Because the movie doesn’t tell you, I’m going to: Wolverine originated out of the pent-up rage and disillusionment with authority that most Americans felt in the wake of the Vietnam War and Watergate. He is the superhero version of Dirty Harry, and was popular for the same reasons: he was inner moral and good-hearted, but outwardly brooding, angry, and subject to fits of rage. He had no patience for red-tape, two-faced politicians, or discussions about moral ambiguity. He has the power to do the right thing, and the attitude to not care less if others don’t like him.
Unfortunately, this is not the origin Marvel Comics, 20th Century Fox, and director Gavin Hood have chosen to cover in their new movie. Instead, they want to show us how Wolverine got his claws. Why anyone really cares is beyond me (it always bores and kind of disappoints me to learn how superheroes became superheroes) but the entire focus of “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” is his physical development. Pyschologically, emotionally, and in every other potentially interesting way, he’s the same guy at the end of the movie as he is at the beginning: an outcast with anger issues and a general distrust of authority. But we already knew that, from the other X-Men movies. Which makes one wonder why one should bother with this one.
Well, for one thing, there are some really great slash-em-up action sequences. Wolverine’s brother (who will eventually become Sabretooth) isn’t quite as nice as his sibling, and when the two split, he takes it personally. They battle, and then battle again. Liev Schrieber fills the skin of Sabretooth nicely, and seems to be the only one in the movie who is having any fun. Everyone else is all angry, dark and growly.
And there are some new mutants/superheroes for us to meet, including Deadpool, Kestrel, Bolt/Maverick, The Blob, Silver Fox (and her sister Emma Frost,) and Agent Zero, though they are paraded in front of the camera, given a minute or two to show off their skills, and then never seen again. It’s like a curtain call. It’s not much like a movie, or even a decent comic book.
But let’s be honest. A movie about Wolverine is not going to be about great characterization. Wolverine himself isn’t that great a character; he’s simply the physical representation of the frustrated id. He’s not very smart, or charismatic. He’s certainly never allowed to say anything witty, a la Tony Stark or Bruce Wayne. His utterances run more along the lines of “I come with you, I’m coming for blood” or “You wanted the animal…you got it” or his most famous: “I’m the best at what I do, but what I do isn’t very nice.” All said in a hoarse and growly tone of voice, which Hugh Jackman nails, they can be awe-inspiring. But they’re not very quotable.
The movie involves a super secret Black Ops team that all of these characters are a part of, though they mostly seem to hate each other. It’s led by Colonel Stryker, who is willing to do anything to get his way, but mostly just ends up killing people to get his way. When Logan, or James, or Wolverine, or whatever you want to call him, gets tired of all the killing he splits.
Cut to a scene some years later, and many miles away. Now Logan has a hot girlfriend and a steady job involving an axe and a hard hat. (But wait… why did we cut to a scene some years later, and many miles away? Wouldn’t there be a much more interesting movie in that cut, in those years between, in the transition Logan has to go through from Ultimate Killing Machine to Decent Guy with Hot Girl on his arm? A story about letting go of anger, letting someone get close, not killing your idiot boss? Again, not the movie Fox and Hood and Marvel decided to make. A pity….)
Stryker promptly shows up and kills the girl. In fact, there’s a steady parade of normal people killed in this movie, almost always just shortly after they are introduced. Stryker pulls a “Watchmen” — he tries to convince Logan that somebody, probably his brother, is killing all the old team off, one by one, and the only way to stop him is to suit up again. Wolverine buys it, long enough to get equipped with the crazy claws, and for Stryker to take a swipe at his memory. Then he goes berzerko, manages to get a few more innocent people killed, wins a motorcycle vs. helicopter battle, and ends up at 3 Mile Island, where he’s determined to kill Stryker and stop his little operation.
There have been a whole rash of movies made from comic books in the past couple of years, and some really good movies too. As a result, I think more than a few people, myself included, have looked at comic books in a fresh light, discovering some great stories and characters amongst the pulp. “Wolverine” is a reminder that there’s still pulp amongst the pulp. It’s not a very good movie, and, really, it’s not based on a very interesting comic book character. Clint Eastwood recently revisited his Dirty Harry character in “Gran Torino” showing us an angry old man who desperately needs to reevaluate his take on the world. Maybe it’s time for Marvel to do the same thing with Wolverine. That’d be a movie I’d feel a need to see.
- if you really like the “Dirty Harry” movies, and think Jason Bourne is a pansy.
- if you are slavishly devoted to the “X-Men” franchise.
- if you’d rather your hero be seriously bad-ass than clever and witty.
- if “plausibility” is a word in your vocabulary.
- if you’re hoping this movie will surprise you by being better than it looks, like quite a few comic book movies have lately. It won’t.