Warning: This article contains SPOILERS for Logan
The jury is in, and consensus is that Logan is the best Wolverine movie, and possibly even the best movie of the entire X-Men franchise. It’s getting praise from fans and filmmakers alike, and it deserves all the attention (and money) it’s getting. It’s not only a great comic book movie, but it’s also a great movie, regardless of genre, and it’s a fitting end to Hugh Jackman’s 17 years in the role.
While Logan did a lot of things – if not most things – right, it wasn’t perfect, and one of the movie’s biggest flaws was uncomfortably located immediately before the screen goes black for the credits. That’s right, the shot where Laura goes back to his grave to change the cross to an X. While it is a creative idea and a fun attempt to punctuate an otherwise slow last moment, thematically it serves as a discordant conclusion to the character arc established over the course of Hugh Jackman’s tenure in the role.
To understand why that decision wasn’t right, we need to take a step back to look at the entirety of Wolverine’s journey.
“Nature made me a freak. Man me a weapon. And God made it last too long.”
While the lines didn’t make it into the actual movie, Hugh Jackman released his own personalized teaser containing the voiceover before the start of Logan’s marketing, and the words perfectly encapsulate what makes Logan such a tragic character.
While there were six X-Men movies featuring Logan as a main character (excluding his cameos) before Logan, there was really only one story for the Wolverine, fittingly told anew with each iteration.
In fiction, immortality is often portrayed as a curse. Mortals may strive to find the means to live forever, or at least extend their life, yet we see repeatedly the depression and isolation of those that have to watch the world age around them, unable to pass on with their family and friends. This is Wolverine’s curse.
The X-Men movie continuity has been largely retconned, but, ironically, Logan is the only character that has experienced every moment of the timeline, since he was the one sent back to alter the events in Days of Future Past. So, while the events of his past may not have occurred in the history books inside the X-Men universe, they’re still real to him.
Chronologically, the very first part of his on-screen story is the discovery of his powers in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. In that story, the first appearance of his abilities is marked with death and loss when his mutation is activated by the trauma of the death of the man he always knew as his father, triggering his bone claws and berserker rage and causing him to murder the man he then discovers is his real father.
From that point on, Logan’s life is a repeating loop of him trying to settle down only for those close to him to be hurt or killed – often because of him, sometimes by him – until he isolates himself from society altogether, only to be pulled back in to start the cycle anew. By the time we get to the events of Logan, he’s lost almost everyone once again, and caring for the aging Charles Xavier is his only reason to keep on living. It isn’t even surprising to learn that he’s carrying an adamantium bullet in his pocket.
He’s lost hope and he doesn’t have much to hold on to. Again. Only now his body is giving out. The adamantium lacing his skeleton is poisoning him and his healing factor isn’t what it once was. It isn’t until X-23’s powers are revealed that he seems to care about anything. She revives that spark of hope for the future that had been long dead, but he’s embraced that spark too many times before, and people always end up dying.
It doesn’t take long for his fears to be confirmed in one of the most tragic ways yet in the farm house scene. Logan had just started to open up and make human connections again, and Charles Xavier and their new friends are brutally murdered. To add insult to injury, the murderer is a clone of Logan, but one that doesn’t fight against the animalistic urges Logan has been resisting for much of his life, so while it wasn’t his claws that did the killing, the carnage was all too familiar.
The Shane Connection
Logan had number of clear inspirations from classic westerns, the most overt influence was the movie Shane. When Logan, Xavier, and Laura stop at the hotel/casino in Oklahoma, Xavier and Laura take a quiet moment to watch Shane, a movie Xavier says is one of his favorites.
The particular scene on the hotel TV takes place right after Shane protected the local settlers from an evil cattle baron’s henchmen. He tells a little settler boy, Joey:
“There’s no living with, with a killing. There’s no going back from it. Right or wrong, it’s a brand, a brand that sticks. There’s no going back. Now you run on home to your mother and tell her, tell her everything’s alright, and there aren’t any more guns in the valley.”
The scene laments the tragedy of violence, saying that a man has to live with a burden of taking a life forever, even if the killing is justified. “There aren’t any more guns in the valley” is referring both to the guns of the outlaws Shane killed, but also to Shane himself, as he turns and rides into the sunset, taking his own guns and his killer’s brand out of the valley so the people there can live in peace.
