Alright, so this is bound to grab some attention. You heard me right, I don’t think Hugh Jackman made a good Wolverine, and if you’re familiar with the comic books, you might agree with me. I want to be clear though, I enjoyed Hugh Jackman’s performance, especially in the first X-Men movie and in X-Men: Days of Future Past, as I felt he was closest to comic book Wolverine in those movies, but overall I felt like Jackman’s tenure as everyone’s favorite Canadian with claws was a character other than the Wolverine from the comic books. This article isn’t going to be an angry uninformed rant, I intend to be very throughout and give good explanations. I’m going to start with introducing you to the comic book Wolverine, then I’ll talk about the character Hugh Jackman played, after which I’ll compare and contrast the two, then I’ll finish with who I’d like to see play Wolverine in the future. Let’s dive in!
Wolverine In Comics
Wolverine’s story is tragic from the very start. Wolverine is usually known simply as “Logan” but was actually born James Howlett, and lived in Canada as the illegitimate son of Elizabeth Howlett (who was married to John Howlett, owner of a large estate) and the Howlett’s grounds-keeper, Thomas Logan. James didn’t have a very good relationship with his family, often being neglected by his mother and mistreated by his grandfather. James spent his early years with friends Rose (a child from town) and an unstable boy known as “Dog” (the grounds-keeper’s son and James’ half-brother). Long story short, one night the grounds-keeper invades the Howlett estate with his son in a druken stupor and attempts to steal away his former love, James’ mother, Elizabeth. The grounds-keeper kills Mr. Howlett, causing James’ bone claw mutation to manifest. James then kills the grounds-keeper in a blind rage and scars Dog’s face. As a result of all this tragedy and shock, James’ mother Elizabeth kills herself right then. James is eventually made to flee with Rose. What a nice family, right? James is deeply traumatized by all of this and his healing factor seems to somehow drive the trauma from his memories, leaving him partially amnesiac. It’s not long before James begins going by the name “Logan” and dishearteningly enough, starts to resemble the grounds-keepers more than his legal father as he grows older. Logan becomes a miner, hangs out with wolves, and experiences many more tragedies before finding the X-Men and becoming “Wolverine”.
Logan is a dark, grim, and tortured soul. He’s rude, distant, and vulgar in an attempt to hide and medicate deep pain that he often can’t even recall or identify. Logan very seldom expresses care or concern for others, and if he does, it doesn’t appear typical or genuine. Logan is primarily a loner and not a leader-type, even though he excels at it (from war experience) and is sometimes forced into a leadership role. Honestly, Logan does not have a lot of redeeming qualities beyond the advice he occasionally gives, the very few good relationships he has, and his rigid sense of honor. His stories often end badly and in sadness, but that’s who he is, he’s an anti-hero through and through. Logan’s appeal is in our unfortunate ability to, at times, relate with him in his suffering, trauma, anger, and distant nature. We cheer for him, not because he’s good and admirable (because he certainly isn’t), but because although he’s dark and unlikable, he is also powerful and is able to conquer his physical enemies, even though he can’t conquer his internal demons. This is something we desire to do in our own lives, so reading a Wolverine comic is a cathartic release for the reader. That is why, as comic book fans, we like Wolverine. Also, he’s just plain bad-ass.
Wolverine, in the comics, is very wolf-like in appearance, and very short and stout at 5’3″ 195 lbs. (without the adamantium skeleton). His stature is one of the primary reasons he was given the nickname “Wolverine.” Wolverine has a very blocky, stern, and uninviting face. He’s very intimating and hard to approach. Obviously, you can’t hear a character’s voice in a comic book, but Wolverine has always been given a gruff, scratchy voice in comic book animations, which fits with his character. Just imagine “smoker’s voice.”
Wolverine In Films
In the movies, Wolverine’s origin is mostly unchanged. James is still the illegitimate son of Elizabeth Howlett and the Howlett’s grounds-keeper, Thomas Logan. The grounds-keeper’s son “Dog” is replaced with Victor Creed (Sabertooth), now making them half-brothers. As James gets older he actually resembles Mr. Howlett while Sabertooth resembles their father. Of the changes to Wolverine’s story, I actually prefer the inclusion of Sabertooth over Dog from the comics. Even though I’m unhappy with how it plays out, I think its clever and provides a “full-circle” effect to the story. The grounds-keeper still murders Mr. Howlett and is impaled by a young Wolverine. His last words reveal that he is James’ biological father. Elizabeth Howlett survives this event as opposed to killing herself in the comics. Victor and James’ run away together and fight in every major American-involved war from WWI to Vietnam until they are recruited for special covert missions. On one mission, Victor and James’ disagree on methods and James’ leaves, becomes a logger in Canada, and starts a romantic involvement with a school teacher (meant to replace Rose from the comics). It’s unclear when Wolverine starts to go by the name of “Logan”. Just as in the comics, Wolverine’s life is filled with trauma and pain from here on out, but most of it is not documented. It’s unclear how much of this origin changes considering Fox’s desire to forget X:Men Origins: Wolverine ever happened, but with how the original X-Men movie starts its safe to say thee most important parts remain the same.
