Wolverine is going to be harder to replace than the rest of the X-Men.
This morning, Hugh Jackman posted a video of himself shaving off his famous chops. Seemingly, it’s a signal to the fans that Wolverine 3 has wrapped and that Jackman is done.
THE SKINNY: The character of Wolverine has been imbued with both older and newer timelines, all as a way to boost the box office. But what does that mean going forward? How do you recast a role that an actor has not only made their own, but also underpins your entire franchise?
Although the film won’t be released till March 2017, it’s been widely recognized that this is the last time Jackman will be snikt-ing the claws.
For X-Men fans, Wolverine has been the (fuzzy) face of the franchise since it launched in 2000. He immediately made the role his own, imbuing it with his own natural charisma and grist.
Without a doubt Wolverine has also been good for Jackman, catapulting him to the A-list. But make no mistake, Jackman has been a very good for Wolverine too. That’s why fans keep seeing him play the character, and why the studio, Fox, keep bringing him back.
Even the critically trashed X-Men Origins: Wolverine managed to bring in $374 million at the box-office. And to date, the X-Men movies (including Wolverine standalone films) have brought in more than $4 billion. And Jackman showed up in every single one. Yes, technically it was a cameo in X-Men: First Class, and again, X-Men: Apocalypse, but he was absolutely put there for the fans. (He even makes a clawed appearance toward the end of the Apocalypse trailer).
Oh, and (so far) Wolverine is the only X-Men character to get his own standalone films.
Simply put, Jackman is Wolverine.
Until he’s not.
Film studios have been here before of course. Switching out actors who brought comic book characters to the big screen is nothing new.
At one point it was impossible to imagine anyone other than Christopher Reeve as Superman. Yet when X-Men director, Bryan Singer, got the Superman Returns gig, he cast Reeve’s doppleganger, Brandon Routh. And although Routh didn’t take up the role again (for better or worse), he provided a bridge to Henry Cavill.
Even Batman proved you could go from a dark knight in Michael Keaton to Christian Bale. Just as long as you go via Grumpy Batman (Val Kilmer) and Cartoon Batman (George Clooney). Warner Brothers have even rebooted Bruce Wayne all over again, this time bringin us with Mean Batman (Ben Affleck).
But the difference with Jackman is — bar any animated incarnations — he’s the only Wolverine we’ve known before. And he’s going to be hard to replace. Even Superman and Batman were working off familiar TV incarnations before Reeve or Keaton turned up.
Still, this won’t be the first time Fox has had to do this.
They managed it with X-Men: The First Class by having younger actors step into those familiar roles. And they even managed to sell the deal twice by blending both the old and new cast with X-Men: Days of Future Past.
But Wolverine is different. He doesn’t age like the rest of the X-Men. And rumors suggest Jackman may be doing the Old Man Logan story in Wolverine 3. So what does a studio do now? It’s hard to say. And at least for a little while, they have some time. But probably not as long as they’d like.
For a recent example of the challenges associated to reconfiguring a character, you only have to look at Spider-Man.
Andrew Garfield was supposed to be the Dreamy Spider-Man, but instead he became the transitional one. And even then, Sony Pictures elected to do a shared-universe deal with Marvel Studios, just to give Tom Holland’s version some legitimacy with the fans.
Fox doesn’t need to do any of this. As already noted, they’re printing money with X-Men movies, but even they know that’s under threat with the behemoth that is Marvel.
The big question is, how long will the X-Men films continue without Wolverine? And just who is moody and charismatic enough to carry him off? Only time will tell. Or rather the critics will, and Fox will quickly switch him out if it doesn’t work.