Ever since Logan was announced, it’s been set up as Hugh Jackman’s final X-Men movie. The actor has repeatedly spoken about his plans to hang up the claws, it’s adapting Old Man Logan (which deals with an aging Wolverine in a mutant-lite future) and the film’s official tagline is “one last time” – you can’t get more resolute than that. In fact, it’s become a core selling point for the movie, with the marketing remarkably restrained (the second trailer has hit less than two months before release) and Fox letting the proposition of a farewell to its wounded hero do much of the talking.
It’s a tantalizing hook; X-Men as a movie franchise has always been firmly about new beginnings, but Logan feels like a genuine conclusion. But will this actually be Jackman’s final X-movie? And should it be? As the film’s neared release, the talk of a resolute finale has begun to subside – after seeing Birdman, Jackman even commented he felt like playing the character forever – and with a massive slate of movies in the pipeline, from New Mutants to Deadpool 2, and the rumored Supernova and more in various stages of development, there are plenty of opportunities for Wolverine to appear without headlining a film. It might lessen some of the Logan hype, but more Wolvie action may not be such a bad idea.
In terms of completion, now would be a fair time for Jackman to bow out. With Logan’s approximation of Old Man Logan, he’ll have finally nearly all iconic versions of James Howlett – from loner to X-Man, berserker to worn soldier – and can retire without a major itch in need of scratching. No comic book actor can truly say they ran the full gamut of a character’s print appearances, but Jackman has come the closest by far. Any later appearance, even those fans crave, would likely be a variation on one of his previous performances.
That needn’t be cause to hang up his claws, however. While he’s been mostly dependable in the role, the quality of the films has varied wildly. The Last Stand was muddled, Origins: Wolverine dreadful and his Apocalypse cameo both fan service and narratively pointless – meaning his takes on Wolverine as an X-Men leader and Weapon X are hardly definitive, and do still leave room for improvement. Additionally, as we’ve seen with the long-standing characters of the MCU like Captain America and Iron Man, there’s always new depths to plunder (even within the same ideas).
The big opportunity for correction comes with Deadpool. Jackman and Ryan Reynolds have become the unequivocal mastheads of the X-Men movies – both are demons on social media – and the hype around the possibility of a Wolverine and Deadpool meet up (one that corrects the mess of Origins) has been fierce. Rumors Wade Wilson may appear in Logan have been vehemently shot down (it wouldn’t really fit the tone anyway), but there’s been chatter about the pair crossing paths on another project, be that Deadpool 2 or something further down the line.
That alone would be a legitimate reason for Jackman to reconsider his stance; when Logan was first cited as Jackman’s last film, the Merc with a Mouth didn’t even have a standalone greenlit… now he’s the biggest hero in Fox’s stable. The irreverent tone he embodies offers several new character avenues to explore (not least a nice excuse for Wolverine to finally put on the traditional yellow spandex for maximum contrast potential).
On the Deadpool side of the X-movies’ future, there’s also X-Force to consider. In the comics, Wolverine joined the Cable-led group in the mid-naughties, so could slot neatly into the rumored movie. He’s not totally necessary to sell the project, but it would allow him to appear alongside Deadpool without going too far into the fourth-wall smashing, while also providing a new angle for Jackman to play with. Logan is already taking the character into bona fide R-rated territory (The Wolverine had an R-rated cut on home video, but was the franchise’s usual PG-13 in cinemas), which ratchets potential for full-on gory action; aside from a straight up Wolverine 4, X-Force is a neat way to get deeper into that.
The danger with these options is that they may clash with the resolution that Logan‘s promising, although taking the character in a different direction needn’t hurt the story that film’s trying to tell. Logan is set in 2023, later than any of the other movies (the same as the future parts of Days of Future Past), and so exists almost as a standalone in terms of narrative impact. This can still be the “one last time” event, possibly one that even kills Wolverine, and still not be his last appearance. The X-Men continuity is so muddled (even with Future Past‘s reset) and Jackman able to jump around eras due to Wolverine’s immortality that a get around is as easy as it would be in the comics.
The element of Logan that really could be hurt by Jackman continuing is X-23. In the comics, the clone of Wolverine has taken the mantle up after her mentor’s death and based on how the second trailer is framed (it’s essentially The Last of Us with mutants) there’s going to be a strong sense of passing on the torch in her big screen debut too. As such, having Wolverine return as a focal element of the franchise in a later movie could be seen as undoing this major character shift with a lazy return to the status quo.
Something similar happened in Apocalypse, which took the new timeline created by Days of Future Past and chose to mostly repeat the original movie’s continuity, much to fans’ distaste. If X-23 is the future, then it’s questionable whether continued Wolverine action would be a good thing.
There’s also the physical side to consider. Jackman’s now 48, and has openly commented on the physical toll taken by the crash-course muscle regime he undergoes for each movie, especially as things are getting more extreme by the year (compared to Days of Future Past, his physique in the original X-Men looks positively slovenly). There’s ways around this, be it CGI or altering the character’s role, but the worst thing about more Wolverine would be him winding up like Kingdom Skull-era Indiana Jones and looking… well, older. Making him a supporting character or recurring cameo may help, but that feels far too token and again risks weakening Logan‘s ideals.
There are clearly multiple reasons why Jackman should and shouldn’t return, although perhaps the more pertinent question is “could he?” Even if Logan is taken as the end of Jackman’s time as the character – via death or otherwise – it really doesn’t really rule out a return down the line. In our current era of legacy-quels, “The End” is the new “To Be Continued…” Series that were long thought over – be that from resolute ending like Star Wars, or petering out like Rocky and every slasher franchise ever – are returning at an increasingly relentless rate.
In fact, the only definitive example of a blockbuster series willingly giving itself an ending and sticking to is The Dark Knight Trilogy, which completely rounded off Bruce Wayne’s journey with little room for more. However, that only happened because of Christopher Nolan’s clout and the possibility of rebooting the character in a new form (which happened less than four years after The Dark Knight Rises). X-Men is an ongoing franchise with a free-flowing continuity; for Wolverine to die and stay dead would go firmly against the grain.
Jackman doesn’t need to continue the role after Logan, but at the same time, the demand is undeniable for seeing the actor in his signature role. Indeed, there’s absolutely nothing to say that a continuation of Wolverine’s story would be a bad thing; the only potential negative it could have is on purported departure entry Logan. And if a sense of finality is the make-or-break thing with that film, there’s some much bigger underlying problems.