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Logan broke our hearts in many beautiful ways — and one awful one

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Staffers talk about the movie’s strongest moments and most daring directions

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Spoiler warning: This conversation digs into some of Logan’s major plot reveals, including the ending. Especially the ending. Hoo boy, the ending.

This past weekend saw the release of the first R-rated Wolverine movie, Logan, the bloodiest, saddest, weariest X-Men movie ever made. Many critics are also saying it’s the best. Hugh Jackman claims this is his final outing playing the superhero on-screen, and given how the movie ends, it’s easy to see why. But there are so many strikingly bleak moments before that ending arrives. This is nominally a superhero movie, in that the characters are from superhero comics and films. But it plays more like a cynical tragedy, a drama about regret, personal failings, and death. Director James Mangold and his co-writers focus on the characters’ emotions, particularly their anger at the way the world turned out, at each other, and at themselves. And in the process, they find so many tragic, telling moments. Here, three Verge staffers talk about the parts of Logan that wrecked them emotionally.

Tasha: I have never been the biggest Wolverine fan, but I still walked out of this movie absolutely devastated, and impressed with the movie for bringing up those emotions so powerfully. What hit you hardest about Logan? What stuck with you longest when you left the theater?

Kwame: I’m going for the full spoilers here. What struck me most was the fall and brutal death of Charles Xavier. That feels like a world historical tragedy within the film. Patrick Stewart has always brought such gravitas to the character. He’s the spiritual and philosophical leader for this group of people committed to protecting humanity even when they’re hated. He was never painted as infallible in the comics, but he had something of that quality in the films. So to see this great man brought low not by fighting Onslaught or the Phoenix Force, but by old age and mental illness, is a gut-punch as soon as you see him on-screen. He’s still an omega-level mutant who can kill people with his thoughts, but he has no control over his powers because he’s old. He’s not a god. He’s a frail old man who needs help going to the bathroom. And then to see him die so full of regret — I wanted to fall out of my chair seeing that.

Megan: This is really superficial, but obviously relevant to Logan: old men make me incredibly sad. I think a lot of it has to do with my own Old Dad. He’s in his 70s now. Fortunately, he’s in very good health. But I’ve spent most of my adult life away from home, and every time I go back, I can’t help but notice how he’s visibly aged; how he moves a little slower, breathes a little heavier.

Watching Logan felt like that. I’ve grown up watching Charles Xavier and Wolverine saving the day as powerful, smart superheroes. Now, returning to them in Logan, it’s like they’ve passed some invisible line. Charles is so fragile, a victim to the same powers that used to make him one of the world’s most powerful mutants. That, on top of seeing how Logan has weakened over time, drove me straight into bummer town.

Tasha: I think that also explains why it’s such a bittersweet thrill when Logan doses himself up with serum and becomes his familiar feral self for about 60 seconds. There’s such an emotional rush there, as he gets his old self back, and then such a sharp fall when the serum-rush fades. It’s like we have to watch him age all over again, this time in fast time.

But getting back to Charles: one of the many, many Most Painful Things about Logan for me is the way he seems close to dementia in his obsession over Laura, the first new young mutant, so far as he knows, born in the last 25 years. He keeps repeating her name over and over to Logan, who has no interest in her. In the limo, when Logan’s trying to escape the Reavers and Charles just keeps saying “But Laura, don’t forget Laura, we can’t leave Laura,” he’s like a little kid who keeps yelling “Mom, Mom” while she’s on the phone because he doesn’t understand she’s ignoring him, he thinks she just hasn’t heard him. The performance there doesn’t feel like Charles sees Laura as a person, as an actual child they’re abandoning. He’s not panicked, just puzzled. It’s like she’s an idea he’s fixated on. The movie is careful to not overexplain why, and I think that’s a brilliant choice, but it’s also a relatively subtle note in the middle of a big fight scene. Did that strike you the way it struck me?

20th Century Fox

Kwame: I definitely got the sense that he was desperate to save Laura not because they were all in immediate danger, but because she validated him. They’re running for their lives, but that seems almost lost on him, because he’s so fixated on her. And we only get hints of that in the dialogue and in the performances, but we do know that the X-Men, along with most of the world’s mutants, are gone. It feels like he’s trying to grasp onto his glory days as the great Professor X, as if he’s only himself when he has a young charge to nurture. And he really is warm and nurturing when Laura comes along, way more than he is when it’s just him, Logan, and Caliban. But read that way, he’s being completely self-serving and sad. He knows he’s a shell of himself.

Also: Charles totally killed the X-Men.

