After three successful X-Men with a total domestic gross of nearly a $1 billion, a spin-off, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and one of the greatest modern cameos of all time (his f-bomb in X-Men: First Class is truly inspired), one would think Hugh Jackman getting another round of mutant comic book action off the ground would be easy peasy lemon squeezy. Not so.
The latest hiccup for Wolverine's second outing, simply titled The Wolverine, sees Jessica Biel vacating a role that she never quite had. Rumors were swirling around Comic-Con that Biel was in talks for the costarring role of "Viper" in the film. The actress was in talks with the studio for the part on Friday, but the negotiations fell through. Biel, who previously lent her action acting skills to the third installment of the Blade franchise and the upcoming Total Recall, reportedly had "cold feet" regarding the role and opted out of joining the sequel.
The departure of Biel is another bump in the road for The Wolverine. After the middling success of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, questions over whether the gruff, ballbusting hero would get another chance at a solo career. Director Gavin Hood insisted that a second film was on the way, with writer Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects, Jack Reacher) hired to pen a script in August 2009. When Hood was not asked to return for a follow-up, plans for a sequel were stuck in limbo. But after the success of Black Swan, Jackman's former Fountain director Darren Aronofsky stepped in to helm the picture with a revamped title that separated it from the previous Origins series: The Wolverine.
Aronofsky boarded The Wolverine in October of 2010, but by March of 2011, he was bowing out of the project, citing the need to remain in the country with his family (the director had split from his wife Rachel Weisz in November, following the announcement). The departure of the director wasn't even The Wolverine's biggest issue: McQuarrie's script for the film took the action to Japan, following one of the character's most famous arcs, but just before Aronofsky's departure, Japan suffered a massive earthquake that devastated the country and left business out to dry. Once again, Fox was stuck with a project they were dying to make but with no one and no where to make it. An immediate search began for a new director, and by June 2011, the studio settled on James Mangold (3:10 to Yuma, Knight & Day) to helm the picture. The film was on the fast track to shoot in fall of that year in Australia.
With whether concerns in Japan a lingering problem, The Wolverine bounced around start dates with its star eventually taking on another project in the interim, the musical Les Miserables. But after years of false starts, the pieces for the comic book sequel are falling into place, Jackman confirming at this year's CinemaCon that production would begin in August for a release date of July 26, 2013.
The Wolverine has already begun assembling its primarily Japanese cast, signing on Hiroyuki Sanada, Hal Yamanouchi , Tao Okamoto and Rila Fukushima for key roles, but the loss of Biel comes as a blow to the production. The star is one of the few go-to female action heroines — and her profile is only growing. Who can go toe-to-toe with Jackman on both a physical and emotional level. In the comics, The Viper character begins in a romantic relationship with Wolverine before double-crossing him and taking him down. The casting of Biel is an indication that, at the very least, Viper will be seeing a bit of the action in the film (and with a name like Viper, how could she not?). There's no word yet on who could fill Biel's shoes, but if Total Recall is any indication, actress Kate Beckinsale has the chops to contend with Biel. An ample replacement? Who should take over Viper from the quickly-departed Biel?
Follow Matt Patches on Twitter @misterpatches
[Photo Credit: New Line Cinema]