Warning: Major SPOILERS for Logan ahead
Acclaim for Logan has been pouring in far and wide from every direction, and this acclaim is earned. Logan is a worthy and emotionally resonant send off for the Wolverine, the centerpiece and most popular character of the X-Men franchise. A great deal of praise is being lavished upon star Hugh Jackman, not just for his gripping final performance as Logan, but for his 17-year tenure as the Wolverine over nine X-Men films and spinoffs.
Alongside Jackman on this final ride is another key player in the X-Men franchise, Sir Patrick Stewart. Stewart has also been a part of the X-Men franchise since its inception in 2000, portraying the psychic leader of the X-Men also for the past 17 years, if only in 7 films (including cameos in X-Men Origins: Wolverine and the end credits tag of The Wolverine – Stewart was absent from X-Men: First Class and X-Men: Apocalypse).
Though Jackman as Wolverine has been the primary character the franchise was built around, director Bryan Singer’s casting of Stewart as Professor X created an early validation of the original X-Men movie in the eyes of fans. In the late 1990’s, the superhero movie genre was in the complete opposite state than it is in now. X-Men‘s success was the flashpoint that enabled everything that followed and the embarrassment of comic book movie riches we enjoy today. Highly regarded for his role as Captain Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation and the feature films that came after – not to mention his uncanny resemblance to the comic book Charles Xavier – Stewart was immediately hailed as the perfect Professor X.
In Logan, the 90-plus-year-old Charles Xavier is dying from a degenerative brain disease. Cared for by Logan, Xavier is kept hidden just south of the Mexican border. Suffering from a form of Mutant Alzheimer’s and lucid only when medicated, Xavier is forced to live in a steel tank that acts (poorly) as a sort of anti-Cerebro to contain his errant psychic powers. Still, Charles has the wherewithal to draw X-23, a young mutant girl named Laura cloned from the DNA of Logan, to her “father.” Together, the three set off on a fateful road trip to deliver Laura to Eden, a fabled safe haven for Mutants in North Dakota.
Much has been made of the powerful and emotional demise of Logan and of the graceful, perfect ending the film offers the Wolverine. However, it’s hard to imagine anyone watching Stewart’s equally wrenching final performance as Professor X expecting old Charles Xavier to somehow make it out of the film alive. Spoiler alert: He doesn’t. Professor Charles Xavier also gasps his last breath in Logan. (Although whether or not it is indeed Stewart’s final performance could hinge on if Deadpool comes calling.)
We’ve seen Charles Xavier die on screen before. He perished in X-Men: The Last Stand and he also was killed by Sentinels along with the other X-Men in Days of Future Past moments before the timeline was successfully altered by the actions of Wolverine, young Xavier, young Magneto, and Mystique in 1973. Taking Logan into account, the question is: are any of these cinematic deaths worthy of Professor X? Was Logan a better, more fitting end to the life of Charles Xavier than the others?
THE MARTIN LUTHER KING OF MUTANTS
The long life of Charles Xavier can be summed up by what he’s best remembered by: his Dream. Professor X dreamed of humanity accepting Mutants and of their peaceful co-existence together. This is the fundamental belief Professor X instilled in his X-Men; this is the Dream they all fight for. By contrast, Xavier’s best friend/worst enemy, Magneto, trumpets the dominance of Mutants over humans – by any means necessary. The (on the nose) analogy has often been made that Xavier is the Dr. Martin Luther King and Magneto is the Malcolm X of the Mutant race.
One would think a character of the importance of Charles Xavier would be afforded a demise worthy of his stature but that has rarely been the case, in the movies or in Marvel Comics. Xavier has died – and returned to life – many times in the comics, including perishing in alternate realities like the Ultimate Universe and House of M. His most recent death seems to be sticking: in the 2012 mega-crossover Avengers vs. X-Men, Cyclops is possessed by the Phoenix Force and murders Xavier in cold blood.
Whether any of these deaths, including perishing at the hands of one of his first students, is tasteful and fitting is up to the reader to decide.
THE LAST STAND
Like Avengers vs. X-Men, the X-Men movies would also commit one of Professor X’s favorite students as the direct perpetrator of his death. In X-Men: The Last Stand, Jean Grey is possessed by the Phoenix Force. She quickly grows into a threat so prevalent that both the X-Men and Magneto’s Brotherhood of Mutants converge at Jean’s childhood home to subdue her. Xavier had been using his psychic powers to suppress Jean’s abilities since she was young; now, with the Phoenix Force in full possession of her, Jean’s power is unleashed upon the Professor. The clumsily directed and underwhelming psychic battle between the Dark Phoenix and Professor X resulted in Xavier being blasted into nothingness. All that was left was his empty (and undamaged) wheelchair.
