Hugh Jackman finally got his Oscar nomination, but now it’s time to pay some bills. So it’s back to the claws and the funny hair for a while, with two turns as the Marvel-ous mutant coming up. He’s reunited with the other X-Men next year in Days of Future Past, but this week, he’s trying to make us all forget about X-Men Origins: Wolverine with the much more simply titled The Wolverine. Since I just reminded all of you about the first film, you probably won’t forget it, but Jackman sure as hell is going to try to make you.
This will be the sixth cinematic outing for Wolverine (counting the brief but memorable cameo in X-Men: First Class). That’s some pretty rarefied company there. He’s two ahead of Indiana Jones and Rambo, and tied with Rocky Balboa. And while it’s unlikely he’ll ever get into James Bond territory, he’ll hit seven next year, and double digits is a distinct possibility, as long as Jackman doesn’t get tired of the character. And as long as we don’t either.
Because I wonder if we’re close to reaching the saturation point Wolverine reached in the comics back in 80s and 90s, when it seemed you couldn’t open a Marvel comic without seeing him in it somewhere. In the glory days of the Chris Claremont/John Byrne X-Men run, he was undeniably cool, but also not overexposed. When Claremont and Byrne did let loose with him, it was all the more memorable because he hadn’t been dominating the proceedings all along. He’d have his badass moment, then go back to lurking in the background, the barely contained beast who felt different and dangerous and unpredictable.
Then they started explaining all his mysteries, taking away all the things that made him cool. He didn’t just go by Logan because it was none of your damn business what the rest of his name was, now it was because he didn’t remember. Or remembered fake memories. Or took the name of someone called Logan. Sabertooth was just a rival, until it was hinted at that he was Wolverine’s father, until he wasn’t. His claws were part of his gloves, then grafted onto him, then part of him all along. It all depended on who was writing the character at the time. And it all combined to make him kind of boring. Sometimes it’s more fun to imagine the truth than to have it spelled out for you. And then, by the very nature of comic books, have it retconned a few years later.
So far, Fox has been doing all right by the character. Although the breakout star of the X-Men films, he never took any of the three films over (if anything, they’re just as much Magneto and Phoenix films as they are Wolverine films). His first solo film was a huge mistake creatively (how many other films with X-Men Origins at the front have you seen lately?), but it still made money. His appearance in First Class was note perfect, a nice reminder of what Jackman could bring to the role, and it earned back some of the fan goodwill Origins had lost.
Now here we stand with The Wolverine. It’s loosely based on what’s regarded as one of the best Wolverine stories, the 1982 limited series by Claremont and Frank Miller. The problem is it’s also the series that first started layering on the backstory that would eventually overwhelm the character. as well as establishing some of his biggest clichés (the terse speech patterns, the “noble beast” concept, etc). Granted, films don’t come out every month, and it’s not likely that Wolverine is going to start popping up in the next Avengers or Spider-Man movie. But this new film is going to be key in establishing how the character is handled going forward. And the response to it key in how many more chances he gets.
So far, the word has been cautiously positive (but let’s face it, it would be pretty hard not to be better than Origins). I never wish for a film to do badly, but I have to admit, there’s a part of me that wants to see Wolverine back with the X-Men, part of that dynamic, rather than pulling double duty as a solo star. Of course, that ship probably sailed the moment Jackman first appeared on-screen in the first X-Men film. But hey, it’s the comics. You can always hope for a retcon.