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Is It Time For Hugh Jackman to Retire as Wolverine?

Wolverine Hugh Jackman
20th Century Fox

When ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past‘ opens in theaters next summer, Hugh Jackman will have starred as Wolverine in seven different movies. It’s a feat few actors have done before (see: Leonard Nimoy, Daniel Radcliffe and Desmond Llewelyn) and impressive that an actor of Jackman’s caliber would stick with one character for so long. But, as Jackman enters talks with 20th Century Fox for yet another movie (a follow-up to this summer’s successful ‘The Wolverine’), we have to ask, is it time for Jackman and Logan to part ways?

As he was making the promotional rounds for ‘Prisoners‘ – the non-mutant film that could lead to his second straight Oscar nomination – Jackman was open and honest about the likelihood that he was done playing Wolverine. He told The Guardian at the time:

Great parts always outgrow the actors that play them. If you forget that, it’s at your own peril…It would have to be very compelling for me to do it again. I’ve been doing it for 10 years.

Most assumed that this was Jackman’s polite way of easing out of a role he was inextricably tied to. But, word leaked last week that director James Mangold and Jackman were in talks to return for ‘The Wolverine 2‘ and it appeared that the star had reversed course. Fans were excited, but is this really for the best?

Fox has never seemed to know what to do with Wolverine. They knew he was popular enough to spinoff into his own franchise, but were so concerned about the character’s lack of awareness, they tacked on the clunky ‘X-Men Origins’ tag to the film’s title. They had one of the best comic storylines at their disposal (Barry Windsor-Smith’s classic “Weapon X”) and completely botched the execution, resulting in one of the worst comic book movies since Superman fought Nuclear Man. Their only coherent plan was to get Hugh Jackman to return.

So, it’s really no surprise that they’ve made an offer to Jackman to return (whether Jackman is actually considering this offer, remains to be seen, and we can’t imagine that he’ll publicly say anything different than what he’s said to this point). Just making a sequel is a lot easier than rebooting a character tied to two of their biggest franchises. But, it’s time for both Jackman and Wolverine to move on.

After revisiting ‘The Wolverine’ – which became the second-highest grossing ‘X-Men’ movie after ‘X2′ – it’s hard to advocate for a complete reboot simply because it’s the best cinematic Wolverine we’ve seen in years (not counting the genius ‘X-Men: First Class’ cameo), but it’s right for the character in the long run (and why not go out on a high note?).

For one, Jackman, as evidenced by his recent quotes (like the ones above), sounds like he’s a guy who’s tiring of playing Wolverine. His heart doesn’t seem to be in it any longer and he’s continuing out of an obligation to the character (Wolverine made Jackman as much as Jackman made Wolverine) and an increasing paycheck. Neither of these are great reasons to continue on with a character.

Also, Jackman struggled for years to break out of the Wolverine typecasting. He was bankable in the ‘X-Men’ movies, but beyond that, struggled to find an audience for films like ‘The Fountain’ and ‘Australia.’ It’s odd to think of an A-list actor having a career resurgence, but Jackman was nominated for an Oscar for ‘Les Miserables’ and looks to continue that trend this year with ‘Prisoners’ (both films critical and commercial hits). Jackman doesn’t need Wolverine any longer and, some might argue, the character is a liability to his continued longevity as an actor.

Whereas Robert Downey, Jr.’s portrayal of Iron Man is actually improved and informed by his increasing celebrity, Jackman’s rise to fame over the years actually hurts the character. Jackman is a skilled actor and we’re lucky to have had him this long playing such a beloved superhero, but now it’s hard not to look at the screen and just see a ripped Hugh Jackman. It doesn’t help that when he’s not playing Wolverine (which isn’t often – Jackman spent 8 months of the past 24 months shooting as Wolverine), he looks an awful lot like Wolverine.

As the franchise has continued, Wolverine has become a little too cleaned up. His clothes are straight out of J. Crew, his hair perfect, biceps perfectly sculpted, precise stubble – he looks like an action figure come to life. He doesn’t even smoke a cigar anymore, he just lights it for a half-second for dramatic effect and then throws it away. Say what you will about Bryan Singer’s first two ‘X-Men’ movies, but they had the look of Wolverine down better than any film since.

Creatively, the Wolverine franchise has mostly run out of steam. The character’s most iconic solo stories have already been told or at least cannibalized for beats in the existing movies. As it stands, the X-Men mythology is being told almost completely out of whack with three X-Men movies, then an origin movie?, and then a sequel to the origin that ignores the origin and then another X-Men movie that’s a sequel to a prequel to the original X-Men movie…

It’s easy to blame Fox, but remember they started the ‘X-Men’ franchise years before anyone thought about planning superhero movies in advance, ‘Avengers’ style. But now, maybe it’s time to let the ‘First Class’ universe continue without Wolverine, while they completely reboot Logan with another actor and start fresh. We’re not saying any new Wolverine movie needs to have this building mythology – there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a great, standalone movie, especially in Wolverine’s case, where so many of his adventures were lone wolf style – but some continuity and order would be nice.

It will be difficult for Hugh Jackman to say goodbye to Wolverine, for Fox to say goodbye to Hugh Jackman and us to say goodbye to both of them, but it’s the nature of the business (Warner Bros. announced Ben Affleck as the new Batman just eight months after ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ hit DVD) and if we’re going to do this, let’s get it over with now. Like Jackman himself said, “Great parts always outgrow the actors that play them.”

Of course, all these arguments might just come from a selfish desire of really, really wanting to see the “Weapon X” movie done properly. You know, without a weird Ryan Reynolds Deadpool.

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