The Story Ends for my Favorite Superhero

Superheroes are a big deal right now, but that’s nothing new. One could argue that characters like Achilles, Odysseus, and Beowulf were the superheroes of their time. Why they’ve surged again in popularity now is a question I’ve wondered about, but I don’t really have any answers. I just know that I’m one of those people who really enjoy them and am nowhere near getting tired of them. It’s always a great date night with my husband to go see the latest superhero movie.

I was never into comic books as a kid, but I’ve always been a science fiction fan, and it looks like I’m far from being alone being a science fiction geek in modern paganism.

Well, the last superhero movie we saw was Logan. We went to see it on its opening weekend, and I’m still thinking about it. I admit it; Wolverine was always my favorite movie “superhero,” and Logan reminded me why. Last weekend I dug out my DVD’s of the first two X-Men movies to re-watch.

Now that the Avengers are dominating the movie theaters, I think people forget that the first X-Men movie actually started our latest iteration of superhero popularity. I saw it at a special midnight opening night showing when it came out in 2000. My boyfriend at the time had been a fan of the comics and was really excited to see it, so I went with him.

Back in 2000, superhero movies weren’t cool anymore. Christopher Reeve’s Superman had come and gone. Tim Burton’s Batman movies were good at first, but by the late 90’s the series had become pretty terrible. Without the X-Men, we probably would never have had Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy or the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

I went into that movie skeptical that I would like it, thinking it would be cheesy, but that didn’t last long. The first scene was of a concentration camp during the Holocaust. Then a teen girl almost kills her boyfriend by kissing him, runs away, and meets a surly man with muttonchops and knives that come out of his hands.

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Even if I wasn’t a comics fan, I already basically knew who Wolverine was. I knew that his superpower was that he was a tough guy with claws. But that’s it? That’s his superpower? That’s all? I didn’t care about him much until that scene in the movie where he’s in his truck having an awkward conversation with the teenage girl.

“When they come out, does it hurt?”

“Every time.”

I think Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine is the Han Solo of my generation. At first he doesn’t really want to help the heroes. He doesn’t want to get too involved. He rolls his eyes and thinks all this hero stuff is stupid. He gets in plenty of memorable one-liners.

“Sabertooth? Storm? What do they call you? Wheels? This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.”

You need a character like that in a movie like this. I think a big reason why the Star Wars prequels weren’t as good as the original trilogy was because they didn’t have a Han Solo in them. And like Han Solo, it turns out Logan’s a good guy after all and finally does the right thing in the end.

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As for his unimpressive superpower, that turned out to be much more interesting than I expected. In the first movie it’s revealed that his real superpower is an ability to heal from any injury. He has amnesia, so he’s not sure how it happened, but someone took advantage of his power and added the metal claws and an entire metal skeleton to him. In the second movie, X2: X-Men United, he meets the person who did this to him, William Stryker, who was trying to turn him into a living weapon, until he somehow escaped.

I know this was contradicted in later movies when they added the “bone claws” (continuity is not the X-Men’s strong point), but I always thought it made more sense that Wolverine wasn’t born with the claws, and they were added to him later.

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“People don’t change, Wolverine. You were an animal then and you’re an animal now. I just gave you claws.”

I think this makes his claws even more frightening, and by that I mean frightening to Wolverine. They’re not really supposed to be there. That’s why they have to cut through his hands when they come out, instead of having some sort of sheath like the claws of cats. There’s nothing inherently violent about super-fast healing. Something about having weapons built into his arms adds an extra level of horror to it.

 

Of course, Stryker also says Logan wasn’t a very nice guy before that, and that he volunteered for the procedure. “Be careful what you wish for,” is another idea that goes way back to ancient mythology. At some time in his life the claws seemed like a good idea, but not so much anymore.

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Especially when he accidentally stabs people who startle him. Oops!

Not that they don’t come in handy from time to time! The fight between Wolverine and Sabertooth in the first movie was OK, but I loved the scene in the second movie where Stryker’s men make the mistake of invading Xavier’s mutant school in the middle of the night while Wolverine is babysitting.

“I feel a great swell of pity for the poor soul who comes to that school looking for trouble.”

While the children panic, he proceeds to single-handedly slaughter Stryker’s men one by one. Now you get to see the kind of thing Stryker had in mind when he made Wolverine into a terrifying one-man killing machine.

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I thought X2 did a great job exploring Wolverine’s backstory. In the end, Wolverine turns his back on Stryker and his past and becomes the mutant children’s protector.

 

These first two movies are what made me love Wolverine, but after having the spotlight on him for two consecutive movies, I expected the third movie to give some of the other characters time to shine. Unfortunately, I found the third X-Men movie disappointing. Then Wolverine got a solo movie all about him, even though I thought X2 explored is backstory well enough. Ironically, I think all the focus on him wasn’t really doing his character justice. Even I was starting to get Wolverine fatigue.

By the time X-Men: First Class came out, I didn’t even bother to see it in the theater. I also didn’t bother to go see The Wolverine. I thought the X-Men series wasn’t worth seeing anymore. Superhero fans had moved on to The Dark Knight and Iron Man.

