A few days ago, the Internet erupted with speculation and reactions to a Hugh Jackman Instagram post in which he displayed his fists with Wolverine’s famous claws sticking out of one hand. The caption for the photo read “WOLVERINE… ONE LAST TIME. HJ,” naturally causing many to assume that the actor would be sheathing his claws, so to speak, and wrapping up his long-held role of X-Men figurehead Wolverine. Indeed, soon after the post went up, numerous sources confirmed this assumption: Hugh Jackman will play Wolverine in a sequel to “The Wolverine” in 2017, and thereafter be done with the role he’s held since 2000.
So what will we make of the longest-tenured Hollywood superhero when all’s said and done? To some extent, that will depend on the finale. Presumably, Wolverine will make at least a small appearance in “X-Men: Apocalypse,” coming in 2016, but the sequel to “The Wolverine” will really be an important last act. That’s particularly true considering the 2013 film received good, but not great reviews. In the meantime, however, a look back at the last 15 years reveals some pretty amazing work by Jackman.
For starters, he actually appeared in every single movie in the extensive X-Men franchise, according to the X-Men Wiki (and confirmed if you bother sifting through IMDB). That may sound obvious, but when you consider that X-Men movies have covered different timelines, entire groups of new characters, and a Wolverine spinoff that seemed to take the character in its own direction, it’s pretty remarkable that he was needed in every movie (even if his appearance in “X-Men: First Class” consists of only two choice words in an amusing cameo). All in all, that’s nine movies thus far, with two more to go, making Hugh Jackman far and away the most exposed superhero of the modern era, despite the popularity of characters like Spider-Man or The Avengers.
In the process, Jackman helped to reinforce Wolverine’s place as the single face of the extensive X-Men family of heroes. And that was never a guarantee. Consider The Avengers, for whom Captain America is (from a comic book perspective) supposed to be the lead protagonist. Well, as it happens, Robert Downey, Jr. is a bigger box office draw than Chris Evans, and the Iron Man movies are more popular than the Captain America ones. The result is that in the film, Iron Man has become the de facto face of The Avengers. The same could have happened with the X-Men, with big names like Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Michael Fassbender, and even Jennifer Lawrence having been attached through the years.
And yet, Wolverine is still the face, and this fact is perhaps most evident in the video games industry. Just as the famous yellow-and-dark blue costuming of Wolverine from the comics (largely abandoned in the modern movies) is an iconic image on early arcade games, Jackman’s likeness has dominated modern X-Men games. “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” was arguably the worst movie in the franchise, and yet its game, featuring Jackman’s voice and likeness, got an aggregated 4/5 score at Metacritic. Meanwhile, the Betfair gaming platform features a number of different X-Men and Wolverine-related games, and Jackman’s image is there right alongside the cartoon version of Wolverine. In games featuring numerous X-Men, which generally take the place of icons on slot machine wheels, Jackman is front-and-center.
There’s also an argument to be made that Hugh Jackman gave us the purest form of a superhero in that he actually pulls off the reluctance associated with it. Generally speaking, popular superheroes are tortured individuals. With the possible exception of Iron Man, they fight evil because no one else can. After all, with great power comes great responsibility. And yet, most of them are also pulled back to it internally. Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne needs Batman to feel whole. Peter Parker needs Spider-Man to be someone who matters. Bruce Banner hates the Hulk, but the Hulk loves smashing things. Every hero feels the pull… except for Jackman’s Wolverine. This is a character who would genuinely prefer holing up in some bar in Australia getting drunk and being gruff. He rolls his eyes, complains, argues, and basically kicks and screams when he’s dragged into superhero duty. In a way, it makes him the most unique of the bunch.
As for the comparison to Batman—the hero perhaps most like Wolverine in his reluctance to keep fighting the good fight—Jackman, for his part, doesn’t see them on the same level. Quoted by Comicbook.com, he jokingly addressed the idea of a Wolverine vs. Batman film by saying it’d have to be a short, because Batman wouldn’t stand a chance!
All in all, it’s safe to say we’ll miss Jackman’s Wolverine.