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Face-Off: Hugh Jackman's Wolverine vs. Robert Downey Jr's Iron Man

02.28.2017by: Matt Rooney

Welcome back, cinematic carnage seekers, to the battle royale that is Face-Off. We have a great bout for you today, though I'm sure most of you still haven't wiped the blood and guts off your clothes from the last duel, which pit the running and jumping Jason Bourne against the boogeyman himself, John Wick. Wick crushed his non-facial-hair-having opponent, much to the excitement of the crowd.

This week we have a similar contest in store for you, but this time we will be pitting two characters who not only launched a franchise, but an entire universe with it -- Wolverine vs. Iron Man. But this time we won't be looking at the characters, so much as the actors who embody them. Both Hugh Jackman (Wolverine/Logan) and Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man/Tony Stark) have embodies there characters so passionately, and in the process have become icons around the world.

It's hard to imagine a world where other actors get to play these parts, but with the upcoming LOGAN being the last ride for Jackman, we'll have to start doing just that. And if the fight goes Jackman's way, we'll also have to find a replacement for Downey, too, for he will be impaled on six sharp claws.

ACTOR
Jackman was virtually unknown in the movie world until he got the part of Wolverine at the turn of the century, but since then has carved out an incredible acting resume. He hasn’t always gotten the best material to work with, but when he gets a great role (PRISONERS, LES MISERABLES) he’s an absolute force of nature. The man can sing and dance, and is the only one in this Face-Off whose hosted the Oscars. He really is a Jackman of all trades. *drum snares*
Downey has been in the movie game about twice as long as Jackman, going back to the mid-eighties. Since then he’s been nominated for two Oscars (CHAPLIN, TROPIC THUNDER), and though he spent most of the 90’s in a drug-fueled haze he’s come roaring back with a litany of great performances, his most famous being the role of Tony Stark. We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t
PHYSICALITY
Moreso than any other actor in a comic book movie, Jackman had the hardest time interpreting the character onto a film realm. In the comics the character is normally a stout, burly man with bulging muscles bursting out of a yellow costume. Jackman has said he studied early Mike Tyson fights to analyze his rage and sense of animal aggression, as well as Clint Eastwood in DIRTY HARRY and Mel Gibson in ROAD WARRIOR. His interpretation of the character was hence more realistic, and his primal, aggressive and reserved demeanor really went a long way in making the character, and the movie, feel grounded.
Downey’s performance relies on the inner workings of Stark than actual physicality. Stark is a wealthy man from a wealthy family, so he moves like a man of privilege. Upright posture and a cocky walk, Downey moves Stark like a man with a billion dollars in his pocket…which he does. His credit card is just a flat diamond.
EVOLUTION
Jackman’s Wolverine has always been at the focus of the X-MEN movies, and we really got to explore the character in the first two movies (X-MEN, X2: X-MEN UNITED). But X-MEN: LAST STAND did little for him, and when we finally got his spinoff movies (X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE, THE WOLVERINE) they didn’t exactly give us the exploration of the character we all wanted, failing to really get into his psyche. Jackman always brought his A-game, though, and LOGAN finally promises to give us the Wolverine movie we’ve always desired…it’s just a shame it took this long.
Much like Jackman, about half of Downey’s appearances have been sharing the screen with the other Avengers, despite usually getting top billing. However, I feel like his solo movies have done a much better job at exploring the intricacies of Tony Stark than Jackman’s have, and through the years we’ve really seen Stark evolve and develop unique perspectives, all of which have been built-upon and reflected against the other Avengers (see CIVIL WAR). Downey has been able to portray that evolution with depth and charm, making the character more a part of him.
LOOK
He doesn’t have the bright yellow duds from the comics, instead being given a black leather uniform in a time where THE MATRIX movies made that a thing. Like a uniform is meant to do he looks in-sync with the other X-Men, but that’s just the clothes. I can’t help but feel like Jackman has essentially created the modern look of the character. Before his work the character was always depicted in the comics in some kind of yellow (or brownish) garb, and although that still holds true in the panels, Jackman’s roughed-up, tough-guy version has become just as iconic as the comic book look. The hair, world-weary face and cigar-chomping coolness all make up for one cool-ass-looking cat
This one is tricky. A lot of credit goes to Starks undeniably awesome array of armored suits, but it’s hard to call that “Downey’s look”. Obviously a lot of the suits were designed in the realm of the movie, especially the large array in IRON MAN 3, but they’re hunks of machinery. His friend, James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) has the War Machine armor, and it looks exactly like one of Stark’s costumes. I mean, in the third movie a guy is able to jack the Iron Patriot armor and infiltrate Air Force One just by nodding and keeping his mouth shut. As a piece of machinery it can be altered a bit, and if they ever replace Downey the armor will look about the same. The same can’t be said for Wolverine’s look when they replace Jackman.
MOVIES
HUMOR
Jackman’s Logan/Wolverine is filled with haunted and complex emotions under a thick layer of hairy attitude. So, no, he’s not a barrel of laughs. Jackman seems like a delight in-person, but the role calls for blunt stoniness and pure rage. He gets some quips, but it’s difficult to be the class clown when you’re always scowling. Cheer the f@ck up; you’re an X-Man. Nah, just kidding. You can do whatever you want, you badass, you.
This one is a given for Downey. A devilishly charming man in real-life, he’s able to bring that humor and sarcasm to Stark with a side-splitting fury. Whether it’s giving men like Thor and Bruce Banner a good ribbing, or talking down to a godly villain, his humor and devil-may-care disposition are among his calling cards, and it’s one of the reasons why we love him so much, and one aspect that will be hard to replace if Downey ever steps down.
BADASSERY
Whatever was the case above is the opposite here. Jackman’s Wolverine OWNS the realm of badassery. His brutality and rage help deliver death (or at least severe maiming) to his enemies, and never fails to launch himself into the fray. Being able to heal rapidly and virtually being indestructible probably helps that confidence, but the man is always battle ready no matter what...especially if you f@ck with his crew. Mess with him? F@ck you, you’re dead. Mess with his team? F@ck you, you’re dead.
Downey is not one to back down from a fight, and has been known to throw himself into combat without always being the most prepared. But that never lasts long. His armor comes into play at some point, and though IRON MAN 3 proved he can use his brains to get himself out of situations, he doesn’t possess that animal aggression that makes Jackman’s Wolverine so intimidating.
LEGACY/ROLE IN THE FRANCHISE
I will go out on a limb here and say I don't think the X-MEN movies would exist without Hugh Jackman's interpretation of Wolverine. Audiences fell in love with the scruffy outcast, and he's been the lead of the franchise ever since. Let me just get that across by pointing out that, in some form, he's been in EVERY X-MEN MOVIE THAT HAS EVER COME OUT. Even if it was just for a simple "f@ck off" cameo, the filmmakers know it's not an X-Men movie without Wolverine, and Jackman is a key reason for that. Even after all these years and appearing in so many movies, good and bad, fans have grown to love him and connect with him in such a profound way. We want to see where he goes and what happens to him. That's why the upcoming LOGAN isn't just a comic book movie; it's the final chapter of a 17-year-long adventure.
I think much of what I said about Jackman applies to Downey, in that without the massive crowd-pleasing success of his performance in IRON MAN I don't think the MCU would exist today. However, though Stark will always been the keyest of players whenever all the superheros are on-screen, that's not the say they need him anymore. There are plenty of characters now that audiences love to watch who could take on his position. Chris Pratt as Star Lord, Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange and even Paul Rudd as Ant-Man. All these guys bring something fun and interesting to the table, and though they come nowhere near the excellence and influence of Downey and Stark, they prove the world he kicked off has grown so much bigger than him.
Hugh Jackman's Wolverine

This was a tricky one, as both men have done a tremendous job making their characters their own and as a result becoming a part of the zeitgeist. With Jackman, Wolverine busted him onto the scene, and he's never left. With Downey, becoming a Stark was an act of redemption after years on the wrong side of the road. Jackman gets the win here because he did so much with even more resting on his shoulders. Plucked from relative obscurity, he committed to role during a time when superhero movies were deader than disco. Using his theater training he was able to bring a primal physicality to the role, and was able to give Wolverine an ample amount of depth simply by being a terrific, emotional thespian. The man pulled off the job, and in his success the X-MEN series was launched, and the superhero movie reborn. If Downey does such a perfect job with Stark (which he does), it's because he and the character are already so alike. Jackman created something truly special and unique with his interpretation as Wolverine, and fit it into a more serious kind of superhero movie Bryan Singer was trying to make with X-MEN. His years of work have produced one of the most iconic performances in mainstream cinema, which will make him so much harder to replace. Any actor will be taking from what he created, which will make any future actor's take on the character be known simply as "not the Jackman one."

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