The first clue that Logan isn’t your typical superhero movie can be found in its trailer, which begins with the delicate acoustic guitar of Johnny Cash’s cover of “Hurt.” The song’s not actually in the film; probably because it didn’t need to be. Once you’ve seen it, there’s no room for confusion left.
Really, Logan is a superhero picture only in the fact that its protagonist, Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine, used to be an X-Man in his previous life. And like last year’s Deadpool, Logan’s decision to veer from the genre has been met with heaps of praise, not to mention an outstanding box-office run. But while Logan does part ways with the tropes and beats of what is currently the dominant form of contemporary mainstream cinema, James Mangold — whose past credits include Cop Land, Cash biopic Walk the Line, 3:10 to Yuma, and 2013’s The Wolverine — hardly leaves cinema behind in the process. Mangold is a noted film buff, and thanks to the director’s deep knowledge of the medium, Logan is more defined by its influences and predecessors than your average tights-and-capes epic, drawing extensively from genres like the Western, the American road movie, and dystopian sci-fi.
Here are a few of the movies that seem to have their DNA in Logan; all would be worth checking out for any fans of Mangold’s film who’d like to learn more about where it came from.
George Stevens’s landmark 1953 Western hangs heavy over Logan, to the point that Mangold includes a scene of it in the film, alongside an explanation of its themes by Charles Xavier to the child-mutant Laura. It’s clearly one of the director’s favorites, as he also referenced its influence back in 2013, prior to the release of The Wolverine. Like Logan, Shane follows a titular protagonist who functions as a relic of the bygone past, a samurai whose code has grown outdated. Like Logan, Shane must leave his surrogate child and potential protégé at the end of the film, signaling the close of an era. While Shane seems to signal the possibility that the younger generation could grow up into a world less violent and savage than before — “there are no more guns in the valley” — Logan is less conflicted about the violence that becomes its stock in trade: The film’s child mutants have a chance to build a new life for themselves, but there’s little doubt that that life will include fighting, persecution, and death.
Sergio Leone’s The Man With No Name trilogy and Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo
By 2029, the year in which Logan takes place, our hero has become an alcoholic, grizzled depressive, an old warrior fleeing from the world. While he takes care of his elderly mentor Charles Xavier, he also seems to have no other guiding purpose in life. In that way, he resembles two of the more legendary protagonists in film history: Toshiro Mifune’s masterless ronin Sanjuro in Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo, and the iconic spaghetti-Western character who sprung from that, Clint Eastwood’s The Man With No Name, protagonist of the (uncredited) Yojimbo remake A Fistful of Dollars, as well as its follow-ups For a Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Like those men, Logan doesn’t talk much, and he’s also initially motivated by money. Unlike those men, though, Logan eventually discovers a higher purpose, and the ultimate conclusions of the films are very different. (Before The Wolverine, Mangold cited as an influence Eastwood’s The Outlaw Josey Wales, as well as another role of Toshiro Mifune’s in Hiroshi Inagaki’s Samurai Trilogy. After all, what is Wolverine besides a samurai — a wandering, rootless warrior defined by his skill with a very sharp blade?)
Unforgiven and The Wrestler
Jackman himself seems to have gravitated toward a later Clint Eastwood project when conceptualizing his role. During the Logan press tour, Jackman said he discussed Eastwood’s 1992 Western Unforgiven — which he told USA Today “slightly subverted Clint’s history and what people knew and expected of him” — while hashing out the character with Mangold. He also compares Logan’s version of Wolverine to another of cinema’s great muscle-bound middle-aged guys: Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler, a man Jackman said “still has his desires and ambitions but the weight of everyday life and his past seem to be getting the better of him.”
Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men, George Miller’s Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, and James Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day
In all three of these movies, an older man in a decaying dystopian world must protect the youth that holds the key to a more promising future. In Children of Men, it’s the only pregnant girl in the world; in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, it’s a group of orphaned children; in Terminator 2, it’s the leader of the human resistance, John Connor. Logan mirrors each of these films in different ways: The film’s world bears significant resemblance to the subtly altered future of Children of Men, its tribe of young mutants seem like the inheritors of the cargo cult of Mad Max, and its killing-machine protagonist and his seemingly indestructible doppelgänger adversary are working from the same blueprint as T-800 and T-1000 of Terminator 2.
Léon: The Professional
Of course, in none of those films are the children as deadly as they are in León: The Professional, in which Jean Reno’s assassin teaches young Mathilde, played by Natalie Portman, how to kill. While Logan’s Laura hardly needs tutelage in the art of combat, both characters fit on pop culture’s spectrum of violent little girls, alongside Eleven in Stranger Things and Game of Thrones’ Arya Stark.
Terrence Malick’s Badlands and Bob Rafelson’s Five Easy Pieces
Logan is a movie that takes place on the American road, and particularly in a part of the country that’s rural, burnt-red and orange. With that color scheme, it’s hard not to think back to the great road pictures of the New Hollywood era, in particular Badlands and Five Easy Pieces, which each have other strange parallels with Logan. Badlands also features a killer male-female pairing bringing death wherever they go, though the violence is pitched at a much different tenor than Logan’s, while Jackman’s Logan shares some of the cynicism and hopelessness of Jack Nicholson’s Bobby Dupea in Pieces, one of the great characters in American film. Luckily, Logan has better manners toward service-industry employees.