Hungry like the Wolverine

He’s wild.  He’s dangerous.  He’s sexy.

And, surprisingly enough, he’s Canadian.

Yes, it’s summer again (at least it is according to Hollywood…and when have they ever been wrong?), and that means: Summer Movies.  Big, flashy extravaganzas full of action and explosions with witty one-liners sandwiched almost comfortably in between, the whole spectacle fueling an industry that moves more money than a high-stakes poker game between Bill Gates and God.

Summer Movies mean comic book adaptations.  And since the limb-snapping, city-destroying, gleefully sociopathic Watchmen was a bit too…well, a bit too sociopathic (what with the limb-snapping and the city-destroying and all) to win the PG-13 rating that a successful Summer Movie requires, the season is officially kicked off with everyone’s favorite hairy, indestructible Canadian killing machine.  No, not Joni Mitchell.  Wolverine!

Wolverine, as just about everyone probably knows by now, is the X-Men’s Violent Bad Boy With A Mysterious Past™, and it is exactly this Mysterious Past that X-Men Origins: Wolverine tries to portray.  What could possibly go wrong?

Well, a lot, as it turns out.

The film opens with us learning that Wolverine (or “Logan“, as the nerds call him) was raised in Canada’s Northwest Territories in 1845, where he…well, I dunno.  Something about his mom having an affair with the groundskeeper, and some violence, and some death, and some mutation, etc, etc.  The specifics aren’t really clear, since the scene is incredibly brief, and the movie doesn’t bother to reflect on, or even acknowledge, the events depicted therein after the opening credits roll.  The upshot of all this is that Li’l Wolverine either watches or causes the death of everyone who has any plausible claim on being his father, and runs off with his half-brother Victor, aka Sabretooth, shortly after the first manifestation of his mutation appears: bony claws protruding from the backs of his hands.  “Cool,” he says, “but these would be fuckin’ awesome if they were made of metal!”

Well, no.  He doesn’t actually say that.  But pretty much everyone in the audience was thinking it.

And after a nifty-ish History of American Wars opening credits montage, the movie unravels – excuse me, unfolds – in the standard action movie fashion.  Wolverine and Sabretooth join a black ops team lead by William Stryker (Danny Huston, looking not dissimilar to X2‘s Brian Cox), and consisting of the waiter from Waiting, the hobbit from Lost, the hologram from election night, a fat dude, and an Asian dude.  They kill some guys, blow some shit up, steal a rock – you know, the usual black ops stuff – until Logan says “I never wanted to do this.  I wanted to be…a LUMBERJACK!!!!”

Well, no.  He doesn’t actually say that.  I’m paraphrasing.  But he does quit, become a lumberjack, and settle down with a nice girl (good thing she’s not gonna die or anything).

For those of you keeping score at home, yes, the movie just glossed over 130+ years of history in about fifteen minutes, because apparently by “origins”, the film makers meant “that one time in the seventies when Wolverine got his adamantium skeleton and a bunch of shit blew up”, rather than “a balanced overview of all 170 years of Wolverine’s life”.  ‘Cause, y’know, they gotta sell some tickets to this thing.  Hell, Jackman alone cost $20 million.

Anyway, the usual Summer Movie stuff happens.  Explosions.  Chases.  Wire fighting.  It’s pretty much what you’d expect.  In fact, it’s almost exactly what you’d expect.  Seriously.  If you have a vague awareness of the Wolverine back story implied in X2, and a familiarity with the cliches of Summer Movies, nothing here will surprise you.  There will be explosions, and badasses will walk away from them nonchalantly (does anyone ever do anything chalantly?  Just wondering).  Heroes will cope with tragedy by looking at the skies and yelling “Nooooooooooooo!!!!!!”  A hero will come real close to killing a villain, but decide against it at the last minute, because that would make the Good Guy just as bad as the Bad Guys.

You think I’m kidding.

If it sounds like I’ve set my standards pretty high, perhaps unreasonably so, there’s a reason for that: I have.  And it’s because of a superhero movie I saw several years ago.  It was called, ironically enough, X-Men.  It had all the usual summer movie stuff, but it also had an all-star cast of great actors, a brilliant director, social commentary, and a complex and subtle moral ambiguity, going out of its way to make its villains as sympathetic as its heroes.  Then a sequel came along that did all the same stuff, only better.

And eventually, it would seem, the producers got tired of paying all of those brilliant and famous people, got sick of throwing all that talent and creativity at a franchise that was gonna make a mint with every movie anyway, and began churning out run-of-the-mill action movies under the X-Men banner.  Which totally makes sense, if you’re a fucking moron.  Nowadays, as high quality, complex, sophisticated superhero movies are becoming more commonplace, movies like X-Men Origins: Wolverine feel like remnants from a cruder, less ambitious time (specifically, the ’90s).

But whatever.  Wolverine is great at the mediocre task it sets out to accomplish.  Like a really, really good Styx cover band.  You can’t really blame it for that.

Wait.  Yes, you can.  I just did, as a matter of fact.  Come to think of it, I paid $9 for the privilege.  Huh.  Maybe these guys do know what they’re doing.

Well, they won’t fool me again.  I’m through with getting suckered out of my hard-earned money by some over-hyped, mediocre, clichéd piece of shallow cinematic junk food.

On a totally unrelated note: tune in next week for my exclusive review of Star Trek.