The parallel to Wolverine’s life should be clear. He’s learned through his many lifetimes that he’s specially equipped to kill bad men to protect innocent life, but tragedy seems to follow him, affecting those he surrounds himself with, usually forcing him to ride off into the sunset at the end of the day, into isolation once again.
When Logan inquires about Lara’s nightmares, the young mutant tells him “people hurt me,” to which he replies “my nightmares are different. I hurt people.” Laura seems to empathize, saying “I hurt people too.” Echoing Shane (but in a shorter, gruffer, Wolverine fashion), Logan simply says “yeah, well you’re going to have to learn to live with that.”
His experience has told him over and over again that he can’t live a “normal” life and that friends, family, and love are not meant for him. He tells Laura as much: “bad things happen to people I care about.” But she calls him out, cutting him to the core by saying “then I’ll be fine.”
As we know, Wolverine is not without a heart. He just pretends he is. So when he realizes the children need saving from Donald Pierce and the Reavers, he runs off on one final rampage of berserker rage, facing X-24, the physical embodiment of his own inner demons. He sacrifices him trying to stop the clone, but it’s Laura that ultimately kills him, shooting him in the head with the adamantium bullet Logan was saving for himself.
Unable to recover from his serious wounds, Logan shares final moments with his daughter, who calls him “daddy” for the first time, causing him to pleasantly sigh “so that’s what it feels like” before dying, using his last words to tell her “don’t be what they made you.”
Through his sacrifice, Logan is finally no longer a living weapon, and he’s finally at rest. As a eulogy, Laura repeats the scene from Shane. The interesting thing about the quotation this second time around is that, while it clearly referred to Wolverine before, it is now Laura delivering Shane’s words to Logan. Where Logan has laid down his claws (guns) in his sacrifice, Laura is now the one that must now learn to live with the killing. When she says “there aren’t any more guns in the valley,” it’s because she, like Shane, is about to walk off into the sunset, leaving Logan in his final peace.
The Cross and the X
Logan’s grave is originally marked with a simple cross. In Christianity, the cross serves as a reminder of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and over the last 2000 years it has come to be regarded by many as a sign of sacrifice, redemption, and peace, and is frequently used as movie shorthand to represent as much. Laura leaving Logan under the cross would have been a flawless ending in Logan’s journey to find peace and normalcy, but that’s not what happens. Instead, Laura takes the cross out of the ground and places it over the grave as an X, the symbol of the X-Men. While it’s a fun nod to a part of Logan’s past, it unfortunately takes a flawlessly executed metaphor and perfect conclusion for the tortured mutant and turns it on its end by literally putting the cross on its side.
Admittedly, it’s hard to argue against the use of the X symbol in this instance, but placed immediately following Laura’s Shane monologue, it betrays everything accomplished in the previous moments by marking his grave with the same brand associated with so much of his pain and violence. Yes, the X-Men were good guys, but according to Shane, and Logan himself, it doesn’t matter: “right or wrong, it’s a brand. A brand that sticks.” In this context, the brand is the same if it’s killing for the X-Men or as a part of Weapon X, the X brand is not the way to finish this movie after spending the rest of the film making such a profound statement on the nature of violence.
The X-Men were also only a brief, albeit significant, moment of Logan’s long life. Of the three Wolverine solo movies, none of them actually depict him as a member of the X-Men. He’s fought in multiple wars and been a part of multiple teams, and reducing Logan’s life to the years that he was on that particular team is an unfortunately reductive decision, distilling the entirety of his life into the same brand he was released from through his death, as indicated by the original use of the cross. With the X over his grave, it’s as if there are still guns in the valley.
Imagine the impact if the symbolism was reversed. The lashed sticks initially appear to be an intentional X as Laura gives her eulogy, which is then punctuated by her picking it up and sticking it in the ground to reveal the cross, leading into the black screen and end credits.
All that being said, while the conclusion is a discordant punctuation at a key defining moment, the entirety of Logan is far too perfect of a conclusion to Logan’s journey for those final few frames to override everything else accomplished by director James Mangold, it simply means the movie lacks the truly powerful final moment that was more than earned by the rest of the film.