Thoughts on X-Men Origins: Wolverine

Since his introduction in 1974 through 2000, people were fascinated by Wolverine. He was a feral, edgy character at a time few other costumed crime fighters were. There was a tragic element to him since he could not recall his past. Through the years, writers teased us with bits and pieces about him, letting us know he was long-lived and had gotten around. But, just where did this Canadian come from?

After the success of X-Men in 2000, it became apparent there would be other mutant movies and the issue of Logan’s origin was no doubt going to be addressed. In 2001, Bill Jemas said the time had come to tell the origin. Better Marvel control the origin elements rather than some unfamiliar screenwriter so in many ways, his miniseries, Origin, was a pre-emptive strike. And maybe it was just time.

The Paul Jenkins version beat out several others and became the one Andy Kubert drew in his gorgeous style. This is now the origin, like it or not, that every licensee is obligated to follow. All of this sets the stage for X-Men Origins: Wolverine, a solo project that invited movie audiences to see where Logan came from and how he had his skeleton covered in adamantium.

Good thing there was a roadmap to follow because the changes from the comic showed that in other hands, telling his origin could be disastrous. Far too little is spent setting up James Howlett’s life in Canada before his claws first popped out. The family dynamic is given such short shrift that it felt sketched rather than written. I was particularly bothered by the decision to make Howlett and Victor Creed brothers, an unnecessary and overused Hollywood trope.  Yes, Sabretooth is Wolverine’s great comic book nemesis but he had nothing to do with the origins and shoe-horning him here doesn’t fit.

We know they’re both mutants, both feral in nature, something not well explored by the script. The title sequence successfully shows us how they stayed together, reached adulthood and seemingly stopped aging, but continued to sate their natures by going from war to war. Why they left Canada for America is unexplained nor are we properly shown how they began drifting apart and why Victor relished fighting while James had more of a conscience.

James and Victor wound up as part of mutant military brigade under the command of William Stryker. We get to see some mostly familiar mutants including Wade Wilson, whose jabbering was perfect. Anyway, James reached his limit with the squad’s brutality and walked on them, and his brother. In the intervening six years, he found a quiet job as a lumberjack along with the love of a good woman, Kayla Silverfox, until his past came back to haunt him.

Stryker has manipulated James so he agrees to undergo the transformation into a living weapon. A military reason for the Weapon X program as opposed to the evil scientific cabal is another Hollywood cliché that was irritating and Stryker as the mastermind never seemed smart enough or motivated enough to be a real threat.

Bonded to adamantium, James Howlett has now rejected his past, adopting the name Logan and the codename Wolverine (the animal name came from that other Hollywood touch, a story told by his lover in the scene before she is killed). Now seeking Creed, who killed Kayla under Stryker’s command, the second half of the film becomes a revenge tale.

The trail to finding Creed reveals the existence of an island where mutants were being rounded up (and with Dominic Monaghan in the cast, I kept thinking of some other island). Apparently, the only person who knows the location is Remy LeBeau, adding yet another unnecessary element to the tale so the Wolverine origin is rapidly being becoming a team story.

Once he finds the island, he finds Stryker and Creed and several surprises I won’t spoil for those still planning on seeing it. Additional alterations to the origin tale, including how Wilson became Deadpool (although not named), also cluttered the story. In the end, as seen in the trailers, Wolverine cuts the captives free and an army of mutants, mostly familiar ones, run free. And again, for no obvious reason, Kayla is now a sibling with Emma Frost, a plot point that’s introduced and dispatched one wonders why they bothered linking them?

As for the memory problems that plague him, the rational has to be the single weakest moment in the entire story.

The movie runs 1:47 and it moves. The problem is, it’s moving fast enough that these irritating bits occur only during the final credits, as we await that one final bit at the very end because we knew there was something. Anyway, it was entertaining and Hugh Jackman heads a well cast ensemble so it was easy to sit through the story.  The fights are nifty, things blow up real well, and we now see how Wolverine was set on the path that led him to Professor Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters in X-Men. But for a movie about Wolverine’s origin, we were also constantly distracted with extraneous mutants, stereotypical evil military people, good people arriving with targets on their chests from the moment they’re introduced and other bits that rob the movie of being special.

Kicking off the summer season after a lackluster spring, Wolverine revs things up nicely. A good, solid popcorn picture where clearly, you’re being asked to leave your thought-processing skills in the parking lot.

6 comments

  • In 2001, Bill Jemas said the time had come to tell the origin. There were several compelling financial reasons for this, in addition to the knowledge that with the success of Spider-Man, there was a greater likelihood of Hollywood finally making an X-Men movie.

    Er, Bob? The X-Men film was released in 2000, and in 2001 when Jemas made this decision, the Spider-Man movie was still a year away from existence….

  • *laughs* No problem, mein freund….

  • Susan O

    For knowing nothing at all about Wolverine’s backstory, I felt the beginning was a bit sparse on detail. I knew Wolverine was a regenerist, but didn’t realize he was basically immortal (on the other hand, why was he a sickly kid if he had such powers?). The minute they mentioned taking off a head, I couldn’t stop thinking of Highlander, and the Blob only brought to mind Fat B*st*rd of Austin Powers fame. But I thought it was well done, very enjoyable, I loved the character of Gambit and would be happy to see much more of him, and the movie seemed to race by. I couldn’t believe the time flew that fast, which meant it really had me.

    BTW, Bob – did you see the History Channel special on the History of the Comic Book? Trapped me for 2 darned hours this morning.

  • gordon

    It’s well acted and moves pretty well, but there are no surprises and a whole bunch of cliches. Perhaps a sense of humor would have helped…the tone is the same through out. A very average movie in the current market, pales compared to Iron Man, Dark Knight or even the last Hulk film–but compared to the average action film like Hitman, it’s not too bad.

  • It was silly, but I had fun. My thoughts here.

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