I can’t really stop talking about Logan. (SPOILERS, duh!)
Many people are talking about the literal timeline of Wolverine I want to talk about the character beats in order of appearance and what it all means for Mr ‘Good at what I do’ overall. I’m not a big fusser about practical issues of movies (unless that is a key plot point) but rather character consistency and development. So here goes my over-analysis:
X1 – the grizzled anti-hero
(Sorry for reuse of picture, but I love it)
When Wolverine was first introduced in film back in 2000 he wasn’t too much more than a typical anti-hero, reluctantly helping out a younger mutant (Rogue) drawing him into the X-men and a greater plot of Magneto to use Rogue for a malignant plan. Despite many of his beats following a rather typical anti-hero, many of the key themes of his character were introduced here and came full circle in Logan. Interestingly while Wolverine is shown as being reluctant, he never hesitates to be a hero, it’s actually his acceptance of relationships and closeness which he rejects hidden under his mocking of the X-men and grumpy demeanor. Twice he takes actions harming himself to save others, and I’m not 100% its because he knows he will heal.
While these character beats are shown to develop Wolverine’s acceptance of the X-men, they also lay the groundwork of his fatal flaws. If you look at the conclusion of the film he confesses his love to Jean (a woman he can’t have) and ‘runs again’ he does give his dog-tags to Rogue before he leaves showing his desire to remain connected, but perhaps also showing his lack of real connection (he doesn’t even know where he got them)
In X2 Wolverine is introduced as being fairly comfy among his X-men families, but cracks are present. He doesn’t succeed in finding out about his past, and a very interesting tiny point that is perhaps overlooked as a funny joke: when the mansion is attacked Wolverine slays a soldier in typical bad-ass fashion, but when we see Ice-man he is looking in fear at Wolverine. It’s a small moment but telling. X2 is one of my favourite X-men ones and its very Wolvy centric which is great. Logan’s heroism again isn’t called into question he always acts to save others, but there are several key moments when he is tempted to investigate his past even towards the end finding himself alone facing off against (Lady Deathstrike?) Wolverine killed his ‘also unique’ enemy is actually a harrowing often overlooked character development. It also links again to Logan strongly, as he kills DS with adamantium, just as she dies he sees her return to her real self and realizes he has killed someone even more like him than he realizes. There is a telling point in Logan where X-23 tells him ‘she kills bad people’ and Logan replies ‘They’re all the same’ showing that even the fact that Wolverine usually fights the right people in the end it doesn’t relieve the guilt.
Other than the key plot Wolverine also tries it on with Jean, failing, again humour undermining an actual significant character beat – Jean says Logan is a ‘bad-boy’ and he desperately offers to be a good-guy for her, which she laughs off. As I said it’s portrayed as funny but it actually underlines the true anguish of Wolverine, no-one loves him. Magneto describes him as being ‘taken in’ by Charles like a wild animal.
While X2 seems to end on a happy note for Wolverine (other than of course Jean ‘dying’) the cracks in his life are actually wider than ever. He’s just lost a chance at finding out about his past (note: Logan never really finds out about his past properly, he learns about Weapon-X etc but never knows about his really early days. This is part of his big tragedy) the woman he loves has died and his X-family accept but also fear him.
So X3 is generally considered a pretty crappy movie, in part because of the poor characterization. I won’t go on about this, the over-all development of Wolverine in this is whether or not he can be a team player. In my opinion this misses the point of Wolverine. We’ve seen already that he never hesitates to throw his life on the line for others, its his need to be loved and accepted that is missing. While this does result in him going ‘solo’ too often its not driven by a lack of team-playerness its his central flaw as a character believing that everyone else is better off without him.
Of course the story ends on a powerful note – killing Jean/Phoenix pitting Wolverine against the need to do the right thing, and his love for Jean. While this is played out poorly in my opinion, its is vital in Wolverine’s hubris as it were.
The movie ends awkwardly showing Wolverine accepting his role as a teacher in the school missing but respecting the legacy of Professor X, Cyclops and Jean. This is despite the reality of Wolverine succeeding as a violent hero, but failing to truly be accepted in the X-family. (don’t worry The Wolverine below gets in right)
X-men Origins is also fairly widely panned as a film, perhaps relying too hard on flashy effects rather than story-telling. The main characterization is showing just how violent and horrific Wolverine’s life has been. As I mentioned above one of the the tragedies of his story is that he doesn’t ever fully learn about his past. When we see it, it makes us wonder if he really would want to know, between killing his biological family, drawing countless others into the blood-shed and finally the love of his life really just being a manipulation we see the making of a man who despite being the ultimate killing machine, really is just an emotional wreck.
The main beat of origins to to highlight just low little comfort there is in Wolverine’s life. His surrogate brother is a savage killer who participated in turning him into a more deadly weapon, his love interest basically the same but with emotions. While modern Wolverine is tormented by his loss of memory, its just as horrible that there is no ‘Eden’ for Wolverine.
The beginning of Wolverine’s second solo adventure begins much alike Logan. He’s living alone in a forest, a nearby bear his closet friend. As mentioned earlier X3 seemed to end on a good note for our hero, but this installment reveals the truth: Wolverine is broken by his guilt. One the surface the character development of the story is quite simple, being about dragging Wolverine out of the forest and back into hero-life. Looking at the overarching tale however shows us something different. We see Wolverine somewhat broken at the start, and then early in the film a man he saved years ago basically straight up offers him death (later of course betraying him and trying to take life from Wolfy anyway) yes the film shows Wolverine getting back up and into the hero business but again we are shown a Wolverine haunted by the past and unable to settle because of it.
