The 'Logan' Ending, A Bittersweet Legacy, And The Future Of The Wolverine

Logan is the last time Hugh Jackman will play Wolverine. That's been the narrative since the beginning, the chief selling point for a risky, violent, and thoughtful superhero movie that goes out of its way to tear its hero down before giving him one final ride. Come say goodbye to a character we've watched for 17 years, Logan asks. That's enough to get butts in the seats. We've come this far, right?

And to the film's credit, Jackman and director James Mangold have crafted a beautiful, bleak, and merciless farewell to one of the young century's first cinematic icons. Logan, the Wolverine, James Howlett, whatever he is and whoever he is, doesn't get the ending he deserves, but rather the ending he needs. (Spoilers from this point on, of course.)

logan trailer breakdown

One More Fight

No cities are leveled in Logan. There are no portals in the sky, no cackling super-villains, and no plots to dominate the planet. In fact, the war has been lost: mutant are near extinction and the United States of 2029 is an unwelcome, unpleasant place, a landscape where advancements in technology drag the poor and helpless along the road rather than give them a lift. All anyone, even a once-immortal superhero with an adamantium skeleton, can do is cling on for dear life.

The stakes in Logan are small. Will Laura (Dafne Keen), a young mutant, escape across the Canadian border with her band of fellow test subjects? Will her father, the fallen hero once known as the Wolverine, rise to occasion and fight for them? Logan's final fight is a desperate, chaotic affair – an old man who can barely stand launches himself into one more battle, all in the name of children whose future across the border is big question mark and nothing more. Logan fights not to save the world or to defeat a villainous scheme – he fights to give group of kids a fighting chance, an opportunity to maybe find peace in a new land.

Like the other battles in the film, Mangold stages the climax of Logan with brutal ferocity. The fights are nasty and violent, with those claws impaling skulls and limbs littering the forest floor. However, it is not a scene that invites cheers. It doesn't thrill or excite. Other superhero movies, even the great ones, treat their action like a celebration. In Logan, action is violence and violence darkens the soul. It taints its characters like the adamantium has tainted Wolverine himself, weakening him, stripping him to the bone. The final stretch of this movie is downright funereal.

But the good guys win. The bad guys die. The clone of Logan, the film's surprise villain, is put down with a special bullet our hero wanted to put in his own brain. And Wolverine himself is impaled on a branch, his healing powers finally worn to nothing. He doesn't walk away from this one: Logan dies in the middle of nowhere, not as a member of the X-Men but as a father, a man who pushed himself to the breaking point for a tiny deed that no one will remember.

But Laura has his DNA. Logan lives on in his daughter. Sometimes, you save the world. Sometimes, you save a life. You take the victories you can get.

logan trailer breakdown

A Legacy Laid to Rest

Hugh Jackman's contributions to the modern comic book movie cannot be overstated. Here is an actor – good-looking, versatile, Clint Eastwood with the capacity to smile like Tom Cruise – who stepped into a role that could have been ridiculous and made it work. In many ways, Jackman's Wolverine is the ideal superhero movie performance. He takes the material seriously, but is not without humor. He transforms his body for the part, looking like he stepped out of a comic book illustration. He radiates an unteachable charisma. He's cool, even when he's hurting.

But Logan pushes that hurting to the breaking limit. The film opens with him getting battered in a fight he could have won easily a decade earlier, lets him lose his fair of brawls as he road trips across the country, and concludes with his death. Mangold and Logan, fearlessly and boldly, lets us see what becomes of heroes after the war is over. We all age. We all die. Everything ends. Because we've seen Logan at his best, at his coolest, this film is a punishing experience. Forget Magneto – time is the  greatest super villain. It makes victims of us all.

In the end, Logan is killed by the worst elements of himself, a genetically engineered Wolverine that lacks his life experience and capacity for goodness. He's killed by pure rage and pain and anger. Those elements still exist in our Logan, but they've been tempered by his time with the X-Men, by a father figure who loves him like a son, and by a new daughter he'll never truly get to know. It's no accident that it's Laura who kills Logan's evil half, blowing his brains out with an adamantium bullet. Family saved the Wolverine, transformed him from a wandering cage fighter into a bonafide hero. In the end, family puts down the literal embodiment of his worst elements once and for all.

When Logan is buried, Laura pauses by his grave, takes that makeshift wooden cross, and turns it on its side, transforming it into an "X." The symbology is simple, but seismic: mutants are not beholden to human institutions, to the society that rejected them. Stripped of its religious connotations, the cross is a default human symbol, the go-to iconography of a final resting place. No one is going to visit Logan's grave, but it might as well bear the proper marker. It might as well represent what he actually fought for. What he actually died for.

We know the man in that grave. We know his mission. We watched it for 17 years. We know what that "X" means.

Logan trailer - Hugh Jackman

The Future of Wolverine

Let's face facts: Wolverine is coming back. Hugh Jackman won't play him and hopefully, no amount of money will tempt him back – Deadpool 2 is not worth undoing a perfect, painful farewell. But yeah: Wolverine is coming back. Maybe Fox will give him a few years off. Maybe they'll have a new actor ready to go for X-Men: Supernova. But we'll see another actor playing Logan within the next few years.

How do you find someone willing to follow in Jackman's footsteps? How do you find someone capable of doing what he did? Whoever takes this part next will exist in a shadow that will be nearly impossible to escape. Jackman defined this character for a generation of moviegoers and anyone who thinks they can march in and do the same thing on the same level is crazy.

In fact, the best thing future X-Men movies can do is to not replicate Hugh Jackman. You can't. Don't even try. Don't find another movie-star-handsome charmer. Don't search for a new version of we already know. The key to escaping that shadow is, purely and simply, to go in the opposite direction. Look to the Wolverine of the comics: the squat, hairy, anti-social weirdo, the guy who could have been played by a young Ron Perlman. This doesn't have to be a movie star role or even a leading character – a character actor playing a gruffer, meaner Wolverine in an ensemble feels like the proper next step. Jackman's Wolverine isn't quite the comic book version and that's okay. He made it work. He made something special. However, the source material offers an escape route. Fox should take it.

Long live the Wolverine. Long live Hugh Jackman.

(For more on Logan, look for our spoiler-filled interview with James Mangold arriving later today and a larger deep-dive article arriving tomorrow.)