Warning: SPOILERS for Logan ahead
Hugh Jackman’s final turn as the character notwithstanding, one of the biggest points of speculation going into Logan has been the role of Laura Kinney, a.k.a. X-23 (Dafne Keen), and where she’ll be by the end of the movie. There were big questions over the exact nature of her and Logan’s relationship, how it evolves, and how they wind up influencing each other. While she represents an innocence and idolization of the superhero Wolverine that many of us grew up adoring, she’s also potentially a successor to Wolverine as a name, a moniker she’s been given in the comics as of late.
To be blunt about it, by the end of Logan, fans are expected to see Laura as an embodied continuation of the spirit and conflict that Logan fought with for most of his life. But it isn’t without context or justification – in fact, it’s just the opposite. Through her own hardship and a not insignificant pile of bodies, Laura earns her ability to be regarded as the new Wolverine.
Logan is, at its broadest, a critique of both sides of that paradigm. In being Jackman’s swansong to the X-films, the movie takes a stern look at Fox’s approach to comic book movies since 2000, and how both the film industry and its audiences have changed. The X-Men universe in Logan is a barren place, almost completely devoid of mutants, with the members of Charles Xavier’s team either estranged or dead. All that remains is Xavier slowly dying of a degenerative neural condition and Logan serving as his carer out of deep-seated responsibility. It’s a cold, degraded view of how the X-Men series has stacked up over the last two decades.
When Laura comes along, a young girl on the run from a derivative of the Weapon X program, who requires Logan’s aid to get her to a place of solitude for mutants, he initially dismisses her outright. Logan doesn’t want to deal with her mess, and he has zero confidence in the idea of there being a new generation of mutant-kind somewhere – much less in himself as the hero who will save them.
Between the setup and this relationship, Logan scolds Fox for all its failures with the X-Men license and beckons the audience to cheer for the young girl, and hope that Logan can be a hero that guides and inspires her. Logan is the epitome of an unwilling protagonist, dragged into an even deeper mess than the one he’s barely managed to figure out, and filled with even more resentment for it. He mocks Laura for reading X-Men comics, berating the notion of someone in a leotard being a hero, reminding her that people died in the battles the X-Men fought. He’s the antagonist to her (and, by extension, the audience’s) notion of heroism and idolatry. Violence is a necessity in the world of superheroes and supervillains, and Logan has little time for pussyfooting around anyone who draws inspirations from that reality. In the background, a scene from Shane plays in which the titular character explains that once you kill someone, you’re branded with it for life.
In being so brash, Logan sets Laura on an arc that is the reverse of his own throughout the X-Men franchise. Laura’s ability to defend herself has been one of the selling points of the film for some time: she rips through the Reavers with deadly precision, without even breaking a sweat. The same rage and predatorial nature that protects her consumes her, to the point where she is barely functional in the outside world. She weakly comprehends social cues and responds to any challenge by lashing out. She’s a younger Logan, missing the years of worldly experience that granted him the power to survive.
After losing her original parent figure and rescuer, Gabriela (Elizabeth Rodriguez), Laura gradually learns that the world is a place where she needs to be proactive in who she sets her allegiance to and where she finds herself. Ruthless, uninhibited anger are not enough, but they can be necessary, and when the time comes her anger can be a gift. When Logan is faced with fighting an almost exact clone of himself, the X-24, Laura watches the lengths to which he uses his fury to overcome and exact vengeance. Afterwards, with Professor Xavier’s passing, she sees the price wrought by being against the bad guys. It’s a life of struggle and pain, and her only choice how she approaches it.
Then when they reach Eden, the movie’s spiritual successor to Charles Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, Laura’s presented with the opportunity to define how she sees and acts within this difficult world. She can join the other children from the set of experiments that created her, on their quest toward a sense of freedom as a team, or drift toward Logan’s lone-wolf mentality. In a moment of rare vulnerability, Logan expresses his suicidal thoughts to her, trying to articulate the cross he has felt himself bearing for so long. Though they once again clash, each ultimately the value in the other – without Logan, Laura would be without any significant guidance, and with her Logan has a chance to leave some modicum of positive influence.
Thus, in the final moments of the film as Logan is impaled by X-24, he’s saved some grace as Laura uses his adamantium bullet to destroy X-24 once and for all. It proves too late, but Logan is allowed to once again feel a hero and be a savior. “Don’t be what they made you,” he tells Laura in his dying words, imploring her to rise above where she came from and be her own creation. She buries him, reflecting upon his struggle with the violence that followed, accepting that she is tainted like he with having killed other people. He may be gone, but his legacy and the war he raged remains alive and well within her, a new Wolverine for a new era.