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The Evolution of Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine

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Written by Grace Davis

Hugh Jackman has played Wolverine (a.k.a James Logan) since 2000, and with next summer’s X-Men: Days of Future Past marking his seventh onscreen appearance as the character, Jackman is the only actor who has appeared in every X-Men movie and has everybody else officially beat in the “who’s played their super-character most” game. But how has he evolved that performance over the last 13 years? We thought it was about time to take a look at how Jackman’s portrayal of the always-angry Wolverine has… well, mutated, since his debut in X-Men.

Originally, Jackman was never supposed to play Logan. Back in 1998, Jackman was a little known West End actor starring in a production of Oklahoma!. Fellow Aussie actor Russell Crowe turned down the role of Wolverine (and wisely so, Crowe went on to make Gladiator instead and win his first Oscar for the role), but suggested to director Bryan Singer that he have a look at Jackman. Needless to say, many people doubted that an actor with a background mainly in musicals could pull off the grittiness needed for one of the X-Men’s most loved characters, and Dougray Scott was cast instead. But, in a twist of fate, an injury took Scott out of the film and Singer turned to Jackman.

Jackman soon proved the doubters wrong: the already hirsute Australian proved that he could provide the grit and internal pain needed to play Wolverine. Starting at a lonely point in Wolverine’s life, the series tracks his reluctant joining of the X-Men team and his first chance at love in a very long time. Over the three films we see Wolverine open up (slightly!) to friendship and eventually become something of a team player.

Physically, the characterisation was note perfect. Jackman isn’t afraid to change for his roles and has said of his insanely calorific Wolverine diet, “What I do is I eat everything in an 8-hour period… I eat 5000 calories and then nothing.” The actor has also stated that “The Wolverine Diet” involved 3 hours of exercise every day – don’t ever doubt this man’s commitment!

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And it’s not just the body that does it: the hair and (of course) the sideburns all add to that iconic Wolverine style, not to mention the trademark claws. And Jackman pulled off the look everytime.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine saw Jackman play a younger version of Logan. While the film was widely panned, Jackman himself did a decent job of showing the character’s journey through disillusioned soldier, to his attempt at a normal life with Kayla, to his torturous search for truth and revenge.

Critics of the actor’s performance have focused mainly on the lighter parts of his portrayal, commenting that Wolverine needed to be darker and angrier – making friends and chumming around with them wasn’t quite what some fans wanted from the eternally lonely Logan. This criticism is understandable: the earlier films did show plenty of Wolverine’s softer moments, from his older-brotherly relationship with Rogue to his quip-trading with Gambit.

However, as an audience trying to relate to this character, perhaps we need to see a few moments like these to realise that Logan does have more about him than pain and scars. After all, Wolverine has long displayed a flair for grim, battlefield humour. The movies probably did focus a bit too much on his lighter aspects – presumably as a result of trying to cater more to the average summer blockbuster film goer rather than the fans.

But this brings us to the latest instalment of the X-Men franchise. Released this summer, The Wolverine is a return to form for the titular hero. The plot focuses on Wolverine’s time in Japan – a story arc first featured in Wolverine, a 1982 limited series by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller.

The Wolverine we see here is older and more considered. His experiences with the X-Men have left him battered and once again disillusioned: the death of Jean Grey has inevitably taken its toll. Plagued with dreams and nightmares involving the woman he loved, Wolverine has retreated to the isolated backwoods of Canada – only to resurface when a mysterious woman begs him to travel to Japan to pay his last respects to a dying man he once saved. Wolverine falls in love again – a love which often gets called his greatest… and yet is not quite convincing enough in the film. A lack of chemistry between the two actors may be to blame as may the rushed feeling of their romantic progression.

Wolverine deals with being almost normal in this film – an exciting prospect but, again, one which could have been explored more thoroughly. Jackman does his best to show the character’s reaction to this startling development and conveys it well in the time allowed.
Jackman himself has said of the role that “You get to see him vulnerable. You get to see him emotionally scarred from everything he’s done in his life. You get to feel what it would be like to be two or three hundred years old if you’ve done a lot of bad things.”

Once again we see that, although more bruised and exhausted with his super-long life, underneath Wolverine hasn’t really changed that much over those long years: gruff and cynical but with honour and heart beneath it all, our favourite mutant remains a mass of contradictions.

What do you think of Jackman’s Wolverine? Did you prefer the earlier, lighter version of the character, or do you think The Wolverine finally got it right with a darker portrayal?

About the author

Grace Davis