When readers were first introduced to the character of James Howlett, better known by the names “Logan” and “Wolverine”, it was in the pages of The Incredible Hulk. From his first full debut in issue 181 all the way back in November 1974 to him officially joining the X-Men in 1975, the character has become one of Marvel Comics’ most recognisable and enduring superheroes, regularly featuring in solo and team comics, cartoons, movies, videogames, and countless other merchandise and I’m dedicating every Sunday of November to celebrating Marvel’s most popular Mutant.
Released: April 2009
Director: Gavin Hood
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Budget: $150 million
Stars: Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber, Danny Huston, Lynn Collins, Taylor Kitsch, Daniel Henney, Will.i.am, and Ryan Reynolds
Many years before he was the X-Man known as Wolverine, the man called Logan was simply James Howlett (Jackman), a Mutant with retractable bone claws, a superhuman healing factor, and heightened senses. When he and his half-brother, Victor Creed (Schreiber) are drafted to join Major William Stryker’s (Huston) Team X, Logan walks away from his violent life only to find his former teammates targeted by his murderous sibling, forcing him to volunteer for a radical procedure to make him indestructible and end Victor’s threat.
20th Century Fox had vastly profited from their acquisition of the X-Men movie rights from Marvel Comics. Under their banner, the first three X-Men movies (Various, 2000 to 2006) had made over $600 million and, soon after X-Men: The Last Stand (Ratner, 2006) brought the trilogy to an end, development began on a series of spin-offs focusing on solo X-Men. Chief among these was, of course, the character of Wolverine; the role had catapulted the relatively-unknown Australian actor Hugh Jackman to superstardom and was the natural choice for a spin-off given how popular the character and his rich recently-uncovered backstory was.
Collaborating on the script in order to craft a more interpersonal story, Jackman and director Gavin Hood aimed to explore the duelling nature of Wolverine’s animalistic character. Popular X-Men characters like Wade Wilson/Deadpool (Reynolds) and Demy LeBeau/Gambit (Kitsch) were incorporated into the script, which sought to explore the complex relationship between Logan, Victor, and Stryker based on both their characterisations in the comics and the world Bryan Singer had establish in his first two X-Men movies. Sadly, much like X-Men: The Last Stand, X-Men: Origins Wolverine received mixed to average reviews upon release; despite earning more than double its budget at the box office, X-Men Origins is largely regarded unfavourably by the majority of fans and critics alike. Personally, I always enjoyed the film, which was far more in the vein of X-Men 2 (Singer, 2003) than the third film; I liked that it introduced new and interesting Mutants and feel that it gets a bad reputation despite being an unashamedly enjoyable popcorn action film.
When X-Men Origins: Wolverine was released, the details of Wolverine’s early years had already been published in Marvel Comics some eight years prior; still, the revelation that James Howlett (Troye Sivan) had began life as a sickly boy in the 1800s was still relatively fresh for many readers who were more used to seeing Logan hooked into machinery and brainwashed into being a merciless killer as Weapon X.
Unfortunately, as interesting as it would be to delve into Howlett’s early years and the details of his friendship with the young Victor Creed (Michael-James Olsen), X-Men Origins has no time for that as, within the first five minutes or so, young James has seen his father murdered, unsheathed his bone claws for the first time, killed his father’s murderer only to discover that his victim was actually his real father, and gone on the run with his similarly-powered half-brother. Sadly, this manic pacing is a theme for X-Men Origins; it’s all quick cuts and revelation after revelation in 1845 and then, as the film’s opening credits roll, we see James and Victor (now Jackman and Schreiber, respectively) taking part in every major war over the next hundred years or so. The montage, easily one of the more impressive parts of the film and which arguably should have made up the bulk of the movie’s runtime, does a great job of showing how James grows increasingly jaded with their mercenary lifestyle and how Victor grows equally bloodthirsty over time.
Eventually, the two are put before a firing squad after Victor kills his commanding officer. Obviously, this doesn’t actually kill the two so they are immediately recruited by Stryker, who drafts them into Team X, a group of highly skilled Mutants under his command. James and Victor go on what is implied to be many missions but, thanks to the film’s breakneck pace actually seems more like one mission, alongside such notable Mutants as Wade Wilson, Fred Dux (Kevin Durand), John Wraith (will.i.am), Agent Zero (Henney), and Chris Bradley (Dominic Monaghan). Unfortunately, Victor’s bloodlust can no longer be controlled and, when Stryker orders the team to slaughter innocent sin order to get his hands on a mysterious mineral, James walks away from the team.
Taking the name Logan (why this name is never explained), James spends the next six years making a modest living as a lumberjack in Canada alongside his lover, Kayla Silverfox (Collins). However, after Stryker shows up to warn Logan that their old team mates are being slaughtered, Kayla is killed by Victor and, overcome with grief and rage, Logan willingly volunteers to have Adamantium surgically grated to his skeleton to give him the tools to enact his revenge against his half-brother.
