Moving on to the next title in our recap of the X-Men movie series. After the critical disappointment of X-Men: The Last Stand, it was apparent the series had lost its creative momentum, so someone decided the next move should be to make a standalone movie about the one breakout star from the series, Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine. And so, in 2009, we got X-Men Origins: Wolverine.
The title’s a bit of a misnomer, because as far as I know, none of the other characters will be brought in for the “Origins” treatment, but at least this gives it continuity with the rest of the series, of a sort.
The film opens with the familiar 20th Century Fox logo, in which the X does not fade out more slowly than the rest. Bad omen that quality control is slipping. So now it’s Canada in 1845, where sickly young James coughs in bed, watched over by his older friend Victor. Victor has claws instead of fingernails. There is a confrontation downstairs between James’s father and Victor’s, which ends in James’s father being shot. And suddenly, James sprouts knobbly claws of bone from the backs of his hands and roars his fury at the sky.
Or I guess that’s what they were going for, but the kid is not up to the performance. Actually, here’s a little hint if there are any Hollywood types reading this. Nobody is up to that performance. Seriously, it doesn’t work with the kid, and it doesn’t work any of the times Hugh Jackman tries the same thing later in the movie, or in any of the other movies where people try this same thing. Just stop doing this forever. I’m begging.
It doesn’t help when sickly little James then runs forward with mincing little barefoot steps to plunge his widdle claws into the man who killed his father. Oops, turns out the guy he stabbed–Victor’s father–is actually also James’s father. Unfortunately, he has neither the claws nor the enhanced healing abilities of his two sons. He dies, and James runs out into the night wearing just his robe.
Victor catches up to him and tells James he’ll help, because they’re brothers. When James wants to go home (funny, because he just left like ten seconds ago, but at least it’ll let him put some clothes on), Victor says it’s too dangerous. And right on cue, they see torches in the woods and hear the baying of hounds, and seriously, everything’s happening way too fast.
Case in point: it’s suddenly the Civil War, and a grown James and Victor (Hugh Jackman and Liev Schreiber) are fighting side-by-side on the battlefield, which leads us into a pretty nice opening credits montage of them fighting their way through all the familiar movie wars–WW I, WW II, Vietnam…
until Victor’s attempted rape of a Vietnamese girl prompts a deadly fight with the other soldiers in the unit, which is how James and Victor end up in front of a firing squad.
Which doesn’t kill them. They are instead recruited for a secret unit by Major William Stryker (who will grow up to be Colonel William Stryker in X2). And suddenly, it’s an indeterminate amount of time in the future, and James and Victor are part of an elite strike force made up of mutants.
And like the rest of the series, the producers have done a mix-and-match, stitching together characters from the entire run of the X-Men’s history, from relatively recent characters like Agent Zero and Wraith, all the way back to Blob, who first appeared in issue three of the original run by Lee and Kirby.
The team assaults a diamond smuggling base in Lagos, where we get to see everybody strut their stuff except James. But Stryker’s not interested in diamonds; he’s after a chunk of metallic ore sitting on the boss’s desk. He wants the source, which is a small village out in the boonies. And when the villagers refuse to give up the whereabouts of more of the meteoric ore, Stryker orders his men to start killing.
Which is when James decides he’s had enough. He didn’t sign on to murder women and children, so he’s through. Victor says, “Jimmy, we can’t just let you walk away,” and then everyone stands and watches as he, um, walks away.
And I would ask if I missed something, except that there’s so much that has been left out of the backstory. And in one sense, it doesn’t matter, because we have gotten enough pieces to put them in logical order. But everything has happened so quickly that we don’t really care about anything that’s happened or anybody it happened to. We know sword-wielding wisecracker Wade (Ryan Reynolds) as well as we know James and Victor by this point, and his part of the movie is basically done.
Six years later, James is living on a mountain ridge with sexy schoolteacher Kayla (Lynn Collins).
He’s a lumberjack and he’s okay, except for his nightmares about the wars. But Kayla knows about his claws and his history, and she’s fine with it. Life is good.
But not so good for former teammate Bradley (Dominic Monaghan) who can control electric devices with his mind. He’s now working a carnival midway, at least until Victor shows up at his trailer and kills him.
At the lumber camp, Colonel Stryker shows up with former teammate Zero (who’s fast, acrobatic and really good with pistols) to warn James–or Logan, as he is now called (was that his code name, or is that just his current alias?)–that someone is killing their old teammates. He has killed Wade and Bradley, and Stryker worries that James might be next. “Logan” tells him to push off.
That night, Kayla tells him an ancient legend about a Wolverine who gets played by a trickster and loses the love of his life. And the next day, Victor shows up and kills Kayla. When Logan finds her body, we get yet another shouting at the sky moment.
Logan tracks Victor to a crappy little roadhouse in the logging camp, where they have a savage fight. Victor beats Logan pretty easily, and to add insult to injury, stomps on his claws, snapping them off. Logan is taken to the hospital, where Stryker finds him and offers to help make him strong enough to beat Victor. Logan agrees.
Which is how he ends up at our old alma mater, Alkali Lake. He is put into the water tank and told his bones will be infused with adamantium (created from the meteorite ore Stryker was after earlier). He asks for new dogtags that say “Wolverine.” Then the procedure is conducted while generals stand and watch.
And like everything else in the movie, this is too fast, devoid of emotion, and ultimately disappointing. The flashbacks we saw in Bryan Singer’s films had that sickly green vibe, with faceless men in protective suits conducting unspeakable experiments; you got the idea that Logan had gone through days, weeks, months of torture. This is over in two minutes.
But as it’s ending, Zero asks if Stryker will be taking Logan to “the island.” Stryker says no. Logan has proved he could survive the procedure; all they need now is his DNA. Stryker orders Logan’s memory to be erased.
Unfortunately, Logan has really good hearing, so he decides now would be a good time to go berserk and escape.
And for the first time, he pops the iconic metal claws that have been his character’s main identifying feature (although his other main identifying feature, his goofy two-pronged hairdo, is thankfully missing from this film). He bursts out of the tank, shrugs off Zero’s gunshots, escapes the base and jumps off a cliff into a waterfall.
And wow, a whole lot has happened so far. I just wish I cared even a little bit about any of it.
See you next week for the conclusion. No way I’m spending three weeks on this.