**This has spoilers. Don’t read it if you haven’t seen Logan yet. If you haven’t seen Logan yet, go and see Logan.**
I failed to write a play in my twenties. It was about an ageing James Bond. I wondered what it would be like for the hero who always returns to get put out to grass before he is ready. It was a rotten play, but I always liked the idea. Then Logan blew it away. The new Wolverine film grabs the question about what happens when a recurring hero meets a real ending, and takes it to a new level. Logan asks a darker question than I ever dared: what if the hero is ready to go — but his universe won’t let him die?
Episodic heroes, who return to fight through adventure after adventure, must always have their final ending hidden somewhere over the horizon. It’s utterly remarkable that Marvel had the courage to make a film about a recurring character’s longing for death. Maybe they greenlit it for the fight sequences and forgot to read the rest of the script.
Wolverine, with his superhuman healing powers and unbreakable claws, is a character designed for one adventure after another. Logan imagines a time where those tricks begin to fail, but the adventures won’t stop. Like all the rest of us, Wolverine gets old and needs glasses. Instead of instant healing, he is crusted with wounds. And inside, his psyche is tortured by all the violence he has seen. Like the malfunctioning androids in the Westworld remake, he no longer resets as he goes through his endless loop of adventure after adventure. The memories and the wounds accumulate, unbearably. He is rotting from the inside.
Logan takes seriously how appalling it would be to live as an episodic hero. To go through such punishment again and again. As a matter of formal structure, heroes suffer their way through stories. Most only have to do it once. Episodic heroes are chained to the wheel forever. Worse still, bad things must always happen to those around the hero. In Logan this is taken to its appalling conclusion when Wolverine makes the mistake of thinking he can spend a restorative night with the loving family that offered his band of misfits a welcome. The hero defends the borders of the promised land, but he can never live there.
It is little surprise that Wolverine wants to die — especially since the world around him has rejected his breed of heroism. There are no more mutants. Professor Xavier is dwindling into a second childhood. The X-Men are only remembered in simplified and exaggerated comic books.
And yet adventure keeps coming. And Wolverine is called to suffer again. The world thinks it doesn’t need him. He thinks the world is right. Both are wrong.
And remarkably, deftly, the film rewards Wolverine’s sacrifice. It concludes when he learns the only way a hero can die: by teaching his replacement. His release comes when his ferocious, lab-grown daughter picks up the adamantium bullet Wolverine longs to fire into his own brain, and uses it to destroy the monster. For the first time, she rejects the longing to escape the struggle, controls her strength and kills as a human hero, not an animal. And at last Wolverine is released — at least until the inevitable reboot.
Logan is a terrifying movie. It reminds us how much we ask of heroes, and how desperately we need them, even when we try and convince ourselves we are better off without them.
My book has no superheroes in it. But it will show you new ways to fight for what you believe in if you buy it now.