Once again, the star of the show here is Hugh Jackman; now at his most toned and muscular and fully at ease with the role of Wolverine, Jackman’s charisma and animal magnetism help X-Men Origins to stay engaging even in its most head-scratching moments. Jackman does a fantastic job of conveying the myriad of emotions Logan goes through, from his more tender, vulnerable moments to his raw, animalistic brutality. Unfortunately, much is made throughout the film (and in the first three X-Men movies) of Wolverine’s animal side; Stryker (Brian Cox) hinted that, in his past, Wolverine wasn’t a very nice person and X-Men Origins also hints that he did some terrible things during the many wars he fought in…but we never see this. Sure, he’s a tortured character because of his traumatic memories of war and is a formidable beast when enraged but, for the most part, he’s the same honourable, good-natured person we’ve seen in the original trilogy. It would have been far more engaging and interesting to really delve into Wolverine’s time as a cold-blooded killer who slowly grows to become disillusioned with that life compared to Victor, who relishes in killing and giving in to his animal nature.
Speaking of Victor, Schreiber was an inspired choice to bring the character to life. Like many comics, X-Men Origins hints very strongly that Victor and Sabretooth (Tyler Mane) are the same character but never fully lands on one side of the fence or the other; certainly, Schreiber’s loquacious nature and cold, calculated charisma separate him from mane’s more bestial portrayal but, in any case, Victor is a fantastic parallel to Logan. Sadistic and heartless, he kills for the fun of it and simply wishes to prove that he’s better than his half-brother, which he does at every turn. It’s surprising, then, when it is revealed that Victor wouldn’t be able to survive the Adamantium bonding process; perhaps this was a lie on Stryker’s part, though, as Victor is consistently shown to be Logan’s better at every turn save for that line and one brief scuffle between them before the finale.
After making an impact in X-Men 2 and considering the importance his character has on Wolverine’s early years, it’s only nature that Stryker plays a big role in this film as the puppet master. Yet, while Huston is a great actor and brings a certain scenery-chewing relish to the role, he’s physically nothing like Brian Cox so it’s a bit weird to me that they chose to cast him. Add to that the fact that Stryker’s plan is needlessly convoluted and bone-headed (he tricks Logan into joining Team X, allows him to leave, has one of his agents (spoiler: it’s Kayla) shack up with him, then fakes her death, pretends like Victor isn’t under his control when we know he clearly is, is somehow able to convince Logan to become indestructible and then, when Logan escapes the Weapon X facility, Stryker’s first order (to a guy whose only power is “expert marksmanship”) is to kill their now invincible creation!) and you have a villain who is charismatic enough to fulfil his role as the master manipulator but flawed in his onscreen execution.
Such flaws are evident throughout X-Men Origins, I’m afraid to say; the film’s wonky pacing and questionable plot see characters either being tricked or used with ridiculous ease (you’d think Wolverine, of all people, would be able to tell that Kayla’s death was faked, surely) or simply stumble upon the information they need or into the location where the information they need is. The scene where Logan interrogates Dux (now transformed in the Blob) is a great example; it’s a fun scene, one of my favourites, but Dux isn’t able to tell Logan everything he knows so, of course, he sends him to New Orleans to track down another Mutant, Gambit, who knows Stryker’s exact location.
Honestly, Gambit has a far bigger and more prominent role in the film than I originally believed; slightly bigger than a cameo but not quite a co-star, he exists to guide Wolverine to what ends up being a pretty obvious location for his final showdown but, while Kitsch is pretty enjoyable in the role, it’s hard to look past his elaborate superhuman acrobatics. I guess you can make the argument that his Mutant ability to super-charge kinetic energy allows him to perform superhuman leaps and bounds but that doesn’t really help explain how Zero goes flying all over the place all the time.
Yet…I find myself enjoying these action and fight sequences. They’re loud and over the top but what’s wrong with that? The scene where Wolverine tries to out-race Zero’s helicopter on a motorcycle is pretty awesome, as is his dramatic takedown of said helicopter (which sees him clinging onto it as it crash lands) and the obvious trailer shot of Logan dramatically walking away from the explosion, as cliché as it is, hits all the right spots for me as an action movie fan. Wolverine’s fight scenes are equally enjoyable; similar to Logan’s fight scenes from X-Men 2, Logan fights with a vicious, brutal intensity where the animal side of him everyone likes to talk about so much really comes to the forefront.
