Backtracking – “X-men Origins: Wolverine”
X-Men Origins: Wolverine is a prequel of sorts, a flashbacked spin-off, that shows us the beginnings of the X-Men’s Logan/Wolverine as reprised by Hugh Jackman, who has played the character in three previous X-Men films. Here, Jackman takes the front-and-centre spotlight and continues his subtle variation on the massively popular and influential Marvel Comics character, taking us into Wolverine’s storied past and answering questions raised about his shadowy past.
Long story short (and it is the film that does this quickly, not me): Logan is actually named Jimmy, who as a young Canadian circa late 1800’s manifests his mutant power while killing his father’s murderer only to discover, by way of really bad dialogue, that the murderer was his real father all along. Logan’s brother is apparently a mutant as well, a snarling, snot-nosed bastard of one, and they run off to protect each other from a world that won’t understand them. They enlist in the army together, get stationed together and fight by each other’s side; not just in one army but in many over the years, fighting in many wars, as the brothers seem as immortal as they are inseparable.
That’s pretty much the title sequence. Wolverine’s discovery of his claws is glossed over, as is his relationship with his brother, who will grow up to be arch-rival Sabretooth (Liev Schrieber), as is the effect the horrors of war has on Logan’s psyche, as is Sabretooth’s arc from over-protective brother into cold-hearted murderous animal. For a film that should be about origins, it doesn’t seem to care about them very much.
Judging by what Origins spends most of its screen time on, what it does care about is the beginnings of Logan’s loner posture, setting the stage for a life of tortured romances and dead love interests, lacing his skeleton with adamantium, figuring a way for him to lose his memory by the film’s end, and tying this film’s story into the larger mythology of the previous X-trilogy. Oh, and COOL FIGHTS. The film cares about those quite a bit.
Origins fails at all of those concerns in one way or another. The love story is flimsy, also without origin, and ends with a cliched groaner (a tortured scream as the camera flies to the heavens). The way Logan loses his memory is kinda dumb and becomes dumber under scrutiny, and to add insult to injury, a much cooler and logical narrative device for his amnesia is set up earlier in the film and then abandoned (was I the only one who thought Logan would later opt to erase his own memory? What, too Memento-ish?).
As for the fights, let me say, Jackman is admirably angry and swol as hell in this film and the juxtaposition with Schreiber’s all-fours animal agility and ferocity make their scenes together a bunch of fun. But the fight between Wolvie and 90’s-era comics poster-boy for coolness Gambit falls far short of the cool factor it should and could easily have had. Their battle becomes looney-toonish and defies the laws of space/time as well as the rules of continuity. And why doesn’t Gambit throw more cards? Or more anything? He’s a dude with swagger who jumps around and throws shit at you. He’s not hard to get wrong, and he was actually well-cast which makes it more of a waste. It think it’s best not to mention the boxing match with the Blob, a scene that makes no sense at all.
In the end, Wolverine and Sabretooth team up to battle Weapon XI, aka Ryan Reynolds as the mottormouthed murderer Deadpool. In the opening scenes Reynolds is perfect, deadpanning hilariously and selling us on his martial skill level. In the end, Deadpool has been genetically grafted with extra mutant powers, negating the need for impressive fighting acumen, and for some reason, his mouth has been sown shut, preventing any Deadpool-ish (and Reynolds-ish) shit talking. Like with Gambit, the film removes what was cool about the character in the first place and choreographs a boring fight scene around it.
The most interesting thing for me about Origins are the subtle differences between Jackman’s Wolverine and the character in the comics. A bit of disclosure here: I never really cared much about Wolverine. The X-Men have been a part of my life in some level of fandom or another since before puberty, but honestly, I never held much regard or disdain toward the clawed-Canadian dude. That said, Jackman plays a hell of a Wolvie and his version of the anti-hero has been successful and sustained long enough to influence the pop perception of the persona.
The Wolverine as set-up by the trilogy and fleshed out in Origins is not a skilled fighter; he’s a brawler. He’s also taller and quite handsome if not outright sexy compared to his short, hairy, ninja-trained counterpart. The Wolverine in the films is quick to love and has a much bigger (or rather, obvious) heart, and a lot of this has to do with Jackman himself — as well as he snarls and rages, he always oozes a nice-guy aura. It’s why the character on screen is quickly complex in a way the comics took years to develop. Jackman is game, but the film franchise has squandered many opportunities to craft genuine scenes of pathos around him. Origins should have either been that film or been undenabily cool. Going back in time but adding nothing extra that Jackson hasn’t already added himself, it’s neither.