On the heels of the highest grossing, yet most critically reviled installment of the X-men franchise, X-Men: The Last Stand, Fox tried to continue the money machine by focusing on their most popular X-man, Wolverine. It’s hard to argue against this decision for either financial or fan-demand reasons. Honestly, whether he is your cup of tea or not, Wolverine does have one of the most interesting character arcs in the Marvel Universe. So, three years after we saw the X-Men film that we assumed killed the X-Men franchise, we got X-Men Origins: Wolverine— the film that, after viewing, we assumed put the nail in the coffin. So, what went wrong?
X-Men Origins: Wolverine could have been the start of something new and a fundamental shift of storytelling for Fox’s Marvel Universe. Instead of high-concept, character-packed, increasingly-bloated stories, there could have been a focus on one character. One story. One theme. One idea. This doesn’t even necessarily exclude the inclusion of other characters (because, hey, Wolverine meets a LOT of mutants on his journey). What it does necessitate is that our story will need to shut out the temptation of showing off peripheral characters simply for a perceived “cool factor.” Remember, this is basically what was done in The Last Stand and it prevented the film from presenting its story and, thus, from connecting with audiences. Obviously I mention this, because it doesn’t maintain this focus.
The film opens on a confusing scene of a domestic disturbance where a young Jimmy (Logan/Wolverine) discovers his mutant abilities in a fit of rage. After an accident, he runs away with his brother, Victor. They become inseparable and, both empowered and gifted with a talent for both surviving and fighting, move through history from battlefield to battlefield, assumably to try to quench an in-dwelt rage. Eventually the rage turns to bloodlust and overtakes Victor and things turn south. This leads to a run-in with authority and a very intentional meeting with William Stryker, a Major who is collecting mutants– or a group a individuals with ‘special’ skills– for a covert team. From here, we branch out into a long and overly-complicated plot that tries to weave a number of fan-favorites (Spectre, The Blob, Cyclops, a curiously West Texas-accented Gambit, and what, thankfully, wouldn’t be the only version of Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool) into the journey of Logan as he tries to tame the beast within.
As much as anything, this is probably what we can walk away from the film contemplating; Logan fighting to discover who he is. Is he an animal? Is he a man? Is he something more?
When pushed to the line of becoming a murderer or walking away, Logan walks away. He doesn’t seem to completely understand where he will go or what he will do, but he sees the rage and bloodlust that begins to consume Victor (who sure does look a lot like Sabertooth at this point, un-coincidentally) and he knows, at least, that he doesn’t want that. Like many veterans of war (which he has seen his fair share of at his extended age), he longs to retreat from the world for something quieter– something simpler. He finds a woman to love and a job to keep him busy and the only remnants of his old life are the occasional nightmares and his quick temper. Unfortunately, for some people, there is nowhere that they can run away from trouble– and it finds Logan in the form of Stryker coming to warn him of someone assassinating their old team. From here we see the past come calling despite Logan’s best efforts to escape. Sadly, where the film goes from there is a mess of inter-weaving
cameos plots that confuse and mostly seem to lay the ground work for sequels and more Origins films (that we will thankfully never get).
Logan’s desire to hide part of himself, The Wolverine, isn’t shocking. It’s wild, unpredictable, and out of control. It wells inside of him and he knows he cannot control it. When it consumes his dreams, it even puts the woman he loves in danger because of his night terrors. He runs to the Canadian wilderness assuming it’s circumstance, surroundings, or company that has birthed the beast. Alas, no matter how far he runs, how peaceful his surroundings, or the company he keeps, The Wolverine is a part of who he is. It’s always there.
William Stryker: “Logan, if you go down this path, you’re not gonna like what you find.”
Logan: “You wanted the animal, Colonel. You got it.”
While The Wolverine is undoubtedly cool and fun to watch, we almost always see it used for revenge or out of anger. The Book of James tells us, “let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” Proverbs reiterates this with, “A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger quiets contention.” Every time Logan carelessly unleashes this side of himself it only leads to more and more strife– more loss. It is not until he truly finds ways to control The Wolverine that he is able to use it for something outside of himself– to save and protect others. This is The Wolverine that we not only enjoy watching but we also respect. I hope it is not too obvious to parallel our on inner struggles and rages. When you’re angry, sometimes it is a just anger and sometimes it is peeling away layers of pride that make us bloodthirsty for revenge– not justice. We must heed the words of Ecclesiastes that tell us, “Be not quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the bosom of fools.” Don’t let anger lodge in you like it lodged in Logan for so many years, despite his attempts to run from it.
Ultimately, X-Men Origins: Wolverine does deliver some interesting– and memorable– scenes. In fact, in lots of the best X-Men montages, scenes from this film are used more than you’d think. It’s the rest of the film that can easily be forgotten (motorcycle v helicopter fights and murdered elderly couples?). If you’re interested in Wolverine as a character, then the film has a lot of the big pieces there to give you an idea of what began to shape our “hero” the way he is, including his ever-important amnesia and penchant for falling in love with women who are doomed to endure untimely deaths. His life story is sometimes heroic, but often tragic, and we connect with Logan on that level. But when things go south for too long, we see Loagan’s inner Wolverine unleashed and wether we admit it or not, we connect with that character too.
Logan: “I’m the best there is at what I do, and what I do best isn’t very nice. I’m the Wolverine.”