I went to see X-Men Origins: Wolverine last weekend, and aside from the fact that Hugh Jackman is my kind of hot, as is the character Wolverine, (Yes, I’m the kind of geek who’s had a crush on a comic book character since at least high school. My dream guys include Wolverine, Aragorn, and Neil Gaiman. Sigh.) I really enjoyed the movie. Now I find myself thinking more deeply about the film than its campy comic-book nature deserves:
Some comic fans have complained about the casting of Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, but I think those that do are holding him up to an unreachable ideal. No movie actor can do justice to a character that has lived so fully inside our heads for so long. Nobody in The Lord of the Rings looked like the people who lived in my head as I read that book, and nobody in comic book movies looks like what we imagined when our minds translated the cartoon drawings to living characters. Jackman’s look is as close to the spirit of the comic as we can realistically expect—and a very nice treat for that minority of comic book fans that is made up of straight women—and his acting brings out that charmingly snarky attitude and tragic nature that make Wolverine such an intriguing character. I say we should give the guy a break.
The film’s take on Wolverine’s origins, condensing and rearranging ideas already put forth in the comics, reminded me surprisingly of a more serious and better done comic remake V for Vendetta. Both stories revolve around a corrupt government’s attempt to increase its power by rounding up people who are different from society’s image of “normal,” then subjecting them to torturous experiments. Both bring up the question of whether a person consumed with the drive for revenge can really be a hero. Both feature a hero naturally endowed with superhuman strength and physical constitution, and although this is the reason he survives, it’s also the reason why he is subjected to greater suffering than anyone else can imagine.
And, to my great surprise, both movies seem to be critiques of the administration of President George W. Bush. V for Vendetta smashed us over the head with obvious satire, but Wolverine made a few subtle, but still disturbing comments on how low America’s reputation has sunk in the past eight years: I remember, my brother (a much bigger Marvel comics fan than I) remembers, and the author(s) of the Wikipedia article on Wolverine remember(s) that Wolverine got his super-strong metal bones and claws from an incredibly cruel secret experiment run by the Canadian government. The movie attributed the torture to the U.S. military, and went on to tell about the same U.S. experimenters rounding up mutant teens and imprisoning them on an island, where they ran further cruel and unusual experiments. The scene of kids in orange jumpsuits, straining at the bars of row after row of prison cells on the island, reminded me disturbingly of a scene from Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanimo Bay. And really now, when you think of a government that tortures people, that rounds up people for being different, then imprisons them indefinitely without trial, who comes to mind? The writers of the movie did pick the most believable villain for these times. It makes me sad for what Bush did to America’s reputation. I only hope the new administration will help us repair the damage, and let us rewrite our stories in a better light.
Yes, I realize that I may be reading too much into a campy, fluffy, comic book of a film, but even our silliest entertainments reveal a lot about our society, and I admire that the movie has layers of interest. The X-Men franchise overall has even more to it, more mythic themes and lessons for real life, but I’ll save those musings for tomorrow’s post.