Wolverine in the films is still a tragic character, but it’s communicated in a different way. He is deeply pained, outwardly grim, but deep down he cares and has the potential to change. Wolverine can be brought to a point where he is vulnerable and open with how he feels, but is reluctant to do so. Wolverine starts out rude, vulgar, rebellious, and generally reluctant to help others, but slowly becomes more the opposite of theses things as his characters evolves. In the movies, Wolverine is able to connect and have numerous invested relationships even if at first reluctant, such as with Sabertooth, Jean Grey, Charles Xavier, and Laura (his illegitimate daughter). Wolverine is depicted as a broody jackass, with a dark past, who is presented many opportunities for redemption, and acts like a true hero when it matters.
In the films, Wolverine retains his wolf-like appearance, but is much taller (6’2″), leaner (195-200 lbs), and has a gaunter, slightly more pleasing face. Wolverine’s voice is fairly deep but still clear. Wolverine’s attitude is more intimidating than the way he actually looks.
Comparing The Two
Wolverine is a different beast on screen than he is on the page. The films attempts to translate the characters physical appearance and personality are shallow at best. Hugh Jackman’s resemblance to comic book Wolverine is only in the haircut, jacket, and claws. Now, I’m not suggesting that every actor cast as a comic book character needs to be the spitting image of that character, that’s obviously not true, but in this case I find it especially detrimental because I find Wolverine’s physical attributes closely tied to his identity. The height difference is huge, and Wolverine’s short stature is actually part of the reason for his name. In the comics. His short, bulky, and rugged physique literally make him look like an animal, and that’s why his comrades dubbed him “Wolverine”. Also, as you may have pieced together Hugh Jackman weighs the same as Wolverine, only at 9 inches taller. Although Jackman looks jacked, hes actually significantly smaller than Wolverine in the comics. The “angry, little man” aspect that I love about Wolverine is absent.
Wolverines slightly different personality in the films is another reason that took me out of it, and made it hard for me to identify the character as Wolverine. On the surface, Wolverine might seem the same gruff, angry, jackass from the comics, but I find the motives and causes of his trauma to be less powerful. Jackman’s Wolverine just doesn’t seem as damaged as his comic book counterpart, and he’s simply too likable. Yes, comic book Wolverine has his positive moments, he even teaches at the school, but he’s less heroic on the surface, and more extreme than Jackman. This could merely be due to a movie’s inability to develop a character at the same length and depth as an ongoing written media, but I feel a better attempt could have been made, and a more fitting actor cast (which we’ll get to in a bit). I also think a reason Wolverine turned out this way, is because Fox pushed for Wolverine to be a leading franchise character, as opposed to a supporting role I think the character is better suited for in movies. In order for him to be popular, and make more money, he had to be more heroic and likable.
Hugh Jackman has moments where he looks and feels like the Wolverine I love, but they’re not many. He resembles comic book Wolverine more in the earlier films, then they evolve the character and take him in a less familiar direction. Considering all that I’ve said, this is still just my opinion, and I realize that the way I feel about the accuracy of Hugh Jackman’s portrayal may be unique to me. Remember, I said I still enjoyed his performance, but he wasn’t truly Wolverine.
What I Would Have Done
At the time they were planning the original X-Men movie, I might have cast Tom Hardy, but currently he’s filming to portray Venom. I don’t like my comic book characters played by the same actor, in the same universe. You really have to sell the actor as his character, and that is easiest when they only play one. It was hard for me to accept Chris Evans as Captain America for the same reason, but that’s a story for another time! You may not find a suitable actor as short as Wolverine, at least I haven’t, but Tom Hardy is short enough (5’9″) and has a much more similar bulk and body type. Tom Hardy also has that “bad boy” rebellious image which would help sell the character, and he has played many anti-heroes and villains already. Roles like the ones he played in “Bronson”, “Warrior”, “The Dark Knight Rises”, “Lawless”, and “The Revenant” convince me he would do well.
Other actors they could have cast as Wolverine are Jon Bernthal, although now he plays The Punisher (exceptionally well, I might add), and martial artist Scott Adkins (“Undisputed” series, “The Bourne Ultimatum”, various stunt work). Both actors are on the shorter side, have dense and bulky builds, thick dark hair, and do well portraying gruff personalities onscreen. Scott Adkins would have been neat from a choreography standpoint, being an experienced martial artist.
While I would prefer to see another actor play Wolverine, even if you didn’t replace Jackman things could have been done to make him more like the original character. If the writers and directors had committed to the grim, damaged character they started with, instead of causing him to evolve into a more heroic, more likable character, I would have received it better. also, if they had employed camera tricks to make Jackman seem shorter, I would have been more likely to buy into it.
And that, my friends, is my unpopular opinion on Wolverine. Leave me a comment to tell me what you think. Take or leave it, just remember to stay kind!