I’ve never been a Superman guy. I think that started when he reversed the rotation of the earth to save Lois Lane. It just seemed sooo…lame. My logic was simple: if a superhero is so strong that he can (one) stop the earth’s movement, and (two) PUSH IT BACK in the opposite direction, who can beat him? For me, buying into Superman was like randomly deciding that I was a Cowboys fan who never lived in Texas, or a Yankees fan who had never traveled west of the Mississippi. Superman fandom felt like “front-runnerism” — i.e. “I’ve picked the best one, so the rest of you can just have Batman and Hulk, or the Bengals. They’re all cute, but they can’t beat my guy/team.” I know, there’s that kryptonite thing, the messianic “thorn in the flesh” so to speak. Last I checked, though, it could slow down the man-of-steel, but it couldn’t kill him. DC Comics, to their credit, have explored numerous ways to humanize Superman, and even kill him. I’ve just never bought in, perhaps because he has always been so “moral” and “squeaky clean” and “oh, I can’t kill anyone, that would be wrong.” I just don’t relate to the dude.

Mild Logan spoilers below —

Don’t get me wrong, though; I love a good messianic allegory as much as the next person, and what’s a better blueprint for that than someone coming from another world, outside of humanity, to save us? Superman fits that bill in spades. I’m just not feeling the guy as a Jesus example/metaphor/allegory/type. Perhaps it’s because I’ve never seen Superman as someone who could not regard “equality with God as a thing to be grasped” (Phil 2:6). He played the awe-shucks Clark Kent role well, but all of that felt like a moral, goofy Roy Rogers savior to me — confident, but not compelling.

So, in keeping with my fondness for messianic imagery, but without all of the moralistic, two-dimensional, indestructible silliness, I give you Wolverine. The new film, Logan, which came out this past Friday, just flat scratched my “give me a story about a savior that I can relate to” itch, and then some. The arguable star of the X-Men films, Hugh Jackman’s Logan/Wolverine, in his third (and final?) self-titled film, gives us a very reluctant, very grouchy, very unbreakable/yet very broken picture of what being fully human and fully (almost) indestructible looks like.

As the film begins, in the year 2029, Logan and Professor X (Patrick Stewart) are mere shells of themselves (and they are the only traceable living remnants of the X-men we know from the films). Logan is living out his days on the Tex-Mex border, secretly caring for the ailing Charles Xavier (Professor X), the only person alive who has shown Logan genuine friendship and affection. Logan, as intensely surly and private as ever, just wants to make enough money as a limo driver to buy a boat so that he and Charles can sail out to sea, literally, into the sunset. Both of them (as level 4/5 X-men) have been, from their vantage point, far more responsible for innocent deaths and collateral damage than multiple lifetimes of repentance can appease.

This is when Logan becomes a western, and a road movie.  It’s Shane meets Mad Max. For the past decade plus, a laboratory in Mexico has secretly been trying to create “soulless super soldiers” from X-men DNA. The dozen or so subjects have now reached puberty and have escaped from their enemy captors. One subject in particular, 11-year-old Laura, has all of the X-men traits of Wolverine, leading us to believe that she may be (in the invitro sense) his daughter. Her handler finds her way to Logan and tells him (her dying wish) that he is to get Laura to South Dakota and to a place called “Eden” to meet up with the other subjects. Eden is a place that may or may not be real, but it’s where Laura can meet up with her counterparts so that they can all be safely exiled to the Canadian border.

The religious overtones become fairly apparent at this point. Ignatiy Vishnevetsky at A.V. Club describes the proceedings this way:

There’s a lot of religion in Logan, sometimes obvious (heck, the end credits roll to Johnny Cash’s Revelation-inspired “The Man Comes Around”), sometimes sublimated into the deceptively simple but richly conceived narrative. I may be in minority in thinking of the long middle section in which Logan, his aging mentor Charles Xavier, and the young Laura come to the farmhouse of the Munsons, a family they met on a roadside, as the high point of the film. For a Hollywood movie, this is a very risky sequence, an apparent interlude that ends up resolving or clarifying something like half of the plot. The first scene is at the dinner table, with a mealtime prayer; the Munsons are a family of three, and while our heroes are only pretending to be one, this brief communion of grace, shared food, and shared jokes brings them within spitting distance of the real thing. Considering the bleak conclusion of the farmhouse episode (and the fate of the Munsons themselves), the scene retroactively becomes the saddest in the film, though in the moment, it appears to be the warmest. I’ll point out a small detail: there is a cross behind Logan throughout the scene, a small cross sitting just out of the light on the Munsons’ mantel.

The viewer now begins to see Logan and Charles pushing reluctantly (not gloriously) into martyrdom…and for what? The Christian glory answer is that they are doing it for the remnant, for the hope of something better than what they are, even though they had long been held up as saviors. Really, though? Charles and Logan just want a human connection — not a glorious cause, not an epic theater where they can impose their powers on bad people for the sake of righteousness. Charles and Logan just want to be…people.

The X-men films, at their best, have always been about glorified humans finding their humanity. They’re not just reluctant heroes. It’s different. They just want to be normal people. In some way, even though they know that their abilities are so enhanced as to be the envy of all, they wear that birthright as a burden. They don’t want to be God, or even be a god from somewhere else (like Superman or Thor). They just want to be human. Logan is the chief among sinners of all of the X-men. He’s also the most human, the most broken, the most in need of something better than a friggin’ Superman to save him. Some martyrs die for the “glory set before them”; others die realizing that they are not “actually Jesus” and settle for knowing that just a “taste” of fatherhood, grace, and salvation for the mouth of a hideously broken, imperfect soul is enough.