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With Logan hitting theaters today, Hugh Jackman’s 17-year tenure as Wolverine has theoretically come to an end. James Mangold’s film is a brutal.

Bittersweet send-off for a character (and actor) who’s arguably the lynchpin for the superhero movie genre’s longest-running franchise. Save for 2016’s Deadpool, Jackman has appeared in every single X-Men film to date, plus two of the video games. And more often than not, he’s front and center in the action. Frankly, casual viewers thinking about the X-Men will probably remember Hugh Jackman’s claws long before they ever arrive at Professor X or Magneto. Seeing him stepping away from the role is like seeing an elder statesman step down from his post.
It’s important to take stock of what that means. Superheroes effectively rule the box office now, and other franchises have emerged over the course of the last 20 years to eclipse the X-Men series. At a time when the Marvel Cinematic Universe remains the gold standard for cross-property storytelling, the X-films, with their confusing timelines, repetition, and stunningly inconsistent quality, are second-string. So it’s all the more remarkable that Jackman emerged as the solid foundation of the series. His departure signals a turn not just for the series, but for the genre itself.
As The New York Times noted last month, Jackman is practically alone among performers who’ve played superheroes in ongoing franchises on-screen. Characters like Batman and Spider-Man have been rebooted multiple times, and even series veteran Patrick Stewart must share Professor Charles Xavier with the far younger James McAvoy. At this point, Jackman has joined the likes of Star Wars’ core cast for length of time inhabiting a single genre role. When fans unfairly cite X-Men as the film that kicked off the generation-defining superhero boom of the 2000s, Wolverine is a big reason why.

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