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Friday, February 10, 2017

Logan News Update

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With about a month left till the premiere of Logan AKA Wolverine 3, now is probably a good time to look over everything we’ve learned about the latest entry in the X-Men franchise.  I’ve made no secret of the fact I don’t really care for Fox’s X-Men film series.  

I was never as into the X-Men and X-Men United as much as others in my age bracket, and I flat out hated Days of Future Past, and while Deadpool and First Class were good, they feel like exceptions rather than rules. 

However, all of my hesitation has gone right out the damn window in the lead up to Logan, which promises the most dark, grounded, and patently human entry in the entire X-Men film canon, possibly the whole canon overall if we're honest.  

It looks like a small, dirty, complicated R-rated flick that’s drawing the best elements from across the franchise’s history to create something entirely new and exciting while also paving the way for future possibilities. 

If you still haven’t heard, our setting is a not too distant future.  It’s a shattered landscape of mild to moderate dystopia, the kind of place that still has functioning institutions like convenience stores and companies but there’s a serious sense the world is dying slowly and painfully.  

It’s more or less in line with the world presented by the first Mad Max film, a society that’s not so much on the brink as it is in free fall and just enjoying the ride down.  All of the X-Men and the Brotherhood of mutants are either dead or missing aside from Xavier and Wolverine. 

What’s more, mutants as a species are slowly going extinct, with their numbers dwindling fewer and fewer and those that exist are giving way to entropy and decay.  That’s the case with Logan and Professor X, their advanced age and the situation is slowly robbing them of their powers.  

In Wolverine’s case, his healing has basically stopped, so he’s always in constant pain from the metal skeleton inside his body.  For Xavier his situation is a bit more threatening, his psychic powers have gone, but there’s also the chance he could have a psychic seizure at any second and kill everyone around him. 

Into this wasteland wilderness, the two come upon X-23, a young girl with Wolverine’s healing and claw powers.  I know several fans thought X-23 already appeared in the X-Men films, in particular in X2: X-Men United.  It’s an understandable mistake given that X-23 is hardly the first character to ape Wolverine’s “claws + healing factor” gimmick.  The character from X2, an enforcer of General Striker with razor claws that came out of her fingernails, was actually a radically re-imagined Lady Deathstrike. 

She’s been around since the ‘80s whereas X-23 is a much more recent creation.  In the film, X-23 is the first mutant the two have encountered in a long time, a kind of feral child with all of Logan’s powers and his murderous impulses.  The two rescue her but the evil forces of the Essex Corporation, who’ve deployed a team of Cyborg mercenaries after her, are pursuing her. 

What’s so impressive about this set-up, at least from the outside before we know if the movie actually hangs together, is the way it cannibalizes several mediocre X-Men stories into something more meaningful.  From the name alone you can see this story is borrowing heavily from Old Man Logan, a super popular adult oriented Wolverine comic from the late 2000s. 

It was pretty much inevitable that someone was going to try and adapt Old Man Logan given it was written by Mark Millar, whose work has proved the MOST adaptable material in the modern comics canon.  However, Old Man Logan includes a lot of stuff involving the broader Marvel universe like a clan of inbred Hulk people and the Red Skull as president, stuff Fox couldn’t pull off in a movie.   The way they’re squaring this particular circle is to also borrow heavily from a few other stories to fill the gaps in Old Man Logan they couldn’t deal with. 

The biggest influence at hand here would have to be the Messiah trilogy.  This was an event comic from around the same time as Old Man Logan in the wake of something called the Decimation.  The Decimation was an event where Scarlet Witch used her power to alter reality to reduce the Mutant population by 90% and also caused new mutants to stop being born for a time.  

However, when the first new mutant child was born in Alaska, it set off a power struggle to use her for various agendas.  There’s a definite component of that plot to this film’s setting of mutants as an endangered species, with X-23 taking the role of world’s youngest mutant.  What’s more, it seems like Logan is borrowing the Messiah trilogy’s big villain- Mr. Sinister. 

Though he hasn’t shown himself yet in the trailer, Mr. Sinister is pretty much the perfect bad guy for this situation.  He’s one of those X-Men foes like Apocalypse who’s much more interesting as a visual concept than as an actual character.  In the books, he was a Victorian geneticist named Nathaniel Essex who studied under an incredibly powerful alien being called the High Evolutionary.  

Eventually, Essex used his discoveries to make himself immortal/indestructible and has stuck around as a genetics/mad science villain ever since.  Fox doesn’t have the rights to High Evolutionary, so that was always going to have to go, but that also fits with Logan’s patchwork approach to source material. 

Given that X-23’s comic origin is that she’s a female clone of Wolverine and that X-Men: Apocalypse set-up the Essex Corporation stealing some of Wolverine’s blood, I wouldn’t be surprised if this Mr. Sinister was using Wolverine’s healing factor to gain immortality and X-23 was just a part of that plan.  

I also wouldn’t be surprised if Sinister were behind the mutant extinction sweeping the land or if he ended up being played by Richard E. Grant in the end.  I know Grant isn’t slotted to play Sinister, but he makes the most sense and given the X-films’ track record with accurate bad guys I wouldn’t be surprised if he just got called Mr. Sinister in some throwaway gag line. 

The film’s most interesting element, however, doesn’t come from any of the trailers but from an interview with Hugh Jackman.  According to Jackman, Logan is meant to be taking place in its own continuity.  Along with Deadpool and Legion, this is the third recent X-Men project to finally just throw up their hands and say “to hell with the continuity.” 

Personally I think that’s for the best, not everything needs to be a shared universe, and the structure of the X-Men doesn’t really favor the kind of shared universe format that Marvel’s got going on.  Adopting a looser approach to inter-film continuity but doubling down on tonal differences is probably the best way for Fox to keep the X-Men franchise fresh and engaging going forward. 

However, I do wonder how this separate continuity approach will play regarding Hugh Jackman’s desire to retire.  Jackman is still in incredible shape at 48 years old but he is still 48, and he recently had a medical battle with skin cancer that’s definitely going to take a toll.  A lot of folks, myself included, have assumed that adding X-23 to the mix was a way for Jackman to finally bow out of the Wolverine role without needing to recast the character. 

If X-23 is part of an altered timeline, it makes you wonder if we’ll see her pop up in X-Men: Supernova in 2018.  I mean, it’s almost sure they’re going to have her wear the classic Wolverine suit, hence why they introduce the meta concept of X-Men comics within this film, but that all seems pretty pointless if she can’t come back next time after selling a million action figures. 

As I said at the start, I am thoroughly optimistic for Logan, even accepting that a lot of that has more to do with the tone of the trailers and their focus than the actual nuts and bolts of the narrative.  The story seems fine, a solid way to let Jackman retire from the part on top and a proper use of alternate timelines to explore unique possibilities, the kind of thing that comics have been doing since the ‘60s. 

What’s really selling me here though is the way Logan has found a way to make Wolverine’s immortality seem like a bad thing.  The comics and films LOVE to stress how tortured he is without ever making his powers seem like a real curse, which is basically the X-Men mythos’ MO. 

The entire series is built around making the characters seem like rebels and tragic heroes simply because they’re so much better than everyone else, there’s never been any real teeth to their characterizations.  Finally dropping Logan into a future where all his friends are dead and he’s left caring for a broken and beaten Professor Xavier in the shattered carcass of the world he used to know is as far from that as possible.  It’s finally working off the epiphany that the only way to actually make Wolverine tragic and interesting is to make him less of a bad ass and more of an actual person.  Here’s hoping it all comes together. 

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