With Logan now out in theaters, it’s a good time to reflect on the history of Wolverine. Hugh Jackman is ready to hang his claws up for good, retiring the character after nearly two decades and nine movies. If true, he really did save the best for last. Logan has opened with near universal critical acclaim and is set to dominate the box office with a projected $80 million take this weekend.
It’s been a long trip for Jackman’s Wolverine, not just as part of the X-Men franchise but with three solo movies as well, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, The Wolverine, and now Logan. Wolverine has always been one of the most popular characters from the Marvel comics, and that popularity pushed Jackman to the height of stardom back in 2000, with X-Men first hit theaters. He was the break out star from the film as the character’s popularity translated on to the big screen. In many ways, he’s been the center of the universe, even becoming the impetus of the in-universe reboot Days of Future Past. Hard as it is to believe now, but Jackman almost didn’t even make it that far.
In a new interview with EW, Jackman revealed that he almost stepped away for good after Origins. Jackman’s reticence to continue the character was partly due to the poor reception to that film and partly due to his having no sense of what to do next with the character. At that point, he’d played the character in four movies and couldn’t visualize what was next for Wolverine:
“I couldn’t see what the next thing was, I don’t know what else to do. I don’t know where to go…I knew people liked the character. Not all the fans like that first Wolverine. They’re very vocal with me. Good or bad, they tell me. It’s kind of a family I have. ‘What were you thinking?! I love you, man, but that was….’”
The unpopularity of both Origins and X3 kept the future of the series in limbo until First Class, which saw Jackman return only for a brief cameo. It wasn’t until Jackman discussed the character with director Darren Aronofsky (Noah), who was planning to make what would later become The Wolverine before dropping out, that Jackman developed a sense of how to continue playing the character:
“Darren said, ‘I get that he heals, but if you’re a human, your scars are with you for your entire life. The scab might go within a month or two weeks, but that’s there for life. Even if he has accelerated healing, that scars with him for a good 10 or 15 years, so he could be completely disfigured.’ All of the sudden, I had this image. It can be as simple of an idea as that, that all of a sudden makes me go, ‘Oh, there’s a whole other way to do this character. There’s a whole other way to get into it…In any creative field, you have to feel that, ‘Oh, this excited me’ or ‘That’s how I should have played it the last five times, and now I know how to do it.’ I think this film demonstrates that better than any.”
It’s difficult to imagine how the X-Men series might have played out in recent years with Jackman’s absence. While between The Wolverine and Days of Future Past, Jackman has been central to the revitalization of the franchise over the last five years, which ultimately led us to the cinematic brilliance of Logan. Even with Aronofsky out of the picture, his ideas about the character planted the seeds that eventually became Jackman’s final outing as Wolverine, ultimately leading to the best film in the entire X-Men franchise.
X-Men won’t be the same without Jackman, that much is certain. Imagining how different the entire series almost was is even harder. Days of Future Past was a new high point for the franchise, and it’s now joined by Logan. Whatever problems you might have with Origins or X3 feel small in comparison to the greatness of these two films. What might become of the character or the franchise in Jackman’s wake is anyone’s guess. Whatever does happen, the other certainty is that they’ve got pretty big claws to fill. Jackman has made sure of that.