X-Men came on the scene in 2000 like a surprise attack and showed everyone that comic book movies weren’t impossible to make anymore. Technology had moved forward enough to make the translations as faithful as possible, without coming off as cornily as some of the worst moments from the first 4 Superman movies. That and it showed that there was a thirst for this kind of movie, that comics weren’t niche if you project them onto the screen. To their core, they’re big budget sci fi action extravaganzas. And after a subgenre dominated mainly by Superman and Batman movies, it showed that the structure doesn’t have to follow suit each and every time. Bryan Singer and his band of mutants helped push cinema in a new direction that then fully exploded in 2002 when Spider-Man came out. While this movie may not have aged as well as we’d like, there’s still work in it that has lived on and proved that Singer had an inkling of knowledge with what he was doing. That is the casting of three iconic characters. Patrick Stewart as Professor Xavier, Ian McKellan as Magneto, and Hugh Jackman as Wolverine. These three helped to make comic movies viable, with straight faced and dedicated performances that never feel perfunctory. With this movie, the time of Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor was fading. The most important of these three was Hugh Jackman, who would stick with this character for 17 years through thick and thin.
When Hugh Jackman was cast, we got the now common bitch fest from comic fans about how bad this choice was. Comics Wolverine was a tiny little man covered in hair and was just a too cool for school badass. But with the casting of Jackman, Wolverine would change. Gone was the uber badass of the group. Now we got a wandering ronin, a broken man desperate to keep the world away so he couldn’t get hurt again. There was more emotional storytelling available to this Wolverine and it was thanks to Jackman, a man incapable of being charismatic. Also doesn’t hurt that Wolverine is the more easily accessible mutant. No laser eyes or control of metal to be seen. Just able to regenerate after getting into brutal fights with the knives that come out of his hands. It’s been a common complaint that these movies tend to focus on Wolverine too much to really count as team movies, but can you blame them? Especially from a studio that was notorious for being against anything too weird taking over the stories.
As this current boom is now 17 years into not having let up, we have seen the limits of a franchise’s life. Shortly, it’s unlimited. Recasting has been rampant in these movies, especially when one goes awry and a studio needs a fresh start. But what has been refreshing and unique about the X-Men franchise is the stability of Jackman. In a series that has had the most tenuous of relationships with continuity, Jackman has been the only character not to be recast at any point thus far. Even in a franchise reboot that went back to the 60s to showcase younger versions of Xavier and Magneto, Jackman came to play to varying levels of commitment. It helps that the character doesn’t age, so Jackman could have played Wolverine for however long he pleased in any time period they wanted as long as he was game. And boy was he game. From headlining three straight X-Men movies, he got his own spinoff movie that was beyond terrible. X-Men Origins is a legit nightmare of a movie that should have killed off any interest in Wolverine, from fans and from Jackman. Nobody would have been mad at him for quitting after that, getting his own version of Superman IV: The Quest For Peace. But he didn’t quit, having a legendary cameo in First Class and then getting another solo outing. The Wolverine was actually pretty good and helped renew interest in Wolverine, which led right into his important role in the franchise resetting time travel romp in Days of Future Past. After one final cameo in the otherwise mediocre Apocalypse, Jackman has been given one final hurrah in the cinematic swan song that is Logan. Throughout all of these movies, the only constant is him. Characters shift and actors change and behind the scenes crews morph over time. But Jackman loved this role so much he stayed and became a critical voice behind the scenes. Just look at him in the first X-Men movie to now. He looks better now than he did then, so completely in love with this role that he will destroy himself to look right for the role. And we’re gonna see him in a completely different physical state, looking rugged but also completely beat down.
There’s a good deal of people that have grown up with these movies and have forged a connection to Jackman. Lives have grown with him as his story has progressed. Through thick or thin, he’s been a 17 year constant. So even though this is an industry that has made recasting a staple of the business, Jackman’s insistence that this is the final time he’s gonna unleash the claws feels different. It had only been a total of 6 years of work for Magneto and Xavier when they got recast. There’s a weight of time on this departure. Another sign from the universe that time marches on, no matter how many times Wolverine gets up again. That and this also feels like we are getting a premeditated good bye. There’s gonna be no surprise recasting if Logan fails at the box office or if it’s a widely hated movie. Just ignoring the statements from the man himself, this movie has a funeral dirge feel to it. Getting a first trailer set to Johnny Cash’s cover of “Hurt” doesn’t sell a happy go lucky movie, or one that hints at a bright future. For those that grew up with Jackman’s Wolverine, this is not too unlike seeing Unforgiven in 1992 or Gran Torino in 2008 as someone who grew up with Clint Eastwood. Movie’s where the weight of time and mortality play as both text, subtext, and meta text. So on that day when this group finally sees Jackman say goodbye, it wouldn’t be too surprising to see some tears. Because the genre that has always been criticized for being kids stuff has grown up and will see it’s heaviest loss.