NB: This is your final warning for major, major Logan spoilers from the outset.
From the first shot of the very first trailer, cut to the strains of Johnny Cash’s cover of Hurt, it was clear that Logan was going to be a sombre, moody film. And with the much-publicised news that the X-Men spin-off would be Hugh Jackman’s last hurrah as Wolverine, the scene was set for an unusually emotional superhero movie.
Even armed with all that knowledge, Logan’s second half still packs a punch – the sudden realisation that we’re in the process of saying goodbye to a pair of characters we’ve followed for more than 15 years. What’s doubly surprising, in an era of universe-building and story arcs which span multiple movies, is that director James Mangold manage to convince the higher-ups at 20th Century Fox to make a film that leaves no room at all for a future reversal. There’s no post-credits scene to suggest that Logan or Charles will one day return; instead, there’s merely that final shot of an X, fashioned from twigs, sitting atop a pile of stones.
Truly, an end of an era.
For Mangold, the idea that Charles and Logan have reached the end of the road was one of the main stipulations for making another Wolverine movie – his second after The Wolverine, released in 2013.
“In many ways, the congratulations in that department should go to the studio,” the director recently told us, “because I just tried to make a movie like the others I’ve made, which are naturalistic in tone. The only thing I can take credit for in that endeavour was Hugh [Jackman] and I, straight up at the beginning, saying, ‘We only want to make this film if we get to make it our way. We’ll gladly make it for less, but we want to rate it R and we want to make a movie that kills Logan and Charles, but more importantly is darker and disconnected. Not serving any future X-movie or picking up the baton from the last one, but exists in its own space from beginning to end.'”
The result is a very different kind of comic book movie: one that delivers all the action and chases you’d expect, but also a considered, contemplative tone. Indeed, there are points in Logan where the movie doesn’t feel so much like a $100m-plus studio spin-off, as an independently-made character piece. That earthy, honest tone, Mangold suggests, might have something to do with the pace of the film’s production; Logan’s script, co-written by Mangold and Scott Frank, was only finished this time last year.
“One year ago, I just got to the ending of the script, with Scott Frank,” Mangold said. “We finished shooting in late August. It’s now February. So the speed with which we made this movie is maybe how we got away with it! We moved fast. You’re talking about every department and every person, to a man, I’d worked with before. So we were really effective at moving quickly, but the reality was that it helped. The film has a certain feel – it’s not made quickly in a bad way, but made quickly in the sense that it feels alive. It feels raw.”
While Hugh Jackman’s departure from the X-Men franchise meant that we were always going to see Wolverine written out in one way or another, the sudden, bloody demise of poor Charles Xavier was particularly shocking. It was a sad end for such a noble character, and while Xavier’s dodged death before, it seems that this really is the end of Patrick Stewart’s tenure. When we met him at a London hotel last week, we asked him about the atmosphere on set as he filmed his final scene (“A hot, steamy night in Louisiana – bugs everywhere”), and the moment when the realisation finally kicked in.
“It was after the director had called ‘cut’, and the assistant director said, ‘That’s a wrap on tonight’s work, and that’s also a wrap on Patrick Stewart’,” he told us. “It’s a tradition in the movies. People then applaud and all that. Then I thought, ‘Oh my god, is this the end?'”
There were reports circulating a few days ago that Stewart might return as Xavier in a future X-Men movie in some form, but when we spoke to him, it seemed that Logan’s screening in Berlin convinced him that this movie is the right place to bow out of the role.
“In Berlin, watching the movie with an audience for the first time, they were really enthusiastic,” Stewart recalled. “German fans are wild! It was the same with Star Trek. The movie’s very emotional. Beautifully done. The moment when she takes out the cross… when I first saw it, I thought, ‘Oh, she’s going to rest it on top of the stones, on top of the grave.’ I was completely unprepared for her putting it sideways [to create an X]. I saw [James Mangold] yesterday, and said, ‘Whose idea was that?’ He says, ‘I don’t know.’ It was then that I thought… ‘That is so perfect, that ending. For Hugh, for the movie, and for the memory of Charles. I think I’m done. I think that’s it.’ And I felt quite emotional, then.”
But while Logan signals the end of Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart’s involvement in the X-Men franchise, it could well signal a new beginning for fearsome mutant Laura, played by Dafne Keen. When asked whether he’d be interested in returning to make another X-Men spin-off, this time starring Keen’s X-23, Mangold replied with an unequivocal ‘yes’.
“Yes is the simple answer,” Mangold said. “I’d love to figure out a story for that character. But I will say more because of the actress. [Dafne Keen] is a remarkable child who I’m very attached to, and who I feel incredibly indebted to. These are huge undertakings, these movies, even with this one costing less, it was still in excess of $100m. It’s essentially a three-legged stool, with two of the legs being seasoned performers who’ve played the same characters for almost 20 years, and the third leg of that stool has, frankly, no less weight falling on her […] She’s a remarkable kid, and it would be exciting to put something together and see her again. I can’t lie – that would be exciting.”