In Logan, the third installment of the X-Men Wolverine series, Hugh Jackman dons his floofy hair-helmet and gory ademantium alt-fingers as brooding superhero Wolverine for the last time. The film is getting rave reviews for its dark, humanistic tone and creative plotting, which veers away from many of the traditional wham-pow superhero tropes that some viewers could consider a bit rote and stale by this point. In fact, it's earning comparisons to genre Westerns, including the movie that Charles and Laura watch in Logan when they are confined to a hotel room.
In the scene, an aging and ailing Charles, aka Professor X, explains the concept of a "classic movie" to new character, the 11-year-old Laura. This is because Laura — without spoiling things — is, let's just say, pretty unfamiliar with most elements of regular human society, including film history. So viewers see Charles introduce Laura to film with the classic 1953 Western movie Shane. Shane is a film famous for its contributions to cinema and Westerns, and it features Alan Ladd as the titular character: a man with a mysterious past who must use his expert gunfighting skills to protect the settlers living in a Wyoming valley. Sound a bit familiar?
For Logan director James Mangold, it seems the choice to feature this particular film in the final Wolverine movie is anything but accidental. In fact, back in December, IGN reported that a photo book featuring stills from Logan was distributed by Fox during a preview event for the film, and the book featured a portion of dialogue from Shane. The dialogue comes from a scene when Shane is talking to the young boy who admires him, Joey, about why he must leave the valley: "There's no living with... with a killing. There's no going back from one." This is pretty dark and gritty stuff, and the moral questions raised in Shane, which that quote gets at, are one reason why it's a film that has stood the test of time.
It's clear that the pacing, tone, and ethos of classic Westerns has been a huge inspiration for Logan. The setting itself, in the American West (Texas and Oklahoma), is perfect for the genre, and the movie revels in the rotted brown and dusty blue hues that are so prevalent in Western landscapes. The film's trailer is even soundtracked by Johnny Cash's iconic somber cover of "Hurt." (Just try not to well up when Cash sings "You can have it all, my empire of dirt.")
The choice to emphasize a movie like Shane not only in the preview materials for the film, but also in a prominent scene as well, reveals a commitment on the part of filmmakers to embrace the complex morality questions of the Western genre and, in doing so, to deliver a worthy homage.