"Mutants... They're gone now."
Those four words set the scene for Logan; a world without #XMen, where Patrick Stewart's Charles Xavier and Hugh Jackman's Wolverine are the last ones left. This is the twilight of the mutant race; all the world can do is look back on mutants with nostalgia. Those in-universe X-Men comics, wonderfully teased in the second trailer? They're all that's left, and they're more fiction than fact.
It's a dark, lonely world — but, surprisingly, it was almost very different.
The Mutant Underground
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In an interview with We Got This Covered, James Mangold hinted that his first vision for this post-apocalyptic world was very different. As Mangold explained:
"I played with there being an underground railroad where there were a couple of other mutants that he met on the journey."
This idea of an underground railroad gives us a sense of just how bleak a world Mangold was envisioning. It's lifted from historical programs, where underground networks were used to grant safe passage to persecute peoples. For most Americans, the most famous "underground railroad" was undoubtedly the one in place in times of slavery, which helped African Americans escape to free states and Canada — and reclaim their personal freedom.
Underground railroads were also used to rescue Jews from the perils of the Holocaust. Take, for example, the Kindertransport program, that — between 1938 and 1940 — brought thousands of refugee Jewish children to Great Britain. Or, less famously, take the US's One Thousand Children program, a so-called "underground railroad" that spanned three continents and brought 1,000 unaccompanied children to the shores of the United States. To this day, most of those children are believed to be unaware of their own history.
So Mangold's first vision of Logan was of a world that was violently anti-mutant - so much so that an 'underground railroad' had been established, deliberately echoing some of the most devastating global tragedies. In actual fact, back in the '90s, the comics toyed with a similar idea; as anti-mutant hysteria grew, the X-Men established 'Xavier's railroad', a global network of mutants and sympathizers that ferried new mutants to safety.
You can easily see how this could have fitted into Logan, with the stars taking advantage of the mutant railroad to help them get to Canada - to this mysterious 'Eden'. In the end, though, Mangold chose to scrap that idea; to instead show Logan, Xavier, and Caliban as essentially the last of the mutant race.
It's not surprising to hear that Mangold toyed with using this 'underground railroad' as a way to give some cool cameos — in fact, We Got This Covered speculate that he originally intended for Deadpool to show up! As he observes, though, there's a risk to this approach.
"I’m so cautious of it though, despite how much fans want it to happen. You find these moments where you’re trying to please people and write these scenes where they’ll bump into somebody but it always just seems like an awkward cameo unless you can make it fit organically and the character is integral to the story."
Ultimately, he decided that the railroad cameos would detract from the loneliness of the film, and instead went one step further; by the time of Logan, the mutant race is on the verge of outright extinction. It makes a certain tragic sense, especially as the film gradually reveals the ruthless plan that pretty much wiped the mutants out, coupled with the tragedy of Charles Xavier. Of course, we did still get a range of cameos, courtesy of the X-23s, but they were markedly different - and they didn't crop up until the film's third act, establishing their importance.
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Logan's haunting, isolated tone sets it apart from every other superhero film ever made, so I can understand Mangold's decision. It's fascinating to consider, though, that this entire world was reshaped so dramatically while Mangold was working on it, and that perhaps we almost did get the cameos many fans are dreaming of.
Do you think Mangold should have gone with the 'underground railroad' concept?
(Source: We Got This Covered; Poll Image Credit: 20th Century Fox)