By Thomas Novak
After 17 years of fighting, clawing, and chewing on cheap cigars as Marvel Comics’ Wolverine, Hugh Jackman is retiring from the movie role that made him a household name. Before exiting the role however, he manages to leave audiences in awe of his final performance in James Mangold’s “Logan”.
(Before continuing with this article, I want to assure you that there will be NO DIRECT SPOILERS for the film. Nobody likes spoilers. You can read on in safety.)
The fact that Hugh Jackman even got to be Wolverine is a crazy story in and of itself. Originally, the role of Wolverine was supposed to go to Scottish actor Dougray Scott. Scott couldn’t do it because he was committed to Mission Impossible II, and he had to pass on Fox’s X-Men movie as result. This prompted producers to consider other options, most notably an Australian actor who had made headlines for winning a Theatre Award in 1998. Hugh Jackman won “Best Actor in a Musical” for his role in “Oklahoma” and this landed him a chance to audition for the lead in Fox’s X-Men film. Needless to say, he succeeded. We now have a total of 9 films in which he plays the fan-favorite Canadian mutant, Wolverine.
Ahead of the production for Logan, Jackman went public with his decision to don the claws one more time. He even went so far as to post images of himself with his fist up, extending one blade from his hand to get the point across (yes, I realize that is a terrible pun). Then in 2015, a year before X-Men Apocalypse hit theaters, we saw the cast appear at Comic Con International in San Diego California. Jackman took to the stage first in Hall H, and addressed the fans. After seeing older footage of himself, he said to the crowd, “I’ve got three words for you: Old Man Logan. That’s all I’m saying.”
His remark was met with cheers and applause. For those of you asking, “What’s the big deal? He called the character an old man, and mentioned his name. Is that supposed to mean something?” It was a reference to the original comics.
In 2008, writer Mark Millar and artist Steve McNiven took over as the creative team on the monthly Wolverine title published by Marvel Comics. From issues 66 to 72 (and then an additional induvial comic called “Wolverine – Giant Size Old Man Logan”), the duo unfolded the story of an old, distraught man: Wolverine, after all the villains of the Marvel titles teamed up and tricked him into killing the other X-Men. Feeling that he obviously had failed at being a hero, Wolverine decided it was necessary to “kill off” the legend of the man he was, too. This led to all the villains achieving their goals of world domination and destruction, leaving the planet a barren wasteland.
After starting over as a farmer just called “Logan,” he and his family found themselves owing money to the inbred grandchildren of the Hulk. To pay the rent on their property Logan takes up the job of driving an older, blind Hawkeye across country. Along the way, as is often the case with Wolverine, everything that can go wrong does. Since then, the writers of the regular comics have decided to “kill off” Wolverine in the Marvel 2014 limited series “Death of Wolverine”. They also found a way to bring in “Old Man Logan” as a regular monthly title. Not surprisingly, elements of the “Old Man Logan” story can be seen in “Logan”.
Okay, before all the comic fans get their shorts in a bind, I’ll clarify that I’m aware Fox has never taken a verbatim approach in putting comics to film. It’s Hollywood. They cherry pick to make a screen play. There’s always some backlash from upset fans who didn’t get the exact comic references they expected, which leads to them leaving scathing reviews of the movie itself.
With that out of the way, “Logan” is a movie that breaks from the normal “superhero” tropes. It has more in common with a western, due to the pacing of the story and the motivations of the characters. This film even pokes fun at the concept of “superheroes”, while at the same time retaining its continuity. It does a great job of referencing the previous films in a way that avoids overloading viewers with useless information or slowing the pace.
It seems almost like director James Mangold wants to not only make up for things like that giant stupid robot from the last Wolverine film, but also to close the plot holes and mistakes created by other directors like Gavin Hood. (Hood is the man to blame for 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine, where the script was confusing and contradictory to the X-Men films before and after it). Mangold also manages to accomplish something with “Logan” that most franchise film directors fail to achieve: closure.
Where does that leave the character? In talking about a successor, Jackman has gone on record recommending British actor Tom Hardy, who fans know from the film “Mad Max: Fury Road” and Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Rises”. Jackman has said he’d only consider revisiting the role himself if Fox, Marvel, and Disney all found a way for Wolverine to have a direct interaction with the Avengers (and most importantly the Hulk) in Marvel’s Cinematic universe. He referenced the agreement between Marvel and Sony which led to Spider-Man appearing in “Captain America: Civil War”. Ryan Reynolds, who not only poked fun at Jackman’s portrayal of Wolverine on screen but also made fun of Jackman himself in 2016’s Deadpool, has gone on record saying he’d like Jackman to appear again as the character, so they can have an on-screen fight.
Does this mean the end of Wolverine on the big screen? Not likely. Fox and Marvel both know that fans love the character. Fox holds the film rights to the X-Men and the various spinoff titles like Deadpool, New Mutants, and X-Force, all of which have movies slated to be produced within the next decade. They’ll have to figure out if and how they can catch lightning in a bottle a second time when casting a new actor as Wolverine. Producers may not realize this, but they have a blueprint available to them for how fans react to recasting iconic characters: the James Bond films. Super-fans and casual movie-goers alike will show the studio heads their opinion when it comes time to spend their money at the cinemas.
But before you worry about that, go watch “Logan” in theaters now; see just how Hugh Jackman leaves fans wanting more.