You have your favorite comic book movies, and I have mine. But were a rough consensus regarding the best character portrayals to emerge, it would surely include the following names: Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, Patrick Stewart as Charles Xavier, and Hugh Jackman as Wolverine. (Last place: Ben Affleck as Matt Murdock.)
For easily excited comic fans, it’s always a blast when one of those versions gets trotted out in a movie, which is why "The Wolverine" has retained such interest even though it’s coming nearly four years after the last time we saw Logan on screen in any meaningful way.
In honor of the first promo photo showing Jackman’s updated look, let us tumble through the past to see how the ol’ Canucklehead has changed since he first hit theaters.
Wolverine’s first appearance set the modern mold for how an actor could be transformed into his character, despite Jackman’s lofty stature compared to the diminutive version we’d always seen in the comics. It’s not perfect, but it’s a hell of a template: He’s jacked, hairy, and attitude-y, though without the intense muscular definition we’d see in the future. That chin-beard, though; that’s the look of money being made. I don’t know if Jackman’s natural facial hair was really that robust, but it doesn’t really make a difference; from here on out, fans knew what to expect from their comic book resemblances.
"X2: X-Men United"
What a difference a few years makes! The Wolverine here is a little slimmer and better defined than the first version, with a slight shave to go along with his newly embraced heartthrob status. My memory is a little soggy, but I seem to remember Jackman having his shirt off for most of the movie. I’m sure it’s no coincidence.
"X-Men: The Last Stand"
More of the same, really. He’s big and ripped and still pretty beardy. You can tab between photos of "X2" and "The Last Stand" without being able to tell the difference -- especially since they kept putting him in those wifebeaters. Which makes me wonder: There’s no way Jackman kept on the definition in the three years between the movies, meaning that at some point, he was slumming it with some relative flab on his otherwise embarrassingly taut physique. Can you imagine running into this guy at the grocery store? The mind boggles.
"X-Men Origins: Wolverine"
Three years after the arguable stink of "X-Men: The Last Stand," Jackman returned to the Wolverine role with the... well, inarguable stink of "X-Men Origins: Wolverine." But we’re not here to talk about that! (Though we could, and really, that could form the basis of two or three columns.) Instead, check the Wolverine who emerged ready to carry his own movie: hitting the apex between bulky and ripped, he looks every bit the untested feral animal the origin story revealed him to be. It’s the perfection of an aesthetic they could only refine going forward, and despite the bomb that "Origins" turned out to be, at least he looked really good.
Which brings us to now, more than a decade and hundreds of millions of dollars into the franchise. Though it’s been reasonably true of the last few installments, the franchise’s success rests more than ever with Jackman: He’s the only recognizable star in "The Wolverine," and he’s one of the few members of the original movies still popping up in the new films. (And will be, unless those Patrick Stewart rumors come true.) It’s no surprise, then, that he’s veinier than ever, evidenced in this first promotional photo which tells us nothing but "Wolverine is jacked, and he is grim." Hell, half the photo is just negative space, which obscures the brand-new haircut that he apparently picked up before going to Japan. But if one photo is all it takes to once more send hearts aflutter over everyone’s favorite Canadian, then this will do the trick. We’ll see Mr. Jackson and his painfully sculpted self in the theaters next year.
This Mutant Life explores all corners of the cinematic X-verse, from the kids of "First Class" to the berserker rage of "The Wolverine." Suggest topics for future columns in the comments or on Twitter!
Previously on This Mutant Life: