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Coming Soon, Hugh Jackman Co-Starring in Wolverine

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New images from the highly anticipated X-Men: Origins Wolverine were released this week, and they all seem to have one thing in common: Wolverine is hardly in them. Our favorite man-beast is set up to meet a lot of moody, stylishly-dressed characters on his road to becoming an X-Man. But with all the supporting players crowding in, it’s becoming increasingly likely that the star of Wolverine will become only a supporting player himself. Similarly, while the Iron Man 2 cast is shaping up nicely, it’s also starting to rival a Robert Altman film in terms of sheer size — Robert Downey, Jr. will be facing some stiff star-power competition come next summer. Let’s take a look at the new adversaries and allies that are threatening to overshadow Downey Jr. and Jackman.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine
The Regulars: Bad guy Sabretooth is back (this time being played by a legitimate actor, Liev Schreiber, as opposed to a professional wrestler), while X2 ‘s William Stryker seems to have de-aged quite a bit. Oh, and Jackman is back in the role he was born to play. (No, not The Music Man.)
The New blood: Tons. New bad guys (Kevin Durand as The Blob), allies (Daniel Henney as Agent Zero), sort-of allies (Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool), and a love interest (Lynn Collins as Silver Fox) all seek to keep Wolverine from relaxing with a nice frosty beer. Then there’s the card-thrower Gambit, who the filmmakers have somehow managed to shoehorn into Wolvie’s origin and already has fans begging for a spinoff sequel. Plus, Will.i.am and Charlie from Lost turn up as minor-league mutants. (Is it us, or does the Weapon X program that created Wolvie seem awful easy to get in to?)
Will it work: While Wolverine has certainly encountered a wide range of characters in his constantly evolving and changing comic book origin, this is still one motley crew. Are the recent reshoots, so close to the release date, a sign that the filmmakers plum forgot to give Wolverine enough scenes of his own? Jackman released a statement reassuring fans that the reshoots were due to cast member scheduling conflicts, and in no way indicative of the film not being “badass.” I certainly don’t feel very reassured.

Iron Man 2
The Regulars: Downey’s ready to go, and actress/rock star muse/self-help website guru Gwyneth Paltrow is back as Pepper. Jim “Rhodey” Rhodes will return, possibly in the War Machine suit. (Don Cheadle is taking over the role so Terrence Howard can go make another album that no one will buy.) And I imagine trusty automated butler Jarvis (voiced by Paul Bettany) will pop up again.
The New Blood: A bevy of Hollywood heavies have signed on in the past couple of weeks to play villains and a possible romantic foil. Sam Rockwell is on board as the evil Justin Hammer, a rival industrialist whose powers are being really rich and having a lot of tech-y stuff. Nothing like a little diversity. Hollywood comeback kid Mickey Rourke will be playing either the awesome Crimson Dynamo or the terribly cheesy Whiplash, though nothing beyond his involvement is yet confirmed. Also, (deep breath, fanboys) Emily Blunt is rumored to be on board as Russian spy and possible rival for Tony’s affections, The Black Widow.
Will it work: The casting is certainly fun, and director Jon Favreau proved he can handle an eclectic cast. But will the movie have time for the thread that Favreau and Downey promised would run through the franchise, Stark’s raging alcoholism? And what about Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury, whose place in the Marvel universe, let alone this sequel, is now entirely uncertain? For a movie that owes a lot of its success to the chemistry of its three original leads, the sequel is looking awfully off-brand.

Now don’t get me wrong, I can definitely see the appeal of padding out solo comic book movies with new characters. Larger casts widen the fanbase for a movie, producers get more big-name actors, and new characters can be spun off into movies of their own. But does a larger cast prevent the lead from being properly served? The Dark Knight wove its many characters together brilliantly, but no one can deny the real star of it was not the Caped Crusader. I somehow doubt a similar outcome will be as acceptable for Iron Man.

Are solo comic book movies getting too crowded? Is X-Men Origins: Wolverine in danger of becoming Wolverine and His Super Pals?

When not writing for places like The Onion and HBO, Nick Nadel is in line at the comic book store alongside the other geeks, er, fans of speculative fiction. His most prized possession is a 1960s Batman comic wherein the Dynamic Duo are trapped inside a fortune cookie factory.

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