Hugh Jackman was no one when he was cast as Wolverine. He was 32 years old when "X-Men" debuted in theaters in 2000, just his third credited film role. Nearly overnight, the unknown Australian theater actor became the sometimes furry face of one of the most iconic comic book characters of all time.
In the 17 years since, he has donned the adamantium claws of Wolverine in nine different films in the "X-Men" franchise, embodying a role that requires all action and little talk. But with "Logan," the latest chapter of the saga, Jackman reveals his character's most humane battle yet: aging.
The movie features Wolverine, a powerful mutant with regenerative healing abilities, grappling with mortality for the first time as he struggles with the reality that he's getting old.
There's something powerful about watching larger-than-life characters who, in some cases, audiences have grown up with. (Consider this: An 8-year-old who saw "X-Men" in 2000 is now 25.) Granted, it's all make-believe, but we see their struggles on the screen as we go through our own.
Jackman is unique in the world of superheroes, even within his own franchise. The series did a nifty pivot with its characters in 2011's "X-Men: First Class," a prequel set in the 1960s that seamlessly recast beloved characters such as Professor X and Magneto. Yet Wolverine, given his regeneration, remained the same.
Remember that, since 2000, there have been three different Spider-Men, two different Batmen (not counting the Lego variety) and two different Supermen. All of the versions of those iconic characters have struggled to interact with humanity, but only Wolverine has stared down the specter of death. (OK, OK. Superman flirted with death in the comics, but the topic has not been meaningfully explored in film. No, "Batman v. Superman" doesn't count.)
In Jackman, the "X-Men" franchise found an asset too valuable to recast and nearly impossible to replace, so it chose to pursue a storyline that explored what happens when a superhuman becomes less super and more human.
And it might not be alone. With 2018's "Avengers: Infinity War," Robert Downey Jr. will enter his 10th year of depicting Iron Man, a similarly iconic character not so easily replaced. Or think about "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," where revisiting Luke and Leia and Han was an act of nostalgia but also a harsh reminder that our favorite characters are not spared the ravages of time.
Perhaps we're entering a new golden era of superheroes and Hollywood has finally found a way to make a band of untouchables just like the rest of us.