Sadly, it looks like Hugh Jackman is hanging up his adamantium skeleton for good after Logan. He’s certainly had a good run, with his claws first erupting in Bryan Singer’s original X-Men (2000). 10 movies (at least if you count his magazine cover cameo in Deadpool) and 17 years is a long time to portray the same character. For many fans, though, he’ll be the first and only Wolverine in their hearts.
Just because Jackman is ready to move on, though, doesn’t mean Fox and their X-Men franchise are.
As one of the most popular X-Men since, well, forever (or at least his debut in Incredible Hulk #180 (1974)), 20th Century Fox is understandably loathed to let Wolverine go. At the same time, recasting a character synonymous with the Aussie actor won’t be easy. The studio has several options, including a slightly controversial one: they could follow Marvel Comics’ lead and place the mantle squarely on Laura Kinney’s shoulders (a.k.a. X-23, played by Dafne Keen).
But is America ready for a female Wolverine?
The character of X-23 first arrived on the scene in Marvel’s cartoon X-Men: Evolutions, as a female clone of the classic savage mutant. An attempt to mirror the awesome power of Wolverine and infuse it with a younger character, Laura rapidly caught fire, slicing her way out of the animated series and into several solo comics and now theaters everywhere.
After classic Wolverine James Howlett died an ironic death in The Death of Wolverine (2014) – suffocated under a layer of the same fictional alloy, adamantium, which gives him an unbreakable skeleton and razor-sharp claws – the Marvel Universe was down just one spikey mutant. Unless you count the time-travelling Old Man Logan. After the Secret Wars storyline, which collapsed the extensive comic book multiverse, the comic book publisher passed the yellow and blue spandex onto X-23, as she carried on the mantle of Wolverine, out of deference for her predecessor.
Marvel’s move was met with mixed results, as seething comic fundamentalists dismissed her as not the true Wolverine, or at worst, yet another aspect of Marvel’s attempt to make comic books actually look a little bit like the world we live in. I know, what a horrifying concept.
As Hugh Jackman prepares to leave his iconic role, Fox Studios hasn’t tipped their hand as to whether they’ll recast or feminize the popular character. Unfortunately, the incredible backlash from gender-swapped comic book characters and movies as of late – such as the misogynist hate-fest heaped on Sony’s Ghostbusters reboot and the less-assailed Ocean’s Eight – may give Fox a pause when considering Logan’s clone for a shot at the bigtime.
Hollywood and the comic book industry sometimes attempt to sidestep, to a degree, the divisive climate which led to the startling election campaign last year, but they’re still impacted by it nonetheless. While most Americans don’t seem particularly concerned about the evolving face of culture (as change is the only constant), it only takes one look down a Twitter feed to watch battle lines draw. Fox is in the business of selling movie tickets. While most marketing departments can’t slap together the kind of publicity (good or bad) Ghostbusters received, Fox does need their films to make serious money to maintain their franchise.
At the same time, aside from comic book hard-liners (and boosters the bigoted culture that rallied to certain tangerine-skinned, “swamp-draining” presidents), the average moviegoer isn’t concerned about whether the X-Men wear their classic yellow and blue uniforms or black jumpsuits, or if Wolverine is a man or a woman. They’re just in it for an exciting cinematic experience.
Despite the deluge of angry, anonymous trolls filling up comment cards on YouTube, movies that play well to the actual world live in fare better on average than those that don’t. If young Dafne Keen knocks ‘em dead in Logan, Jane or Jian Doe will already be familiar with her character and her capabilities. Assuming Fox can slap together a plausible explanation for a trip to the past (it’s happened before) or keep her in the present/future, most audiences wouldn’t bat an eye if she became Wolverine.
If Fox does veer in a feminine direction, they already have a wonderful start. Young Ms. Keen already possesses the brooding intensity of Jackman, who along with Patrick Stewart, sing her praises. Her performance in the trailers alone is subtle and nuanced, and watching her explodes on-screen is electric. To be honest, if the Australian star wasn’t leaving, another round of Hugh and Dafne in a father-daughter Wolverine role would kill.
Fox has another advantage if they choose to make Keen Wolverine. A preteen at present, she can grow into the role, aging along with new fans and theoretically, put in another several decades as X-23/Wolverine, if all goes well.
Although not intended as such, Logan is also a perfect torch-passing moment, as an older Wolverine bonds with his young clone. Nothing would be more poignant or opportune than allowing Laura Kinney to inherit the Wolverine mantle at this point. America and the broader world are more than ready for X-23 to be knighted with adamantium claws. With the right script and the ferocity of her predecessor, the time is right to embrace a female Wolverine. Not only would it send a message in defiance of those who would displace women from action hero roles, but it also sends a positive message to both girls and boys.
After all, if the claw fits, wear it.