Tasha: Did he? I know it’s implied, with the news report about the fatal “accident in Westchester,” which is the canon location of the X-Mansion. And it would explain so much about why Logan feels responsible for him, and seems to hate him at the same time, which is one of the most touching and frustrating things about the movie. But I keep having mechanical issues with that idea. “The X-Men” is a big, diffuse group that changes often. They all happened to be in the area? And he killed them all? What about all the other non-X-Men mutants? Was he plugged into Cerebro at the time? Logan’s script originally laid it all out, but Mangold decided the vague implications made a better story. That decision deliberately leaves a million questions. And it feels like something we might eventually get a featurette or comic or some other tie-in about, but I do feel like it’s much better as an unexplained, implied bit of storyline.

Megan: Skipping those flashbacks didn’t bother me much, because I feel like we’ve already watched the X-Men all die in films at one point or another. Is that sociopathic? I’m like, “Y’all been dead to me since The Last Stand.”

What does get to me is the way that confession is set up. Charles is sweetly tucked into bed, reflecting on how he’s just had one of his best days in years, when you see him start to emotionally cave. He remembers what he did. He knows that he’s murdered the very students he’s meant to protect, and he knows he doesn’t deserve peace for it. And then there’s no hope for redemption, no moment of reconciliation over the anger Logan clearly has, because Fake Logan murders Charles seconds later. Charles dying, believing Logan blamed him — and subsequently punished him — for an unspeakable accident is the real gut punch for me.

Kwame: And think about what’s implied by mutants being gone. Even if we’re open to the idea that there are more in hiding — people who are just really good at hiding their powers — we’re forced to think about what the film doesn’t address, which takes us into horror territory. The X-Men have always faced persecution, but what does decades of persecution and potential genocide look like? Pierce tells us Caliban was a mutant-tracker at one point. Does that mean Transigen and who knows what other companies were hunting down mutants for 30 years before the start of the movie? The movie sure as hell suggests that happened, and it’s terrifying.

Tasha: So Logan considers the emotional fallout of big events much more important and relevant than actually presenting those events. There’s plenty of action, but even the action is more about feeling than anything else. For me, at least, that emotional focus was refreshing and daring, and an antidote to recent superhero blockbusters that have narrowed allowable emotions for heroes and villains alike down to “scared” and “angry.” For me, that’s what makes Logan feel so different as a film. It dives so deeply into the characters’ despair and mutual dependence and grief that it makes heartbreaking moments like Logan’s “Oh, that’s what fatherly pride feels like” at the end of the movie feel natural and beautiful, instead of cheaply manipulative. But how did you guys feel about it? Does the lack of detail concern you? Did the personal focus work for you?

Megan: I’m so burned out on grand-scheme superhero movies that I really appreciate the smaller lens. We’ve seen the X-Men save the world multiple times already; it’s nice to think that for once, it can take care of itself. Logan telling a more personal story makes it far more interesting to me, because even given all the mutants and evil clones, it still feels relatable. If you’ve kept up with this franchise, you have a relationship with these characters. It’s part of what makes this story so compelling. It would be sad to see these events play out on their own, but because this is Professor X and Wolverine, it becomes even more powerful. These are our heroes, and they’re falling apart in front of our eyes.

It’s kind of like that sweet family that Logan, Laura, and Charles stay with. What happens to them is a tragedy, but they’re also strangers to us.

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Tasha: Oh god, that poor kind farm family. I don’t care that they’re strangers — no one thing in this movie was as emotionally traumatic to me as the moment when the Munsons invite Logan and company home. From that moment, I knew the Munsons were doomed, and the next half-hour of the movie was just waiting to see how painful and terrible their deaths would be. The fact that there’s no upside for them, no real chance of survival, and they basically all die for being nice people is one of the few things that makes Logan feel like a knife-twisting exercise in cynicism and nihilism for me. You can argue that Logan and Charles earned their deaths in karma a long time ago, with the people they’ve killed and the suffering they’ve caused. Or you could argue that they chose their deaths by choosing to be heroes, because heroes rarely go quietly in their beds of old age. But why bring civilians into it, and why give them so little chance to survive?

One of the most poignant single moments in this movie for me is when Will Munson pulls the shotgun trigger on Logan. The gun is empty and nothing happens, but it’s clear in that moment that Will sees absolutely no difference between Logan and the monster who just murdered Will’s family. And the audience can certainly understand why.

Megan: The Munsons’ death just smelled manufactured to me. They’re there to serve as collateral damage — we all knew what would happen to them the second they came on-screen. That’s probably one of the few times where I felt the movie was trying to emotionally manipulate the audience, rather than really earn a reaction.

