universe still had a big following thanks to the aforementioned core of likeable characters (and Cyclops) that nobody wanted to see written out of existence. The first two X-Men movies may not have been perfect, but they had an emotional core that appealed to fans, both hardcore and casual and made Fox think twice before doing a full reboot. Sadly, with Logan, that emotional core is largely going away.
I am of course, talking about Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine and Patrick Stewart’s Professor X. At this point, it’s fair to say that both of them redefined their characters, and it’s very hard to imagine these characters without the context they provided (James McAvoy’s portrayal being a very good imitation of what made Stewart’s great). And while Stewart was probably always considered a good choice for Professor X — from his physical appearance, all the way to the empathy and gravitas he provides to every role, Hugh Jackman was the exact opposite.
A Hollywood first timer — signed only because Dougray Scott (of all people) was unavailable — an unknown quantity who didn’t have Wolverine’s short stature or ugly scrufness. Thrown off the deep end, playing a fan favourite, Jackman had his work cut out for him. And he shined. Overnight, Wolverine transformed from short, ugly scruff asshole to tall, handsome, roguish asshole. Nobody cared about source material when it came to Jackman. Very much like Jimi Hendrix’s cover of “All Along Watchtower”, Jackman’s Wolverine outgrew the original and became something better.
Scenes between Wolverine and Xavier are some of my favourite because of this, not only are they great in showing the contrast between the two characters, but they show the contrast between the two actors and their place in lore. One, an established, classically trained actor, another, an unknown Australian hottie. One, the closest thing you will get to the source material, the other, redefining the source material and making it his. Thus, it was a very good decision to give both of these actors a proper send off through a movie where their characters truly played first fiddle.
<<Spoilers for Logan incoming>>
Logan wasn’t perfect, sometimes too muddled by its own pathos and a plot that felt contrived and forced at times (which is par for the course for many X-Men movies, mind you) saved however by the two leads (I will call Patrick Stewart a lead. Come at me), their chemistry and the moments of levity they provided in Logan’s grim future. Their chemistry is especially apparent since their usual roles are switched, the tropes that rule the X-Men inverted. Now it’s Wolverine that provides Xavier with a home and care. Now it’s Professor X who is clueless about his horrible past deeds.
It would be hard to review this movie without mentioning the decision to make it Rated R. The first time you see Wolverine FINALLY stab someone through the skull after 17 years of simply slashing at people immediately shows you what the character has been missing all these years. Those deeds seem heavier now, his guilt more understandable. Similarly, the first time Professor X drops an f-bomb makes him feel that much more real, that much less of a trope, as well as providing one of many wonderful moments of levity in this bittersweet goodbye for Jackman and Stewart.
The more I think about this movie, the less I think about its plot or action sequences, and the more I think about its emotions. As I’ve mentioned, X-Men movies were always centred around it (or tried to be, at least), mostly flowing through Ian McKellen/Michael Fassbender’s portrayals of Magneto, a “cornerstone” that I have intentionally omitted, just so I don’t have to bother you with five paragraphs of superlatives for McKellen and Fassbender, as they managed to anchor all the good X-Men movies, and make the weaker ones they featured in at least bearable. For all the praise I’ve given Jackman and Stewart
Logan is the first good X-Men movie (we’re not counting Deadpool for obvious reasons) where the villain/frenemy isn’t the main point of focus, or the glue that holds the movie together. Logan finally found a way to make the X-Men about the heros, and not about their enemies, even if it was just Xavier, Wolverine and a bit of Caliban (a brilliant performance from the always-brilliant Stephen Merchant). While Donald Pierce and Evil Doctor Number 33 aren’t horrible opponents, they’re largely forgettable, the background to Logan’s and Xavier’s journey of self-discovery. Xavier eventually realizes what he’d done and takes responsibility for his actions (even though he didn’t quite have to) before being killed by Logan’s clone, while Logan himself finally realizes the one truth that the audience had known for a long time — there’s much more to him than he thinks.
In the end, Wolverine finally dies. In one last canon defying stunt, there’s no ulterior explanation for it, no complicated comic book bullshit for why his healing factor didn’t work. It just didn’t. Wolverine was broken, but in his last moments he found peace and finally saw the good in him. The emotional circle built over multiple movies is complete. A bittersweet ending, where one hero dies realizing that all he’s built was in vain, and another finally finds happiness after centuries of struggle. A true end of an era for the X-Men. The only question that remains is the classic “what happens next” in terms of the franchise. Will it ever be able to function that well without Wolverine? Will it continue without needless reboots? I, for one, am excited to find out.