Logan is not a superhero movie. Heck, Logan isn’t even an X-Men movie — after all, all the X-Men are dead except for Logan and Charles. No, Logan is something else: Logan is a Western.
Warning: I am going to spoil the shit out of Logan. If you haven’t seen, go see it.
There are many different types of Westerns, but around the ‘50s and ‘60s, one grew in prominence: the “revisionist” Western, the Western film that took a look at what an outlaw hero would actually act like, what kind of person would actually work as a gunslinger for hire (hint: people who are a-okay with killing), and so on. This resulted in movies like High Noon, where even the law itself can’t help the hero, or True Grit, where the hero is a washed up drunken fool.
Shane is not really a revisionist Western. It’s more in the vein of a classical Western — however, it’s hero, the titular Shane, is a man who knows how to kill and how to kill well. As he points out to another character, guns are just tools, it’s how you use them that matters. In the film, he gets taken in by a family and tries to help them fight off a greedy, evil rancher.
In Logan, towards the middle of the film, Logan, Charles, and Laura get taken in by a family who own a farm and Logan ends up helping the father against a greedy, evil corporation that owns all the surrounding farmland. If that sounds like just a coincidence, it isn’t: Charles and Laura explicitly watch Shane on television earlier in the film, with Charles commenting that he first watched the film when he was Laura’s age.
At the end of Shane, the hero kills all the bad guys, but is mortally injured himself. As he rides away, the young kid who idolized him calls his name, but all Shane can do is slump over in his saddle and die.
Take a guess what happens to Logan at the end of Logan.
Logan is a goddamn beautiful film. It’s very clear that James Mangold is going for very neo-noir Western feel, having Logan himself in the Rooster Cogburn role, the washed up drunk ex-X-Men who is slowly dying. All he wants to do is buy a boat for him and Charles to sail in the ocean for their last days.
Things change, however, when he meets Gabriela and she hires him to take her “daughter” Laura to a specific location in North Dakota. She’s the impetus, the push that the gunslinger needs. However, it’s Laura herself who pushes Logan to continue — Laura herself who reflects Logan’s own self, who can be everything that Logan is not. “She can be better,” Charles says. Better than Logan, better than Charles, better than everyone who was left behind.
Some Westerns are about the clash between the wilderness and civilization. Revisionist Westerns, on the other hand, often portray the gunslinger as a relic of a bygone era. There is no more room for Shane after the evil rancher dies. He is a relic, just like the rancher was. The age of the gunslinger is coming to an end.
The age of the X-Men is coming to an end. The age of giant fights and big battles with supervillains. Even though Logan says that half the stuff in the comics was fake, that still means that some of it was true. But there haven’t been any mutants born in ten years and all the X-Men are gone. Charles has Alzheimer’s and every time he goes into a seizure, he almost kills everyone around him. This is how the X-Men died. Not with a bang.
The “evil rancher” in this film, of course, is Dr. Zander Rice, who grew cloned mutants in an attempt to make living weapons, and his hired help, the Reavers, led by Donald Pierce, another man who, like Logan, has certain enhancements. Another reflection of Logan, but this time, he’s the worst version, the version who doesn’t care who he hurts.
Logan is all about reflections. Laura, Donald Pierce, even the big twist villain: an evil clone of Logan named “X-24.” He’s the younger, deadlier Wolverine, completely controlled by Dr. Rice. If anything, it’s this villain that kind of takes away from the plot — where Rice and Donald Pierce are recognizable characters, X-24 is merely a tool, an unkillable plot device.
Logan dies brutally, like he always knew he would. Laura has led him to the other Weapon X children — and yes, I did recognize some names in there, like “Rictor” — and he dies saving them all from his evil clone. If I had any complaint, it’s that there’s a bit too much foreshadowing in how his evil clone is going to die — but after he dies and Logan is left slowly dying, holding onto Laura’s hand, none of that matters. All that matters is that Logan knows his time is over. It’s Laura’s time now.
The age of the gunslinger is over. Logan is dead. And on his grave, only a lonely X marks the spot.