With the recent X-Men movie, X-Men: Apocalypse, underperforming at the box office. The X-Men franchise has come under the microscope. The story elements have drawn the most criticism and many are wanting a full on franchise reboot. So what went wrong with the franchise? Wolverine. Wolverine is one of the most popular comic book characters of all time. So when the X-Men film franchise launched back in 2000, it did make sense to make him the entry point into the franchise. By the second film, X2: X-Men United, that’s when the problems started to come about.
Don’t get me wrong. X2 is a pretty great film. It may be somewhat dated by today’s standards but it’s still pretty good. So what’s the problem with it? It is basically a covert Wolverine film. The whole plot revolves around Wolverine’s past as the person who wiped his memory and gave him his metal skeleton is the main villain of the film. When rewatching the film, Cyclops, the leader of the X-Men is taken out of the picture early on and doesn’t appear again until closer to the end of the movie. Professor Xavier is also taken out and appears sparsely. Other characters appear more than those two but the plot continues to revolve around Wolverine. The title is a bit misleading as the X-Men so much aren’t united.
Come X-Men: The Last Stand this film can basically be called “Wolverine and Those Other Guys” as many important characters are taken out of the movie. Characters who are important to the movie such as Jean Grey, are just living props. How much is the film focused on Wolverine? He goes on to confront the main antagonist, Magneto, whose power is to control metal twice and by himself. Why not bring other people along with him who could be more useful against Magneto. The film also tries to make a tragic love story out of Wolverine and Jean Grey which is unearned.
Finally Wolverine was given his own solo movie, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which by that point was fairly redundant as the X-Men films already focused on him. The film was a financial hit but was a critical nightmare. What makes Wolverine so popular is his fairly mysterious and tragic past. This movie was meant to explain that but completely missed the mark. This film watered it down completely and removed some of the more tragic elements and frankly made him look like a sucker. It’s also a bad sign when in the first minutes of the film, the movie has Wolverine defend Sabertooth who was about to be arrested for potentially raping a POW.
The character only had a brief cameo in X-Men: First Class, but made a return in The Wolverine. This was set after the events of The Last Stand and was a more lowkey film. Focusing on Wolverine who is suffering from PTSD and his pseudo immortality. Knowing that it’s going to be a long time before he can die a natural death, he is given a chance to rid himself of his mutant accelerated healing by an old war associate. This film is more of a character study about what Wolverine fights for. It is much a “Princess and Knight” story with Wolverine being the knight. The film is pretty great until the last twenty minutes where it goes off the rails. However, it is the lowest grossing movie in the X-Men franchise.
X-Men: First Class was considered to be financially underwhelming. Not a bomb but not really the hit they wanted it to be. So come X-Men: Days of Future Past, Wolverine is at the front and center once again. The film was a critical and financial success but watching the movie carefully Wolverine is the driving factor but the movie isn’t about him. It is more a Professor X story. After that movie, Deadpool was released and went on to become the highest grossing film in the X-Men franchise. In fact it grossed more in its opening weekend that the last solo X-Men did in its entire run.
Finally Wolverine has an extended cameo in X-Men: Apocalypse and the common consensus seems to be that it was underwhelming. His presence is hinted at from the get go so it is no surprise when he finally appears. It also retreads old territory as we see the brainwashed and savage Wolverine making his escape. I know in my screening that no one was particularly excited to see the character. His next appearance will supposedly be Hugh Jackman’s last appearance as Wolverine in the untitled third Wolverine film. There seems to be no real buzz about it. The film is being kept under wraps and there are hints as to what it might be about but nothing is concrete.
It seems certain that Wolverine is a character that needs to be taken off the shelf. Other than two movies, the entire X-Men franchise has revolved around Wolverine. The X-Men franchise is full of interesting and unique characters that have gone untapped. Look at the success of Deadpool. It will be interesting to see where Fox takes the franchise after the third Wolverine movie. Will Hugh Jackman take back his statement that this will be his final film as Wolverine? Will they instead double down as it seems Fox is afraid that they can’t make an X-Men film without Wolverine. Either way, it’s become clear that Wolverine is a dead or dying horse and needs to be taken off the track for some time.