Wolverine / Logan / Jackman
There’s not much more to say regarding Jackman’s Wolverine, it set the standard for gravitas and commitment to the role in Marvel films. It’s fair to say that Jackman’s initial performance in Singer’s X-Men opened the doors for other top-notch actors to enter the field (RDJ, Sam Jackson, Josh Brolin, etc.) However, after seventeen years playing Wolverine, Jackman walked away with style; he also closed the book on Wolverine on film… or did he? Remember that Logan was outside of continuity, it was a classic “What If” storyline (Marvel has been publishing “What If” comics for decades). Meanwhile, Fox has been playing fast and loose with time, as X-Men First Class (2011) introduced a parallel narrative that did more to confuse their storytelling than align it.
Fox knows that no one can replace Jackman, but they also know that this character cannot be off-the-board for long, he’s just too iconic and too central to X-Men lore.
The obvious problem with such a character-defining portrayal: how do you follow it up? The easy answer is also the hardest: don’t do anything. Give the character a break for a few years, then bring him back with a new actor in a big, splashy return to the big screen. Build some anticipation, make it count!
Hulk / Banner / Ruffalo
Bruce Banner is not the only Hulk. That seems odd to say, particularly if you grew up with the CBS TV version in the 70s. In the comics there have been multiple characters cursed with this Gamma-irradiated beast — Red Hulk, Amadeus Cho, She-Hulk, Professor Hulk, Joe Fixit, Skaar, etc. Despite Hulk’s long-running successes in TV and comics, his stand-alone film iterations haven’t exactly caught on with the public — we’re now onto our third Hulk actor on film: Eric Bana, Edward Norton, Mark Ruffalo. Everyone fell in love with Ruffalo’s Banner and Hulk in The Avengers (2012), and there’s palpable excitement regarding his role in the upcoming Thor: Ragnarok (a talking Hulk!)
Ruffalo is a contemporary of RDJ (that means he’s getting old), but given that his portrayal of Hulk is motion-captured it’s conceivable that Ruffalo could continue playing Banner for years and Hulk can just continue on as a CG character. However, at a certain point it’s going to be weird to see a balding or a greying Hulk. Marvel and Universal are also battling over the rights to Hulk, so it’s unlikely we’ll get another stand-alone Hulk any time soon. Perhaps the best move for Marvel would be to continue using Hulk as a supporting character, but maybe introduce a red or female version of the character, to interject something new and fresh.
ProfessorX / Xavier-Stewart / McAvoy
Fox must have a real love/hate relationship with Logan. If it wasn’t bad enough for Fox that Jackman ended his Wolverine role, this same film also marked the final entry in Patrick Stewart’s extraordinary Professor X/Charles Xavier portrayal. Making matters somewhat more confusing is the recent rise of James McAvoy, who played a younger version of Xavier in three — soon to be four — X-Men films (the ones with all the confusing time-travel stuff). Deciding where exactly the current X-Men timeline resides is a fair and open question, and it’s also anyone’s guess what happens after the next X-Men film. Fox is 1000% continuing with X-Men movies, but now Deadpool has thrown a wrench into things too (example: there are now two concurrent versions of Colossus in these films). Awkward! Oh, if you’re paying attention, you’ll recall that Stewart’s Professor X was also killed in X-Men: The Last Stand… but that didn’t take, obviously.
That leaves the current status of Wolverine (dead), and Professor X (twice dead, but still living), and the whole confusing X-Men overlapping/retconning/conflicting timeline stuff. Whew, this is not easy stuff to keep straight. It’s a reasonable bet that Fox reboots the whole damned thing after next year’s X-Men: Dark Phoenix film (in the comics, a whole bunch of characters are killed). However, much like Wolverine, Fox might be wise to let Professor X take a break for a while — Deadpool’s X-Force movie seems like the next logical chapter in this universe, and maybe it should be the only one for now, too.
You might notice that we didn’t discuss CG versions for any of the above characters. In X-Men: The Last Stand we saw digitally de-aged versions of Professor X and Magneto, while in Logan Jackman’s Wolverine faced-off against a very believable CG doppleganger. CG characters might very well be a viable fourth option for this debate, but let’s save that perilous trip into the uncanny valley for another day.
Where do you stand regarding the future of Marvel’s aging heroes? Let us know in the comments down below!
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