Kwame: I’m still wrestling with that scene, to be perfectly honest. The film already goes out of its way to demonstrate that the world is ugly and cruel and that people die senselessly all the time. The fact that we go into the scene with no illusions about the fate of the Munsons actually ratcheted up the suspense for me, since I was sitting there thinking, “Maybe something good will happen! Maybe it’ll be okay!” Except that nothing is ever okay. I felt defeated when Will Munson crumpled on the spot after failing to shoot Logan. Maybe that was the point. Maybe everything about Logan’s world and what he brought to it needed to be wiped away before Laura could take up his mantle. I just can’t tell if the movie went too far in painting a world that’s so unrelentingly bleak as to destroy a family to prove a point about itself. Maybe if someone survived I’d have felt better.

Tasha: It certainly was an effective way of building tension, but yes, they seem like cannon fodder, and for me, it’s the bridge too far for this movie.

But as Megan pointed out, we know the other characters so well, and we’re presumably somewhat invested in them, and this movie just flat-out tortures them. Logan’s in pain all the time, his healing factor is failing, he’s in the process of dying. Charles is old and feeble and ineffectual. Caliban gets tortured by the bad guys and commits suicide. So it’s strange to me that I felt more emotional about the newbies to the story.

But part of that is that my investment in the lead characters doesn’t necessarily mean I want to protect them from harm. For me, the traumas they go through in Logan are about using these familiar figures in a different kind of story than we’ve seen on film so far for the X-Men — or most other long-history superheroes, for that matter. This story is about the end of stories, and usually in comics, that’s just a gimmick before a reboot. Here, it feels both final and inevitable, which for me justified whatever the filmmakers put the canon characters through. Was anything besides the Munson family too much for you in terms of the suffering and indignity and misery on-screen?

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Megan: There’s a point in the film where Logan and Laura are talking about taking lives. She tells him she’s killed bad people, and he replies that she’ll have to live with it all the same. This is a violent movie, full of gore and death. Our hero is a murderer — at his best, he is a fierce, animalistic force of strength and metal. He’s always been that way. However much I may love Logan as a character, it’s hard to dispute that he has taken more lives than fans can count.

So as much as I appreciate him as a flawed, even broken, hero, I also think his suffering is earned. To throw some Shakespeare by way of Westworld up in here, these violent delights have violent ends. I don’t think Logan ever had any other path. But did Logan and Charles get what they deserve? Do their acts of cruelty, accidental or intentional, erase the good they did?

Kwame: I think the movie, as brutal and cynical as it is, is ultimately hopeful in that respect, because it assumes that what the X-Men, Logan, and Charles accomplished was ultimately good. Even if they’re all in ruins, did terrible things, and the world is on the brink of collapse, the legacy they leave behind is worthwhile. You see that in the comics Laura keeps, which literally serve to lead her to salvation. Even if, as Logan says, “in the real world, people die,” the legend is sustaining.

It’s never been clearer that Wolverine is a murder machine. He’s “the best at what he does, and what he does isn’t very nice.” But he’s still a hero. He still defends Charles and Laura, even when it defies good judgement. He still defends Will Munson from those awful corporate cowboys. And he dies protecting his successor from a monstrous version of himself. As ugly as Logan’s world is, there’s still good in it. That’s exactly why that final shot over his grave when Laura turns the cross into an X lands for us, emotionally. It’s the best way to honor the past, and what it gave Laura — and us.

20th Century Fox

Tasha: It’s also the best way to suggest a future where there are still X-Men, even if they aren’t called that. Without underlining it too pointedly, Logan gives us a group of kids with familiar mutant powers, because they’ve presumably been created from the DNA of familiar mutants — a new Iceman, a new Magneto, a new Wolverine, and so forth. And it suggest that they’re the future not just of mutant-kind, but of the X-stories in general. There’s a solemn, sweet, tragic continuity there, in that even if the originals are gone, their powers live on in new bodies. There are so many heartbreak moments in Logan that we haven’t touched on: Charles trying to convince Logan that it isn’t too late to be normal and have a family, when we all know it’s much too late. Logan literally trying to hold the life inside Charles’ broken body while saying “It wasn’t me.” That awkward, undignified toilet scene, with both men furious and embarrassed about what they’ve come to. But the film still ends on that barest note of hope, and focus on the future, and in the process, it tries to say “All that is in the past. Things might still get better for the new generation. Maybe this time they’ll do better, and be received better in return.” We can only hope.