As one of the characters responsible for kicking off the current Renaissance of superhero movies, Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine was never going to just quietly slip out the back door. The character’s upcoming third solo movie, Logan, will ostensibly be the actor’s last gig as the iconic mutant, and anticipation from X-Men fans is reaching fever pitch. 20th Century Fox’s success with Deadpool has paved the way for Wolverine’s first R-rated outing on the big screen in what promises to be a visceral and bloody send-off.
Sporting a different visual style to previous X-Men jaunts and set to Johnny Cash’s classic Nine Inch Nails cover, “Hurt,” Logan’s trailer promised fans both high-octane action and an emotional last stand for a character who has been front and center of the franchise for over a decade. The trailer also made it clear that Wolverine will not be alone on his final journey, but will be joined by his old mentor Charles Xavier – played once again by Patrick Stewart.
Of course, any movie that has the option to cast Patrick Stewart absolutely should cast Patrick Stewart, but Professor X’s inclusion in James “Logan” Howlett’s final chapter may come as a bit of a surprise. The two previous Wolverine solo movies haven’t included any appearances from other X-Men already established in the movie universe, instead opting to introduce completely new supporting heroes and villains. As such, whilst the post-mutant apocalyptic setting and weather-beaten Wolverine may be familiar, Professor X’s presence is not. Despite this, there are a few reasons – some creative, some pure business – as to why Logan will feature the powerful telepath in a major role.
No one could accuse 20th Century Fox’s current X-Men movie universe timeline of being straightforward, particularly when it comes to Charles Xavier. And yet to understand why he shows up in Logan, it’s necessary to understand how he gets there in the first place.
Those who suffered through X-Men: The Last Stand will of course be aware that Professor X is brutally torn apart by a Phoenix-possessed Jean Grey, though that movie’s post credits sequence seemed to heavily imply that Xavier had managed to transfer his consciousness into the body of a coma patient. This was more or less retconned in the after-credits scene of The Wolverine, when Logan was approached by Magneto and Charles Xavier, who once again looked distinctly like Patrick Stewart. Logan duly asked exactly what the audience was thinking: “How is this possible?” to which Xavier replied “You’re not the only one with gifts.” Helpful.
Things were further muddled in the time-twisting X-Men: Days of Future Past, in which a time-travelling Wolverine apparently wiped the events of The Last Stand from the timeline entirely – although, once again, a clear explanation was not forthcoming. The final scene from that movie with Wolverine and a revived Jean Grey in Professor X’s office is the last properly canon moment of the main X-Men timeline. So, however Charles came back from the dead – whether it was Logan’s time travelling or simply just “gifts” – Stewart’s Xavier is back for good. Given the mutant’s apparent refusal to die, perhaps it’s only natural that he would still be alive and kicking even when nearly all the other mutants are gone.
Logan’s trailer makes it very clear that the story is set at a time where mutant-kind is on its last legs, and when that time comes, who are the only two established characters in the X-Men movies who have both the power and will to survive as everyone around them falls?
Coming Full Circle
There’s a pleasing symmetry to Professor X’s presence in Logan. After all, Charles was responsible for bringing Wolverine into the X-Men fold and for reining him in when he threatened to lose control. Every time Logan retreated into solitude, Xavier would inevitably appear to bring him back “home” and, as such, it’s arguably very fitting that Xavier will be the one to finally see his old pal out. Of course, many X-Men fans would argue that the reason for Wolverine’s continued presence in the X-Mansion was due to the house’s other telepath, but others may suggest it was the group’s leader that kept the natural loner attached to the superhero team.
Delving into Wolverine’s psyche would require an article of its own but there’s a strong argument to be made that Xavier is a father figure to Logan: someone who understands the burden of power, and who commands respect without demanding it. Like almost every near-immortal character in the world of fiction, Logan is well-acquainted with loneliness and in Xavier, he finally found someone who understood that with great power comes great solitude. Ever since Wolverine first appeared on the big screen, Logan’s story arc has revolved around him needing to be with other people and be part of family and so bowing out with the man who understands him perhaps more than anyone else in the world is a perfect example of the franchise coming full circle.
Theme and Narrative
From what can be interpreted from the clips and information available, it seems that one of Logan’s central themes will be that of ageing – more specifically, what happens when the world has moved on without you. Anyone who watched the most recent trailer for the movie would have noticed that it isn’t only the title character looking haggard and worse for wear; Xavier’s clear frailty and a shot showing Logan carrying him to a hospital bed indicate that the patriarch of the X-Men clan may be on his last legs.
The presence of young mutant Laura – whom Logan and Charles are charged with protecting – also suggests a theme of passing the torch, with one generation heading out and another coming in. With this in mind, Professor X’s presence in Logan makes an awful lot of sense – after all what other character could best portray the themes of old age and the importance of legacy than Patrick Stewart’s Charles Xavier. Not only does Stewart have the gravitas and acting chops to bring a touch of class and depth to the film but his character is renowned for his philosophies on mutants and their place in the world, philosophies that are sometimes at odds with Logan’s.
The Shared Universe
It might be cynical to suggest that Charles Xavier’s inclusion in Logan isn’t a decision based solely on the need for his presence in the narrative but such is the way of the movie business that it’s a distinct possibility. As mentioned previously, neither 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine nor 2013’s The Wolverine featured any additional characters from the other movies, and although that wasn’t the main reason behind those films’ limited success, it probably didn’t help.
This lesson was learned most effectively over at Marvel Studios. Although it was officially the third Captain America solo movie, Captain America: Civil War had a sprawling, heavy-hitter cast that made it feel more like another Avengers instalment and that was reflected in the box office takings. A similar tactic is being employed for the upcoming Thor: Ragnarok. Despite featuring the ever-popular Asgardian double act of Thor and Loki, neither of the standalone Thor movies was a runaway success. It’s little wonder, then, that Marvel are bringing in both The Hulk and Doctor Strange for the next Thor “solo” movie and it’s a safe bet that Ragnarok will be a more profitable film because of it.
Heading even further down the cynical route, there’s a very clear pattern in the X-Men franchise that films featuring Patrick Stewart’s Xavier have generally performed better at the box office than those without him. That’s the sort of statistic that doesn’t slip by movie studios, so it’s perhaps understandable that 20th Century Fox would want to add some extra star power to Wolverine’s last hurrah.
That’s not to say that a spin-off movie needs to feature more than one established character to succeed. But by their very nature, it’s easy to see spin-offs as stories that weren’t quite good enough for the main franchise and bringing in familiar faces can remedy this by making standalone movies feel like more of an ‘event’. Does Professor X being in Logan make it an X-Men movie? No. But does it elevate it above being just another offering in a series of mostly average Wolverine spin-offs? Absolutely.