Remember how when you were a kid and you were having a birthday party and you begged your mom not to buy the cheap generic potato chips but please please please get the Ruffles with Ridges because they really were better? Wolverine is like that. It’s Frosted Flakes on a Saturday morning even though you’re now grown up enough to worry about carbs. It’s a carton of Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food for dinner. It’s not good for you — not at all — and it’s maybe a little embarrassing to admit if you’re mature and politically aware and anticorporate and all that, but sometimes a big bowl of processed cheese dip not even made from real milk, never mind BHG-free organically herded heritage cows, is all you want.
Sometimes junk food is soul food, and sometimes junk movies are yummy and satisfying (and never mind the bellyache later).
It starts right away, the quality of dubious but delicious quality. Remember how we were all raving over the opening credits of Watchmen, how you could just watch them over and over again and never get tired of them? The opening credits of X-Men Origins: Wolverine are almost as tasty, as we see James Logan — woo-hoo! Wolverine! — and Victor Creed — woo-hoo! Sabretooth! — go from being boys together in the Northwest Territories of Canada in 1845 to rampaging across the battlefields of the 19th and 20th centuries. “Do you seek out war if you’re indestructible?” may be the question director Gavin Hood (Rendition, Tsotsi) and screenwriters David Benioff (The Kite Runner, Stay) and Skip Woods (Swordfish) are asking here. It’s all fun and games through the Civil War, WWI, and WWII — Wolverine and Sabretooth stormed the beach at Normandy! take that, Nazi bastards! — until Vietnam, when Victor finally goes crazy, actually starts enjoying the raping and killing, and Jimmy finally gets disgusted with it all.
And the field is set for a massive battle to the death between these two brothers.
Oh, didn’t I say? These two supermutant dudes… they’re brothers! I know some about the deep history of the X-Men comic-book universe, but not enough to say whether this is a revelation on the scale of “Luke, I am your father” or not. But it’s not a spoiler for the film. This is how we start out, not a question of surprise or suspense for the movie. (Maybe it was the way the history of these characters has been told over the years in book form, but not here.) And it’s so perfectly, wonderfully melodramatic! If you thought, perhaps, from those sincere and grim opening credits, that we were in for another solemn superhero flick that prisms our cultural crises through the monsters we make — did we all go crazy after Vietnam, just like Sabretooth? or did we finally come to our senses then, just like Wolverine? — well, this is not what you’re in store for.
Woo-hoo, it’s all just cheese dip galore. What the demented army guy Stryker (Danny Huston: How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, 30 Days of Night) does to James Logan to turn him into “Wolverine” — Logan’s original factory equipment was bone claws, not adamantium ones, of course. (And just what is adamantium, anyway? Answers are forthcoming… sort of.) Huston, always underappreciated as an actor, is a deadpan riot saying things to Logan like “You will suffer more pain than any other man could endure, but you will have your revenge” and “We’re gonna make you indestructible, but first we’ll have to destroy you.” Fun!
Melodrama! How Logan has nightmares about “the wars… all of them”! The woman (Lynn Collins: The Number 23, Bug) Logan loved and lost! How Wolverine got his name — so sad! His relationship with the Ma and Pa Kent of Canada!
This is some spectacular cinematic cheese, and I honestly do mean that in the best possible way. Because no matter how preposterous it all gets — even as it follows its own internal logic — Hugh Jackman (Australia, Happy Feet) as Logan is authentic and honest in his rage and pain and even his vulnerabilities. Liev Schreiber (Defiance, Love in the Time of Cholera) is more cartoonish as Sabretooh, but that’s just the nature of the character, not any fault of the actor (though you can practically see him thinking, Hey, I finally made it to a comic-book movie!) — and if all their fisticuffs involve long running starts to launch into each other… well, you try being the irresistible force meeting the immovable object sometime.
Credit to the flick, but in what should have been a completely predictable story — this is all backfill, after all — there are some shocking moments. Some of those moments are cheesy, too, but who’s looking for Citizen Kane here?