The Mutant Who Changed Everything
With the release of Logan earlier this year, Hugh Jackman, and millions of
fans, bid farewell to the actor’s signature role. The movie marks a fitting swan
song to Jackman’s sixteen year run with the claws, and he leaves behind a
legacy that quite literally changed the world.
When I was a kid, comic book movies could only dream of the sort of numbers
that they are pulling at the box office today. Whilst some films, like
Christopher Reeves’ Superman and Michael Keeton’s Batman, flirted bringing
comics into the mainstream, these examples were a rare thrill to the comic
book nerds of the day.
More often than not, instead of the quality features like Superman and
Batman, we got pictures we’d rather forget like ‘Howard The Duck’ or Dolph
Lundgren’s ‘Punisher’. Joel Schumacher also had a lot to answer for, undoing
a lot of the good work Tim Burton did to gain credibility for comic book
characters on the big screen.
THEN ALONG CAME A SPIDER...
Actually, that’s a lie. The Spider came later; the Wolverine arrived first. There
are many facets of the X-Men movie that led to it being a success. For one,
Bryan Singer knew his shit. He understood the material, with its allegorical
representations of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, and treated it with
complete respect. He also had a clear vision of everything that could work in a
comic book movie, and what needed to be cast aside.
Working closely with David Hayter he crafted a film that gave us all the action
and adventure we expected, with a healthy dose of sly humor; I am sure
everyone fondly remembers the ‘Yellow spandex’ moment. More than that
though, he gave us characters with a deep emotional core, that people could
relate to. Ironically, given it’s their inhuman qualities that people are drawn to,
it was the act of making the mutants more human that won us over.
That was only half of the battle though; the best script in the world can still
become a terrible movie without the acting talent to make it work. Thankfully,
X-Men delivered in spades. With two veterans of the theater circuit being
brought on board to give the films Malcom and Martin the gravitas they
needed, we were already off to a god start.
As if that wasn’t enough, there was Academy Award winning talent in the form
of Anna Paquin’s Rogue. Additionally, Halle Berry went on to win an
academy award herself within a year of the film’s release, for her excellent
performance in Monster’s Ball. This was not your typical comic book movie
Source: Fox/Marvel/the gym.
"Despite all this talent, there are few people who will deny that the real star of
the piece was Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine."
Despite all this talent, there are few people who will deny that the real star of
the piece was Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine. As we all know, he absolutely
nailed it, and it wouldn’t be unfair to say that his portrayal of the character was
a key part of the movies’ success. At the time however, he was more or less a
The impact of that performance, and the movie as a whole, was a
transformative event. Suddenly it was okay to like superheroes. It was no
longer a medium reserved for the nerds. The popular kids started to come out
the closet, no longer afraid to admit to their love of super powered people in
This was the beginning of a domino effect for the comics industry; American
teenagers, then and now, have the highest disposable income of any social
group on the planet, and the merchandisers knew it. Clothing, fashion
accessories, mugs, even toothbrushes; suddenly everything was fair game for
comic book branding.
Rule 34 is a popular internet meme that states "If it exists, there is porn of it –
no exceptions". I would probably be the least surprised person on the planet
to discover there is now a rule 35, that says something like, “If it exists, there is
superhero branding on it – no exceptions."
All joking aside, this is now the world we line in. Superheroes were suddenly
everywhere, and this increased visibility gave every content producer on the
planet a huge swell of confidence in superhero properties. The first X-Men
didn’t have to wait long for a sequel, and it wasn’t much longer before other
superheroes got in on the act.
Spider-Man hit the big screen only two years after X-Men, and one year
before it’s sequel. X-Men got it’s sequel the following year, and two years after
that Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins finally wiped the stain of Batman
and Robin from our memories. Then in 2008, everything changed with a little
picture known as Iron Man.
Wikipedia currently lists 315 films that are based on English language comics;
of these 98 were made in 2000 or earlier, while the remaining 217 all
happened since the release of that first X-Men movie. Keeping in mind that
this list goes as far back as 1943, it’s fair to say that production of comic book
movies picked up a little.
Source: Disney/Marvel/childhood dreams.
GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN
In light of this, it’s almost impossible to overstate the importance and the
impact that X-Men had on contemporary pop culture, both in terms of the
movie industry and Western sub-culture. Much of that success is down to the
brilliance of the script and the direction. I honestly believe, however, that it
could have easily never been, had the casting of Wolverine been different.
Jackman got it so right, that we now find ourselves in a world where no one
can imagine anybody else in the role. If it had fallen into someone else’s
hands, and they had fumbled the role, X-Men could just have easily been
remembered as "That shitty comic book movie."
Just think about it for a moment. If X-Men had been terrible – and it would
have been SO easy for that to have happened – then there likely would never
have been a Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, or Nolan’s Bat-verse; there would
probably never have been, and this is such a horrifying thought I can barely
type it, there would probably NEVER have been an MCU.
For this, and many other reasons, I personally owe a huge debt of gratitude to
Hugh Jackman. I’m not too proud to deny I shed a tear, for many reasons, as I
watched his last moments as James Howlett, and I believe I’m not alone when
I thank Hugh for leading a change to the nerd side of life that we once only
Started from the bottom...
Will you miss Hugh Jackman's Wolverine or are you glad to move on? Let us know in the comments below.