Some have complained about how The Wolverine ends on a positive, yet the next film is apocalyptic – however the key point is Wolverine is still a co-operative hero in the world (not hiding in the woods)
Days of Future Past
DoFP is one of the best and most well received X-men films (it really is quite good). Interestingly while Wolvy features heavily there isn’t so much character development on his part. What is VERY intriguing for me, is that his healing ability allows him to go back in time, but really his claws and ultra-violence are not what is needed in the past, its his mentorship of young Xavier. It’s an important distinction because it shows Wolverine growing emotionally and perhaps finding redemption in a less claw orientated way.
Problems abound however. When Wolverine encounters Striker an enemy from his past he basically has a breakdown, this shows that despite all that Wolverine has done he is still emotionally volatile and tellingly, slashes Shadowcat in his despair, almost ruining the whole mission.
The film actually ends very painfully despite people noticing the good stuff.
Before the conclusion Wolverine is defeated by Magneto, who tells him ‘so much for being a survivor’ fills him with metal pipes and throws him into the nearby river.
As the movie concludes we see Wolverine wake up in a fresh new, ‘nice’ timeline where he is a teacher at Xavier’s school and to our pleasant surprise, everyone is alive including Cyclops and Jean.
For the astute viewer however, the sequence ends with Wolverine being asked ‘whats the last thing you remember’
To which the reply is ‘drowning’ and we cut back to Wolverine on the river-bed.
The importance of this sequence is pivotal to Logan. While the ending is mostly happy, Wolverine is shown to almost be stuck in a Ground-hog like cycle of pain and suffering. Take note of the fact that even though the ending is happy, Wolverine is left with the memories of the apocalyptic timeline.
Even though Wolverine greets his living teammates with great warmth, there is distance between the others and Wolverine. Again Wolverine has proved his heroic nature but is still haunted.
Interestingly if DoFP had been Jackman’s last Wolverine outing, and they cut that last drowning scene the movie would have been a pretty good happy ending for Wolverine.
It’s feels pretty soon to be going over this film again but I just need the catharsis if I’m honest
Logan begins with Wolverine pretty much broken. A lot of people were annoyed by this from an X-men continuum point of view, but really it works well for the hero. Despite all his efforts Logan is still haunted and unconnected from anyone else in the world. He starts the movie being shown caring for Xavier, while being pretty shabby himself, his body falling about through adamantium poisoning.
Now there is something hugely poetic about this. While much of the cinematic Wolverine’s tragedy has technically been beyond his control, there is a major point that I didn’t mention above. Wolverine chooses to have the adamantium treatment in the hopes of defeating and killing Sabre-Tooth. The fact that this decision is what is poisoning him in his late life is an excellent analogy of his guilt and past choices.
His caring for an ailing Professor X while initially portrayed ambiguously is again an example of how Wolverine never fails to do the right thing when it comes to heroics, its his inability to connect to others that plagues him.
While again on the surface, Wolverine is shown to be a reluctant hero and much more convincingly than in X1 we see him do all the right things per se, the question becomes will he actually care about X-23 or will he just go through the violent motions?
There is a heart-breaking part of the film where Xavier tells Wolverine about family and how it isn’t too late for him. The horrible part being, he doesn’t tell Wolverine this, he tells his murderous clone X-24. The fact that Wolverine never hears this is a tear-jerker, but makes his final acceptance of X-23 more significant. While the context of Logan is will he manage to save the day despite his body falling to pieces, the subtext is will he let himself care about others and finally be accepted.
The fascinating thing about the movies coming full circle from Wolverine reluctantly helping Rogue, to Logan reluctantly helping X-23 is that the latter actually accepts him. While Rogue developed a baby-crush on Wolverine ultimately he had a distance between them (ironically because the whole deal with Rogue is how upset she is can’t touch people but its Wolverine who really is suffering with no connections emotionally) in X-23 not only does Logan have a child to save (he practically does it every other movies) he also has someone who accepts his faults like a real family member, with love but also calling him on it. He also for the first time ever (but sort of begun to develop in DoFP) has someone that he can provide guidance to.
The real triumph of Logan is not just that he finds peace, and experiences family, but that he is able to offer her guidance ‘you don’t have to be what they made you’ that shows even in all his despair he has hope.
The tragedy of Logan’s story is he never was able to overcome his violent rage/past (as represented by his clone X-24) but the flipside is him finding family and connection and hope in his last moments.
While Logan was a hard slog emotionally, it very much finishes the character act as it should. It would have been nice to see a ‘happy’ ending aka DoFP, but in many respects that would be a sweeping under the rug of Wolverine’s story. On the surface Logan is a harrowing depressing story about pain and suffering and one’s past overcoming them, below the surface the story is much more about not giving up hope – while the movie is full of bloody claw action the real triumph is Logan’s words to his daughter the heroism in his ability to hope for her future beyond his own torment.
In summary while the series of Logan’s act seems to be the growth of a loner to a hero the reality is its the story of despair to hope. Wolverine never really hesitates to do good things, his real problem is his own self, a problem only overcome in his last moments.