How did it all start for Wolverine? Which came first: the lumberjack years, or the shady government experiment gone awry? Just when, exactly, did he “become the animal,” to borrow one associate’s phrase, and how much by choice? Perhaps most importantly, under what thrilling circumstances was he first seen from above howling his grief into the sky, or walking away undisturbed from a slow-motion explosion?
These questions will be answered by X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the elaborate yet curiously dull back-story of Marvel Comics’ favorite razor-clawed mutant badass, while others will go unanswered because they seem so far to have gone unasked. For example: Is it possible that Wolverine and we have grown a little tired of each other?
It’s not impossible. On the big screen, we’ve had him for nine years, as embodied by Hugh Jackman with a winningly polished combination of brutality and vulnerability. And in the fairly comic-book obedient estimation of director Gavin Hood, with screenwriters David Benoiff and Skip Woods, he’s been with us much longer — at least since the 1840s, when a highly upsetting incident with his father catalyzed the young lad’s physical peculiarities and destined him for a long life of alienation. With a supernatural ability to heal from even the gravest of physical injuries, if not from psychic ones, he went on to become a veteran of all the major American wars, thereafter getting recruited into a black-ops unit whose criminal ethics he came to abhor. Also, he had love once, but lost it very painfully.
Although it does take some fan-feud-prompting liberties, the Wolverine script seems mostly checklist-like, constrained by obligations to present certain characters (Danny Houston as the dubious military man, Lynn Collins as the lover, Ryan Reynolds, Taylor Kitsch, Will.I.Am and others as the fellow mutants), or even objects. The priorities are strange. Sure, it matters how the man calling himself Logan came to call himself “Wolverine” — although, with the hair and the claws and all, that should be pretty obvious — but does it also matter how he acquired his leather jacket and motorcycle? Not if the answer is just that he got them from kind elderly farmers who took him in once, in some half-assed cribbing from the story of Superman. Only slightly more compelling is the surgical procedure by which his bones — including the claws, natch — were bonded with indestructible metal. This is important, because it will allow him later on to rip through helicopter blades and nuclear reactor smokestack walls and what have you. There will also be an inventively spectacular beheading.
But what’s supposed to matter most, we gather, is the lifelong struggle between Logan and his half-brother Victor Creed, who will become his nemesis Sabretooth and is played here by Liev Schreiber. “We’re brothers, and brothers look out for each other,” Victor tells Logan more than once, and their preferred method of fraternal caregiving generally consists of facing off in an alleys, lunging at each other in slow motion, and, when that inevitably results in stalemate, arguing about the proper application of their feral natures.
Maybe in another decade we’ll get a movie of them sitting on the porch watching each other’s mutton chops slowly go gray. Maybe then all the good questions finally will be asked and answered.