 

But not seeing First Class in the theater turned out to be a mistake. When I finally saw it on cable I really enjoyed it, because it turned out to be Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr/Magneto’s story. Finally those characters got fleshed out. I especially liked Michael Fassbender’s portrayal of young Magneto, hunting down Nazis in Argentina. When Days of Future Past came out I went to see it right away and really enjoyed it. Wolverine is in it, but Xavier and Magneto continue to be the focus of the story. Charles Xavier finally became a fleshed-out character in these movies. He was born into a life of luxury, and he has a power that he could use to pretty much kill everyone if he wanted to, but his ability also enables him to feel everyone’s emotional pain, so instead it just gives him an enormous capacity for empathy. Finally it made sense why he made it his life’s work to try to help mutants get along with other humans. I wouldn’t have found Logan as moving if I hadn’t gotten to know Xavier better through these films.

Magneto also gets to be a foil for not just Xavier, but also Wolverine. Magneto and Wolverine were both mistreated by humans, but end up reacting to it very differently. Magneto comes to hate ordinary humans, while Wolverine seems to understand why humans would fear him and doesn’t really hold it against them.

“So you were always an asshole.” I love that part.

I also appreciated that bit of grey I noticed in Logan’s hair at the beginning of Days of Future Past, before he gets sent back in time. That was the first indication that Logan isn’t actually immortal, he just ages very slowly. The Wolverine that goes back in time to meet the younger version of Xavier and Erik is an older and wiser version of himself. That made his role in the movie much more interesting.

 

But the X-Men movies still fell into a trap that these kinds of stories often do. The writers feel they have to raise the stakes for our heroes more and more. It’s not good enough to save one person, or one city. They have to save the whole world, or the whole universe. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still looking forward to Guardians of the Galaxy 2 and the rest of the Avengers movie series, which is definitely going in that direction. But saving the whole world can get old after a while, and it can make your hero more difficult to relate to.

Wolverine is an interesting character because he doesn’t have the power to control the weather or control people’s minds or lift entire stadiums into the air. When we first met Wolverine before 9/11, protecting a teenage runaway seemed sufficient to make him heroic. Now we’re back to having superheroes saving the entire universe with almost god-like powers (an in the case of Thor we have an actual god as a superhero). Where does a guy with claws fit into that?

I finally saw The Wolverine on TV and it was another disappointment.  I heard rumors that they were going to make yet another Wolverine movie, and I didn’t think it was a good idea at first. I turned out to be wrong.

I think I haLogan-Poster-Wolverine-3d just seen Doctor Strange when I saw this movie poster under “Coming Soon” at the theater. It took me a few seconds to even register that this was a poster for a new “superhero” movie. Gone was the colorful ensemble of characters. Instead it’s just a monochrome picture of two hands, the delicate hand of a child clutching the cut and scarred hand of a man. And then you notice the blades.

I know there’s another movie poster that is in a Western style, which is and appropriate, but this poster is definitely  my favorite.

This movie reminded me of why I loved Wolverine to begin with. Days of Future Past shows that Wolverine can age after all, and now in Logan the years have really caught up with him (and with Xavier). Like Bruce Wayne hobbling around with a cane in The Dark Knight Rises, Logan is finally paying the physical price for his superhero days. His healing power is slowing down. One of his claws gets jammed halfway out of his arthritic hand. He has become the caretaker of Charles Xavier, who is suffering from some sort of super-powered dementia.

There’s been lots of talk about how violent this movie is. In this case I think it’s a legitimate artistic choice, rather than just gore for gore’s sake. Wolverine’s rampage in X2 was impressive, but the carnage was mostly done in the dark, or just off-screen. In Logan every death is close up and well-lit. You see exactly the kind of damage those nasty blades in his hands can do. Now you can see what Logan has been seeing this whole time. The action scenes in Logan weren’t thrilling or fun to watch like in previous X-Men movies. Instead of making Wolverine look like a cool badass, they just make him look tired of having to do this again.

When we last saw Logan at the end of Days of Future Past, it looked like he had finally lived happily ever after, but that didn’t last. Some people may not want to see these beloved characters go through something like this, but the thing that made Wolverine so popular was that he was more relatable than most other superheroes. In the real world, “happy endings” don’t last forever. Happiness is always temporary. Hang on to it and enjoy it while you have it, but eventually people do get old and sick and die. You don’t have to be 200 years old to know that.

This movie isn’t completely bleak and hopeless, though. Logan is given a chance to be a hero one last time. Once again he has to protect a young girl, but taking care of Charles has worn him out so much that he’s even more reluctant to help her, even though this time it’s his own daughter. But Logan is a good guy, so in the end, he does the right thing. The last heroic act of the mighty Wolverine is not saving the whole world, but just taking care of his family and making sure his daughter is safe.

“So this is what it feels like.”

My husband and I sat in the theater for all of the closing credits, and once the music stopped, I noticed all the sniffling around me. I think everyone in the theater was crying by the end of that movie. It was that good. I can’t think of a better way to end Logan’s story.

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