As much as I enjoy X-Men Origins, however, it’s tough to look past the film’s narrative flaws. As a prequel to X-Men (Singer, 2000), though, the film does line up fairly well (far better than the quadrilogy of “prequels” that were to follow), it’s just a shame that the filmmakers were in such a rush to cram everything into this one movie. This could easily have been restructured to show Logan’s early childhood and time during the war and then his time with Team X, leading to a falling out and with Victor over their methods. The second film could have then shown Wolverine transformed into Weapon X as we saw in the otherwise-disappointing X-Men: Apocalypse (Singer, 2016), with that film and that procedure being responsible for his memory loss, than then the third and final movie could have just been The Wolverine (Mangold, 2013) or even Logan (ibid, 2017). Instead, we rush through all of Wolverine’s greatest hits at a breakneck pace all to get to a point that somewhat awkwardly leads into the start of the first X-Men.
Despite that, however, I still find the scene where Stryker blasts Wolverine in the head with a few Adamantium bullets quite heartbreaking. It’s a messy way to go about his memory loss considering having his healing factor be responsible is a far more cerebral and interesting explanation but it’s still tragic to see him awaken surrounded by death and destruction with no idea who he is or where he is. The implication of this ending, and the final act of the film, is that Logan spent the next fifteen-or-so years relying solely on his instincts, which is kind of ironic considering there was probably some evidence left behind on Three Mile Island to explain his origins. Sadly, however, the X-Men films never filled in the gap between this one and X-Men (at least, not fully, as the films go out of their way to ignore or retcon this entire film) so we never really know what he got up to or what happened to Victor (unless he really did devolve into a mindless, semi-mute brute).
Of course, you can’t talk about X-Men Origins without addressing the elephant in the room: Deadpool. Reynolds was perfectly cast as Wade Wilson back in the day and it’s clear from the post-credit sequence that Fox were planning a spin-off for the character all along but, yes, it is disappointing to see the character chopped up and butchered into a weird amalgamation of recognisable Mutant powers as Weapon XI (Scott Adkins) rather than the fast-talking, unkillable “Merc With a Mouth” we all know and love. It’s weird watching this film back now as they could just as easily have had a more traditional Deadpool be Logan and Victor’s final opponent; lose the Adamantium blades and the optic blasts and just have him be a super-healing, super-skilled soldier who is loyal to Stryker. Or, better yet, simply imply that wade was killed and have Victor, now a feral animal, be the film’s final “boss” and then do a post-credits scene that shows Wade alive and well and working as a mercenary. Luckily for Reynolds, and for us all, Deadpool would eventually get his spin-off and it was absolutely brilliant but, thanks to the convoluted mess that the X-Men franchise has become, those films sit in a weird bubble of continuity where everything and nothing is canon at the same time.
Speaking of canon, this film obviously concludes with what was, to me (at the time, anyway), a pretty shocking cameo by Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), who arrives on Three Mile Island to rescue Stryker’s Mutant prisoners. Sure, the de-aging affects aren’t as good as in X-Men: The Last Stand but this was a very welcome cameo for me and helped to fill a gap in what was, at the time, a straight forward timeline. While I also applaud the way the film attempts to place a little bit more spotlight on Scott Summers/Cyclops (Tim Pocock) and even goes out of its way to show that he never sees or hears Wolverine so as not to create a continuity error, once again the character is somewhat shafted by his ham-fisted inclusion; I liked that Stryker sent Victor specifically to hunt Cyclops down, as though his powers were fundamental to Weapon XI, but the fact that Cyclops is already wearing ruby-tinted sunglasses to keep his powers in check is a little odd as I always assumed this was a solution provided by Xavier. Still, it’s fun to him and a few other recognisable Mutants in little cameos and that the film allows for other popular or B-list X-characters to be included without Wolverine sucking all of the spotlight away from the traditional X-Men thanks to Jackman’s screen presence, charisma, and popularity.
I don’t know what it is about X-Men Origins: Wolverine but…I still really like it. yes, the plot is nonsensical and all over the place, rushing through some story beats that could be a movie all by themselves and lingering on others that are far less interesting and yes it does do a disservice to Deadpool and raise a lot of questions that subsequent X-Men movies and spin-offs largely ignore. But it’s just so much fun! Maybe it’s because I grew up with loud, bombastic action movies but I find this film immensely enjoyable in a lot of ways. It’s fun when it needs to be, bad-ass when necessary, and even touching at times. It’s over the top and mindless action, yes, but what’s wrong with that? Honestly, it irks me that the franchise went out of its way to ignore or retcon this film as it cost us Schreiber returning to the series and caused continuity to be thrown out of the window. Maybe Wolverine deserved better than a big, dumb action movie but sometimes big, dumb fun is just big, dumb, and fun and that’s okay.
What did you think about X-Men Origins: Wolverine? Do you think it deserves the reputation it gets or do you, like me, find it to be an enjoyable entry in the franchise? How did you feel about the way the film treated Deadpool and the relationship between Logan and Victor? How would you like to see Wolverine re-introduced to the Marvel Cinematic Universe? How are you celebrating the month of Wolverine’s debut? Whatever your thoughts about Wolverine and the X-Men, feel free to leave a comment and be sure to check in for more Wolverine content next Sunday!