The Movies of my Childhood, Coming in 2011: Wolverine
By Jason Haggstrom, November 27, 2010
The first issue of the 1982 limited series, Wolverine, starring the popular X-Men character of the same name was the first comic I ever bought off a comic store wall. For those who are unfamiliar with comic shops (yeah, I know, that’s most of you), the method of displaying prominent, pricey back issues used to be hanging them on the wall behind the counter in what amounted to a giant mural of comic covers arranged in a grid that went from floor to ceiling and from one edge of the wall to the other. This was an incredibly cool way to showcase comics. As a kid, when you bought an issue off of that wall (and left a hole in the collage), it made you feel like some kind of comic-acquiring rock star. When I saw the first issue of the series with Frank Miller’s cover drawing of Wolverine in close-up, beckoning an unseen opponent to step forward and meet his demise, I knew I had to have it. When I finally cracked open the book, its classic opening line only re-confirmed that I’d made a fantastic purchase. "I’m the best at what I do. But what I do best isn’t very nice." That’s some serious attitude. That’s Wolverine. Or, at least that was the Wolverine of the comics, especially in the first decade of his existence.
Chris Claremont, author of the Uncanny X-Men from 1975-1991, remarked that before he wrote the Wolverine mini-series, the character had always "been portrayed as a terminal psychotic, akin to human nitroglycerin, ready to explode into a berserker fury without warning, as likely to attack his friends and teammates as his foes."1 Claremont goes on to say,
Now Frank [Miller], he said flat out that he wasn’t much interested in drawing the adventures of a berserker psycho-killer. Which was fine with me, because neither was I in writing them. And then, I told him the idea that had been swirling about in my skull for some time—that the essence of Wolvie’s character was a "failed samurai." To Samurai, duty is all, selfless service the path to their ultimate ambition, death with grace. Every facet, every moment of their lives, is absolutely under control. Wolverine, however, is almost a primal life force, totally beyond control, as graceless as can be. The one might be considered the ultimate expression of humanity—wherein the will, the intellect, totally overmaster all other aspects of existence—while the other is the total animal."
If you’ve seen the trilogy of X-Men films but never read any of the comics, Claremont’s description of the Wolverine character will come as somewhat of a surprise. Instead of the "terminal psychotic" and "total animal" that Claremont describes, the Wolverine of the films is more of a bad boy and romantic lead. The movies focused heavily on the Wolverine character, his mysterious origins, and the sexual tension between him and Jean Grey. With Grey already being romantically involved with another team member, Cyclops, a prototypical love triangle was formed (and heavily emphasized) presumably to assist with getting a higher percentage of females into cinema seats. For what it’s worth, Hugh Jackman was excellent in being that sexy bad boy and romantic lead that they (The studio, 20th Century Fox? The director, Bryan Singer? The producer, Laura Donner Schuller?) wanted him to be. Outside of the brief sequence in X2: X-Men United where Wolverine violently kills several soldiers who have infiltrated Xavier’s school, the Wolverine who is a feral animal that kills on instinct when provoked was relegated to the sidelines.
If you follow the Hollywood rumor mill you’ve no doubt heard about Darren Aronofsky’s hiring as director of the next Wolverine film titled, simply, The Wolverine. What’s really exciting is that Aronofsky is working from a script by Christopher McQuarrie that is said to be based upon the original Wolverine mini-series. It’s a story I’ve been wanting to see on the big screen for most of my life. With Aronofsky at the helm, my expectations are through the roof.
Jim Emerson recently remarked that he "once thought that comic-book adventures—those involving superheroes, in particular—seemed to be ideal fodder for the movies. They promised action, drama, humor, spectacular stunts and visuals, malleable metaphors… But now I’m not so sure." The title of his essay rhetorically asks, "Can superhero movies be works of art?" He eventually answered with optimism when he concluded that,
One of these years, somebody’s going to make a great and timeless work of art based on a superhero comic book. It’s going to be a genre picture that reveals itself worthy of close scrutiny and in-depth study as well as being a thrilling cinematic experience from moment to moment […] I’m looking forward to seeing that.
Could this end up being the great work of art Emerson is looking forward to?
In an interview with David Poland of Movie City News, Aronofsky states that, "We’re definitely going to make something great, but it will be very different." He also says, "I think I’m being hired because of who I am. I’m not being hired to turn into someone. I’m being hired to do what I do." That is really exciting to hear and I do hope that it is true. Aronofsky is one of the true visionary directors working today. He’s made his career outside of the Hollywood system, directing a series of fascinating, low-budget, and Oscar-worthy independent films such as Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler, and most recently, Black Swan. To get a director of this caliber to work on such a high profile superhero film, and to allow him to make "a Darren Aronofsky film," well, the prospect was so unlikely that it is simply stunning to hear that it may actually happen. Whether it "reveals itself worthy of close scrutiny and in-depth study as well as being a thrilling cinematic experience from moment to moment" remains to be seen.
What made that original Wolverine comic book mini-series so special was the way that Claremont humanized what was essentially an inhuman, albeit popular, character. Plot-wise, this was achieved by constructing the story around Logan’s (Wolverine’s alter ego) love for the beautiful Mariko, the arranged marriage that comes between them, and Wolverine’s conflict with Japanese crime syndicate run by Mariko’s father. The story is filled with espionage, scenes of hand-to-hand combat between the hero and ninjas, and a good sampling of romance and tragedy. What more could a kid (or anyone, really) want from a superhero story? But this is also where I foresee a potential problem. The three X-Men films have already portrayed the character as more human than animal, leaving little room for any transformative growth for the character in the new film. Also, the mini-series’ vision of Wolverine as a man in love with Mariko—of even being capable of loving and being loved back—was in complete contrast to every representation of the character that came before it. The idea of Logan-as-lover has been mined extensively in not only the trilogy of X-Men films, but also in the first Wolverine spin-off movie, the gawd-awful X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Is there really anything to be gained by broaching that same thematic territory once again?
Regardless of any concerns I have going in, this is still one of the rare film projects that has me feeling giddy with excitement. As a lover of film, a new movie by Darren Aronofsky is always reason to be excited. That kid in me—the one who still remembers the experience of buying the Wolverine back issues off the comic store wall—is just thrilled to see the story from the Wolverine mini-series up on the big screen. Will The Wolverine be a great film? I can’t wait to find out.
3/17/2011 Update: Darren Aronofsky has left the project due to either his disinterest in spending a year away from his family (the official story) or in Fox not giving him full control of the film (the rumored story). In either case, this is heartbreaking news.
- Source: Chris Claremont’s 1987 foreword in the collected edition of the Wolverine mini-series