This article contains major Logan spoilers!
Like so many other Western fables and legends, there’s an air of tragedy permeating Logan. Here was a film about an old mutant whose equally old genes had caught up with him. No longer able to heal quickly, his decaying abilities were even causing the adamantium that laced his bones to begin poisoning his blood. Thus the chances of Wolverine walking away from this Hugh Jackman swan song always appeared slim.
Nevertheless, director James Mangold and company actually going there by killing off a major, franchised superhero was still something of a shock. As was that cold shudder felt as Wolverine closed his weary eyes. Suddenly, it really clicks that this is the last time we’d see Hugh Jackman in the muttonchops and claws. His daughter Laura wept at his passing, and there were probably a few misty eyes in your movie theater as well.
When I sat down with James Mangold in February to discuss the film, the subject of the Logan ending, and just whose idea it was between himself and Jackman, of course came up.
By Mangold’s recollection, it’s unclear who first pitched the idea of killing the feral anti-hero in Logan.
“I think it was always just as clear as day to both of us that that’s the way we’re going to end the story,” Mangold said. He even recalled that he and Jackman experienced no reticence about going that direction from 20th Century Fox. “I didn’t really get pushback. I think everyone recognized that, one way or another, that we were coming to the end of the longest run of any actor playing a significant character like this in a run of movies, and that we wanted to go out in a really interesting way.”
Mangold also suggested that a contributing factor was to make sure that nobody would question their assurance that this would be the last one for Jackman. And yet, he adds with a booming laugh of incredulity, he still had been asked that day by other journalists if this was really both his and Hugh’s last Wolverine movie.
“I have to say I’ve been amazed, because we thought this would be [done] in a way where no one would ask, ‘Are you sure you sure there won’t be more?’” Mangold mused. “And yet, somehow even when you kill him dead, people keep asking you, ‘Are you sure you’re done?!’” The director chalks that up to the modern age of blockbuster sequels endlessly setting up more event films. “That whole thing is a sign of how little they trust us anymore.”
Still, the director did offer some tantalizing insight about what inspired the final scenes of the film. While Logan is steeped in reverence for Shane, even having Laura (Dafne Keen) recite Alan Ladd’s final words in that 1953 picture over Logan’s makeshift grave (and then turning his crucifix into an X), it is actually another Western entirely that inspired specific dynamics for the ending. Indeed, Mangold pointed me toward The Cowboys, a more obscure 1972 movie with John Wayne. In that film, Wayne dies while distracting some bad men from harming nearby boys he has taken under his employment as cattle drivers. After his death, the boys also build a modest grave for the Duke and then avenge him by killing the villainous Bruce Dern and his other rustling cohorts.
“Certainly for me, the movie that weighed on me more than any other was the great Western The Cowboys with John Wayne,” Mangold said. “And you see it reflected in many things in this movie in a) the above the marquee star dying, and b) the way the children rally. You know in the way this very gruff and difficult rancher ends up coming to terms, and actually helping these 15 to 20 young boys all become men.”
That they do, and the young characters in Logan become mutants who can defend themselves too. Although, I suspect many audience members still might have liked to see Logan walk into that sunset with them.