What Logan means for the X-Men

‘In the near future, a weary Logan cares for an ailing Professor X in a hide out on the Mexican border. But Logan’s attempts to hide from the world and his legacy are upended when a young mutant arrives, being pursued by dark forces.’

That’s the newly released official synopsis for Logan as revealed recently on Hugh Jackman’s Twitter in the form of a melancholy looking picture. The online publicity campaign for this movie has been consistent and unrelenting in its release of new images, mostly focusing on tone over story content.
But while the images may not be wowing anyone, it’s clear that that isn’t the point of them. This is Hugh Jackman’s last X-Men film. Both he and director James Mangold have promised that this will be Wolverine done right. And so, it seems, they’re seeking to ramp up the anticipation, and ensure that they get bums in seats for what will be (for now, anyway) the last ride of the Wolverine. There are no huge spoilers (not ones that keen-eyed fans wouldn’t have guessed themselves) and no eager cash-grabs, just a steady reminder that it’s coming our way.

The film is due to be released in March. At this stage, who knows how it will be.

But what happens afterwards?

This franchise, started in the year 2000, has more or less been built up around Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine. To date, there have been nine entries in the series. Out of those, two of them have been Wolverine standalone features. Four of the X-Men films have featured Wolverine as the central character. And the other three have featured him in some capacity, whether that be a brief, foul-mouthed cameo (First Class), a full scene of beserker rage (Apocalypse) or even just a picture attached to Ryan Reynolds’ face and some jokes at his expense (Deadpool).
Making the franchise so reliant on Wolverine has had both its up- and downsides. Having had the most character development, it’s safe to say that a sizeable chunk of audiences come to see these films for Wolverine, over, say, other characters like Cyclops and Nightcrawler. He’s a cash machine, and one that works well. On the other hand, it does mean that, post-Logan, the filmmakers behind the X-Men films are going to have to return to the drawing board and refocus on new characters. This is especially true seeing as one of the next most prominent characters in the series is Professor X, and it’s highly unlikely that Patrick Stewart will be returning to the franchise after this next outing. Furthermore, James McAvoy, who plays a younger version of Professor X, has also come to the end of his contract, as have other franchise mainstays Jennifer Lawrence (Mystique) and Michael Fassbender (Magneto).

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Surely, then, Logan would stand as a good end to the series? What we’ve seen so far definitely suggests as much.

“Mutants – they’re gone now,” a weary Logan says to Professor X in the trailer for the upcoming film. After battling the likes of Magneto, Phoenix, Sebastian Shaw, the Sentinels and Apocalypse, it seems that the mutant race has gone the way of the dodo. What we’re left with is a mere handful of the species, struggling to survive as their powers slowly fail them. It would be a sombre end, for sure, but perhaps an inevitable one. Throughout the series, despite claims that they’re destined to be the dominant life form on the planet, the mutants’ extinction has always been just a few steps away. In fact, it had all but occurred in X-Men: Days of Future Past (which would have also served as a perfect end to the series – especially as it would have spared us from the mediocrity that was X-Men: Apocalypse) before our heroes rewrote the timeline and restored the world to something that leaned more towards utopia than dystopia.
But it seems time has struck back, and so, for Wolverine’s final outing, watching him make the best of a bad situation – finding happiness in spite of the X-Men’s failure – is the only way this series can truly end.
Unless they rewrite time again, then all X-Men movies from here on out will inevitably be leading to this grim apocalyptic future. Yes, audiences will still flock to see the films, but is it worth it, when we now know that any future characters we hope to get invested in will either further the muddled continuity or inevitably die so Logan can pop his claws one final time?

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Because as of the time of writing, that does seem to be Fox’s plan. As it stands, they’re pushing ahead with New Mutants, another film about teenage mutant heroes trained by Xavier (with Fox still hoping McAvoy will decide to come back) fighting the good fight. Similarly, rumours of a sequel to Apocalypse are milling around: a sequel that will supposedly re-do ‘The Dark Phoenix Saga’ that was loosely adapted in X-Men: The Last Stand. And then there’s Deadpool. But he’s basically in his own universe anyway, so he can just keep doing whatever he wants and it doesn’t really affect the other films all that much.
But Deadpool aside, the further they continue to push this franchise, especially after Logan, the more of a mess it will become. The continuity between these films is already in tatters, and with every addition, Logan included, it becomes worse. For instance, in Logan, Stephen Merchant plays a character called Caliban. A character who literally just showed up in the previous film, X-Men: Apocalypse, played by a different actor, in a different setting, in a completely different time period! Sure, they can say there’s more than one Caliban, but the fact is, they don’t seem to care enough to do so, so we, the audience, know it’s simply sloppy continuity.

It’s clear then, Logan is the perfect end-point for the X-Men franchise. Superhero movies have been around long enough that reboots within the genre aren’t unheard of. In the past twelve years we’ve had two iterations of The Fantastic Four, and in the past seventeen years, we’ve had three different actors play Spider-Man on the big screen.
If Fox were to reboot, focusing on character development across the board, rather than just hoisting up a select few favourites, it wouldn’t be so noticeable when Wolverine doesn’t show up. Heck, after the comic-book debut of the X-Men back in 1963, it took a whole eleven years for the character of Wolverine to even be created, and a further year after that before he joined the team. Starting again, with Wolverine temporarily benched, wouldn’t be such a bad idea. And then, when he inevitably returned to the franchise, it would be an event worth getting excited for, and not just a case of people thinking ‘Oh, there’s another X-Men film coming out. Will it be great, like Days of Future Past or Deadpool, or will it be dreadful, like The Last Stand or Origins?’

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For now, though, it looks like audiences are going to have to strap in and see how the next few films fare. It’s unlikely anyone will want to see Hugh Jackman replaced any time in the imminent future, and any potential replacement characters, like Laura/X-23, have been introduced in films that will only further muddle the continuity, were they to join the central X-Men team.

Despite its end-times setting, Logan is a chance for the franchise to start anew. Unfortunately, it’s a chance Fox probably won’t commit to taking.

Logan claws its way into cinemas on March 3rd