Logan. Jamie Howlett. Weapon X. The Wolverine. He’s known by many names, and he’s the best at what he does. A restless outsider whose an unstoppable killer, a masterless ronin whose often become a reluctant leader. Hugh Jackman has played the character consistently in live-action for close to 20 years now and made the role his own, and he’s apparently ready to hang up his claws after Logan. Over the course of four X-Men movies and three solo adventures, the man called Logan has survived many battles over his long life…
First appearing in 1974 in The Incredible Hulk #180 and fully appearing in #181, Wolverine was portrayed as a violent mystery for most of his publication. By now, his legendary healing factor, bone claws, adamantium exoskeleton and long lifespan coupled with far travels have been explored to the point of indulgence. He is most likely the most popular X-Man ever, despite being added to the team more than a decade after they were originally conceived.
When it came time for Fox Studios to adapt the X-men to the big screen, they choose a wide list of distinguished actors for various roles (Patrick Stewart as Charles Xavier, Sir Ian McKellan as Eric Lensherr/Magneto, Halle Berry as Ororo Monroe, etc). While many of these actors filled their roles beautifully, once again, Wolverine shown them all through Hugh Jackman’s portrayal, standing 6’1 (far taller than purists would like) but with a grizzled intensity and rippling physique. Guys like Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth may pack on muscle on muscle for their Marvel roles, but Jackman was doing it years before even maintaining in between X-films.
When we first see Logan in X-Men, we see a man traveling through Canada alone. His path crosses with a young runaway named Rogue, and the two form a quick but strong connection based on their loneliness. They’re then pulled into the feud between the X-Men and the Brotherhood of Mutants, as Wolverine acts as sort of our POV into the cinematic universe Fox would build. Logan has incredible power, but amnesia blocks whatever past he may have had. Despite owing nothing to the X-Men or Charles Xavier, Logan sides with them to rescue Rogue from Magneto’s clutches and even is responsible for saving the day. With Rogue safe, Logan’s reward is a possible clue to his past at Alkali Lake.
He finds no answers, but his personal history comes back with a vengeance in X2:X-Men United. He is reunited with Colonel William Stryker, a man with a deep hatred of mutants that knows Logan intimately well. When his plot is defeated, Logan chooses to let him (and any chance of learning about his former life) die while he seemingly decides his place is with the X-Men now. Over the course of the film, we saw him act as a protector to many of the young students, allowing himself to care for others in a way that he clearly hadn’t for some time. Unfortunately, this progress wasn’t matched in the sequel.
Like in the comics, the X-films had a love triangle between Scott ‘Cyclops’ Summers, Jean Grey, and Logan. It lacked any real tension, hell Superman Returns at least had a mystery 8-year old, while Scott and Logan’s fight over Jean was pretty nonchalant given the situation. Despite Jean’s death in the second movie, Logan is barely affected. He and Storm have better chemistry than he and Jean! This should have come to a head in X-Men: The Last Stand, when Jean Grey becomes the Dark Phoenix (or a poor facsimile) and the X-Men are as fractured as ever due to a possible chance to lose their mutant abilities. Logan kills Jean in order to save the planet from her power and in a sense, save her from herself.
After that, the first two Wolverine movies try to fill in his early years and what happened after the third X-Men movie. Comic fans will recall Logan’s time with Weapon X as the reason behind his metal bones, however X-Men Origins: Wolverine paints Logan as a man constantly looking for battle. He and his half-brother Sabretooth fight in every major war through the 19th and 20th Centuries, until Col. Stryker recruits them for covert missions using mutant soldiers. Right there, there’s several departures from the source material. A double-take romance and a magic bullet later, Logan gets his adamantium skeleton but loses all his memories of his previous life.
The Wolverine tries to paint a much more straightforward narrative, with Logan leaving a guilt ridden isolation in the wilderness to finish a part of his past in Japan. He’s offered a way to become mortal, albeit in through a plot construct that makes no sense, but he takes it. He regrets his role in killing Jean, and wants an end to his seemingly endless suffering. It’s a rich dearth of material, but it’s not wholly transferred on the screen. Director James Mangold would have the chance to sample Wolverine battling his inner demons along with physical threats, but it wouldn’t get another shot for a few years yet. The Wolverine ends with a short clip setting up X-Men: Days of Future Past.
By this point, the theme of Wolverine facing his past is well-trodden. What gives DOFP some new heft is that Logan here is a future version in his younger body, working to save his friends before they met him. It’s complicated, and isn’t fully resonant emotionally because that weight is for James McAvoy and Patrick Stewart. Logan’s reward isn’t learning about his past, but wholly for saving his friends. In the end, Jean and Scott survive in a new timeline thanks to his efforts.
There’s a brief revisit to Logan’s time at Alkalie Lake (shown correctly for once) in the next X-Men movie, but after that we get to Logan.
I’ve already written a review of the film itself, which just leaves how the film sends off the character. Jackman and Mangold pull no punches in this “final” Wolverine outing. It’s a film dripping with regret and angst, but in a good way. Most superhero movies would be tempted to give the hero a ride off into the sunset, or a new love interest to while away their time in retirement, Logan gives us perhaps the only ending we deserve for the character. Logan’s life was filled with fighting, pain, loss, loneliness, and begrudging acceptance of change. By relative comparison, his time with the X-Men was far outweighed by all his time fighting on his own. He had a chance to be accepted, even loved, but by the time he had realized that it suddenly ended. By the end of Logan, his life ends as it began, fighting with all his fury (even though we have to accept the Origins movie as canon). What gives his death meaning, is that it served a purpose in protecting Laura/X-23 and the next generation of mutants.
Wolverine, in film as in comics, is a violent man whose often forced into the role of mentor/father figure. He has a long, and confusingly tragic past. Despite all that, he’s a man who fights for what he believes in and to protect the people that need him. It’s not a smooth translation, but Jackman’s portrayal comes closer to bringing a fictional character to life than anyone else.