There are more than a few harrowing moments in Logan: watching an entire family get slaughtered in their own home, discovering what kind of damage three adamantium claws can really do to a human body, even watching as legends like Professor X and Wolverine succumb to old age. But for anyone paying attention to the current political climate, the one that lingers is when a group of young, U.S. government–manufactured mutants run for their lives, desperate to cross the Canadian border to freedom. It's brutally real.
Set 12 years into the future from now, the world of Logan is bleak. (Spoilers ahead.) The long-persecuted mutant population has been systematically wiped out by a mutation suppressor administered by the government through genetically altered corn syrup. The once-mighty X-Men are now dead, and those mutants lucky enough to escape found refuge with our neighbors to the north. Meanwhile, a world-weary Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) lays low with an unwell Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and a reclusive Caliban (Stephen Merchant) at the U.S.-Mexico border.
This is not accidental.
Director James Mangold and screenwriters Scott Frank and Michael Green had been working on the Logan script for years before President Trump first promised to build a wall on Mexico's dime. But sometime in 2015, the air of nationalism in the country gave way to a revelation.
At its core, X-Men has always been about the Other. From their comic book inception in 1963, mutants have been marginalized, misunderstood, and ostracized because they are different. Their Otherness is what made them so popular among readers who could identify with feeling like outcasts themselves. But that quality is also what made the mutants constant targets in their own canon. People fear those who are different — and that fear was playing out in real life during the presidential campaign, just as Mangold, Frank, and Green were putting the finishing touches on Logan.
"Jim [Mangold] and I were working on this script while the [Republican] primaries were going on and he was the first person who I heard say, 'Don't laugh about that guy Trump. He's hitting something, and it is dangerous, and we should all be careful.' His words stayed with me, and here we are," Green told MTV News at the New York premiere of Logan last month. "This idea of running to the Canadian border for safety [after the election], which seemed like an interesting plot point at the time, suddenly became not only moving but also upsettingly real.
"No one would have thought 17 years ago when the first X-Men movie came out that immigration would be anything other than the best part of America, and here we are at a time where it's become demonized," Green added.
Throughout the film, Wolverine is on the run with Professor X — whose brain the government has now classified as a weapon of mass destruction. They're joined by Laura, a young Mexican girl (also known as X-23) who was created in a U.S.-funded lab from Logan's DNA. She is the product of the government's strategy to deplete the existing mutant population and effectively replace it with new mutants they can fully control. Like Wolverine, little Laura (Dafne Keen) is a living weapon, an experiment. And she's treated as such, stripped of her childhood and forced to kill to survive. Being her biological father's daughter, however, means that X-23 isn't going to let anyone control her, least of all xenophobic Dr. Zander Rice (Richard E. Grant).
"One of the themes of this movie is, 'How can you keep hope alive in a world that seems to have crushed hope away?'" Green shared. "You have Charles, a character who has always believed in a bright future for all humans because of the advent of mutantkind — and this world of Logan is one where mutants have gone away. Logan looks at that and sees a world without hope, and Charles says, 'No, we can't give up. There's always another chance.'"
Laura and her gifted friends are their chance. Much of the film's 141-minute run time is dedicated to the fight for this possible future. As Rice, his henchman Pierce (Boyd Holbrook), and their Franken-mutant, X-24, chase the former X-Men on a mission to apprehend and destroy Laura, the young girl chases the only hope she's ever known: Eden.
The Eden in Laura's X-Men comics is about as real as Wolverine's fabled yellow and blue suit, but it means everything to her. It's the meeting point for Laura and her friends, the others who managed to escape the breeding facility with the help of the nurses and aides who raised them in internment in Mexico. Those kids are her family. And Eden becomes their (and our) beacon of hope, a place so idyllic it must not exist — not in this dystopia.
Except it does. When Logan opens his eyes to see a room full of young, multicultural faces staring back at him in wonderment, he finally has something to fight for, whether he knows it or not. It's these children, with their optimism — the kind you get from reading superhero fables — and their kindness, that set Logan's final act into motion. These kids will have to cross the border to Canada to get to safety: The fate of mutantkind — no, humankind — depends on it. And Wolverine's no better than Rice if he doesn't help them.
As a last-ditch effort to persuade an ailing Logan to join his cause, Pierce warns that "these are dangerous times" and mutants like Laura and her friends will only make the world a more dangerous place. Moments like this are heightened by recent events like Trump's controversial Muslim travel ban and plans for the border wall — both use the argument that America is only safe when it can keep those so-called "bad hombres" out.
"The election has had an effect on anything anyone's been working on artistically," Green said of Hollywood's current mood. "When a comet hit our country in November, every writer and director had to look back on whatever it was they were working on and reengage it. I looked at scripts I was working on and suddenly small moments became electrified."
But Logan does not go gently. Instead, he becomes the hero we once knew, the one Laura read about in her comic books and grew to love. In doing so, he leaves Laura with a legacy. His dying words to her are, "Don't be what they made you." Ultimately, this a story of hope — the kind of hope that leads you out of the darkness.
Green is optimistic, too. He believes Hollywood will rise to the occasion and create something meaningful in this uncertain new era. "I'm excited to see the art that comes from our frustration, depression, and hope."