Though Professor X was given a funeral at the Xavier School and he was mourned by all of the X-Men and his young students, the way Professor X died was – like the rest of the movie – unsatisfactory. Professor X did, however, receive a monument and an eternal flame over his grave, which is at least a fitting tribute to his importance in the lives of the X-Men and as the most prominent leader of the Mutant race.
DAYS OF FUTURE PAST
Regardless, the events of Days of Future Past erased the original X-Men trilogy timeline from existence, though, as mentioned before, we do see an elderly Xavier killed by Sentinels in the future before time is reset. In a way, this was a more fitting death for Charles Xavier – fighting alongside his students and his lifelong best friend Magneto against the X-Men’s most indomitable enemies, hoping that their desperate gamble to change the past would work. It exemplified Xavier’s most important trait: his ability to hope, which he had lost in 1973 and charged Wolverine to re-instill in his younger self once more. It was the briefest of Xavier’s deaths; once Wolverine repaired the timeline, a healthy Professor X was once more in his office at the Xavier School, eager to hear the details of their plan’s success from Logan. It’s a crowd-pleasing moment; the most rosy happy ending of any X-Men movie.
Whether or not Logan is set in what will be the future of the current movie timeline, or it’s in yet another alternate timeline altogether, Logan presents yet another death of Professor X, far different than any before. In Logan, we find the saddest, most vulnerable version of Charles Xavier. The Professor is haunted by the events of an “incident in Westchester” that resulted in the deaths of the X-Men and hundreds of innocent people. Yes, it was Xavier who killed them all, a result of his illness causing his most impressive power – his ability to psychically freeze time and stop people in their tracks – go haywire. Still wanted for his abilities by the Transigen corporation, Logan keeps Xavier hidden and on the run along with Laura/X-23.
Given their desperate situation, it was only a matter of time before Charles Xavier would die in Logan. Still, the circumstances of how he died aren’t such that anyone could have predicted: musing that an overnight stay in a friendly family’s farmhouse and joyous night’s sleep was the first “perfect” night he’d had in a long time, Charles is suddenly stabbed in the heart by adamantium claws. They belong not to Logan, but to another clone of Wolverine made by Transigen, X-24. After fighting off Transigen’s soldiers and temporarily incapacitating X-24, Logan and Laura drive off with the dying Xavier.
Charles Xavier, the founder of the X-Men and the most powerful psychic on Earth, died from his wounds in the flatbed of a pickup truck. There would be no eternal flame or monument for Professor X on the grounds of his family’s home this time. Even if he was, there were no X-Men left to mourn him. Professor X was buried by Logan in an unmarked grave off the interstate somewhere in Oklahoma.
Even though Professor X, as played by Patrick Stewart, has always been more of a supporting character in the X-Men movies (by contrast, the younger Xavier played by James McAvoy is usually a main character in his movies), it’s remarkable that for a character of such prominence and importance to the X-Men franchise, neither the comics nor the movies have plotted what could be a worthy, heroic death for Charles Xavier. Granted, Logan is primarily about the Wolverine and understanding about himself he gains as he lays down his life in one final, noble act of heroism. Logan deservedly earns the grand death in the movie bearing his name. Professor X, however, regularly becomes subjected to an ignoble demise, and Logan is no different.
Logan is the saddest ending yet for Professor X; in a way, sadder than the Wolverine’s. Logan‘s story makes Xavier personally responsible – though it’s via his illness and a tragic accident – for killing the people he loved most in this world as well as a slew of innocents. Xavier’s final days are spent raving like a madman inside an enormous steel drum as he pleads with Logan that “no one should be forced to live like this!” Xavier regains a spark of his old self when Logan, Laura and he travel to North Dakota. Charles gets to watch Shane, a film he loved as a child, stay in a hotel, enjoy a home cooked meal, and the warmth of family one final time. For those scant few days, Professor X lived like a person again. In this context, given the tragedy Logan inflicts upon Xavier, he at least receives fleeting moments of happiness with Laura and Logan.
But as fans of the Wolverine mourn that character and the noble way he chose to go out in Logan, it’s important to also remember Professor Charles Xavier, and how none of what happens in Logan was part of his dream. Logan was able to die a hero; Professor X died after a momentary shock of betrayal, thinking that Logan had stabbed him, before realizing otherwise. Though he was a man who believed in peace between humans and Mutants, Professor X never dies peacefully. Though he lives to his 90’s in Logan, he doesn’t get to die surrounded by family, friends, and loved ones. Professor X, a man of hope, always dies violently. Logan gives Professor X perhaps his saddest send-off.
What kind of death would you find worthy of Professor X? Sound off in the comments below.