X-Men Origins: Wolverine – Possibly the most joyless superhero movie ever

Men, men, men, men, men, men, men, men, men. If you need men, X-Men Origins: Wolverine movie has men. Men over here, men over there, some more men hanging out over n the corner as backups just in case they run out of men. Which they won’t, because of all the men everywhere.

If you need women, though, you’re kind of fucked.

Before I lay out my complaints, let me say that I have little sympathy for any argument like “But they had to do it that way, it was like that in the comics.” Sorry, but “the comics” aren’t in and of themselves consistent. Also, the filmmakers don’t hew to “the comics” all the time anyway, tons of stuff is rearranged, so to identify any specific detail and use that defense is just silly. Except for the part where Wolverine had claws.

Let me also say that I’m just going to spoil the fuck out of this movie, so make your own decision about whether to keep reading.

So for those not in the know, here is the basic plot of the film: bad storytelling held together with scotch tape, in which Wolverine kicks some ass.

With that out of the way, let’s talk about how much it apparently sucks to be a woman in the Wolverine-verse. I can just imagine an early meeting for the planning of this film. Someone must have said “Oh Thank God this movie is called Wolverine and not X-Men, so we don’t have to have so many women in it!”

So there’s only one woman. She’s supposed to be Silver Fox, but instead she’s called Kayla. She has the power to manipulate people if she’s touching them, which makes her perfect for seducing and betraying Wolverine, like women do to men all the time. Kayla is a pawn. She is not an actual person, she is a plot device. She is the Woman in the Refrigerator that leads Wolverine to get the adamantium treatment in order to pursue his revenge. Anyone find that in “the comics”? Let me know. I really hope my husband is wrong, and it’s there somewhere, because otherwise the writers re-did the story specifically to set her up. Twice.

Yes, twice. The first time they kill her, it’s Woman in Refrigerator. Then they kill her a second time just to make sure no plot points interfere with the whole “Wolverine doesn’t remember who he is” storyline. Her second death is suicide as far as I’m concerned because she was ambulatory and capable of going for help, and she chooses not to, just so she can tell Wolverine she loooooooves him. I could have almost forgiven it if she’d been any help, but all she did was wander around bleeding and crying.

Oh wait, you know, I was wrong. there are two other women. One is an older woman who helps Wolverine and her payback is to be shot. The other is Emma Frost, portrayed as Kayla’s sister (the mind boggles at this reorganization of the world). Emma’s power is to protect men from getting shot while they do the fighting.

Honestly, I am completely baffled by the desperate lack of women. The badass mutant ops team that Wolverine belongs to for some time is all male. Are we supposed to think that Bad Guy Stryker was just too sexist to use women mutants as fighters until X-Men 2 when he engineers the mute adamantium Dragon Lady? And overall in the X-Men film universe, where are the women mutants with the awesome fighting powers? Thinking back to the X-Men film trilogy, Mystique was the only physically powerful fighter. Like in Push, the existence of brute force and kinetic powers seems to be split along gender lines. Men can do tricks with bullets, swords, fists, and claws, while women… well, they’re so cute and little tiny! But at least in the X-Men trilogy, they existed, and they could zap you with lighting and whatnot.

On the race front, we have a possible nice bit of whitewashing with the casting of Lynn Collins to play a character based on Native American mutant Silver Fox. I’m torn here, because I hate to challenge Collins’s self-identification in the press as part Native American, but I find it really hard to believe that they went looking for a Native actor to play Silver Fox and she was on the obvious short list. Check out the choice comments in Another “Native” actor discovered on the blog Newspaper Rock: Where Native America meets pop culture for more on that, including the removal of the Silver Fox name from the character. I had thought the change to “Kayla” was a gendered de-mutantization of the character, but this guy nails it that it’s probably more to do with de-racializing her.

Jamaican-American musician Will i am plays Bad Guy turned Good Guy John Wraith. He doesn’t strike me as the classic big dumb thug role that Black men often get assigned to, but he does die for the white man so there are no points here.

Agent Zero, however, struck me as a win for the casting of Asian men, specifically Daniel Henney, who is of Koren descent. Regular readers of Heroine Content may remember my oft-expressed desire to see an Asian man cast as a commando. I struck gold with this one. Some people might see this as another “ninja” role, but it really didn’t feel like that to me. He’s not the inscrutable warrior, he’s just a guy who shoots a lot and he’s extra good at it due to his powers. He doesn’t leap nimbly down from the helicopter to silently slash Wolverine’s throat, he launches a rocket. It’s cool. And better yet? In the comics, the character was German. Yes, my friends, we have a white character cast with an Asian actor! Hardly makes up for the rest of film history, but it was nice. (More on the casting at 8Asians.com.)

I leave you with one of my favorite tidbits from press about the film, from Lynn Collins’ role was vital to ‘Wolverine’ story, an article I found widely reprinted across media outlets nationwide:

The Texas native was already nervous about being cast in the biggest movie of her career – she is the only major female character in the film. […] She felt like she was representing the entire female audience. All that pressure looked like it was about to overflow when early in the filming Jackman told her there was a problem with the early footage: Her outfits weren’t skimpy enough. That made sense. Collins’ character is supposed to be alluring enough to win the heart of Wolverine.

Thanks for advancing the logic that the only way to win a man is by showing lots and lots of skin. Heaven knows they’re not interested in anything else, like your brain or your heart, and neither is anyone else. I’ll let my son know that repeatedly as he grows up so he can behave appropriately.

I’ll also be sure to make fun of fat people, so I don’t leave out any of the wonderful messages about society I learned from this film. Might as well get my money’s worth.

I would almost remove one additional star removed for the horrible CGI claws in the bathroom mirror scene, but “Typical” describes this movie perfectly so I will leave it at one star.

Other Commentary: X-Men Origins: Wolverine – Same Old Story by the angry black woman at Feminist SF – The Blog! and X-Men Origins: Wolverine – The Greatest Story Never Told? at Fantasy Magazine

This post was originally published on Heroine Content, a feminist and anti-racist movie blog that ran from July 2006 to May 2012.

15 thoughts on “X-Men Origins: Wolverine – Possibly the most joyless superhero movie ever

  1. d

    Spoilers ahoy!

    You know, I knew this film was in trouble when you not only cursed once, but twice! :p Even so, you were still more generous about it than I’d have been – my thought after leaving the movie was no stars! And that last ditch effort for her to look tough by doing what she did to stryker…um…yeah. Way too little, way too late!

    I actually have sympathy for plot lines if they adhere to the comic continuum. But this movie’s getting none of that love! I did a quick check about Silver Fox (wasn’t as familiar with her), and it looks like she may have had a healing factor like Wolvie’s. So why change her powers at all if you are trying hard to be accurate? Yeah… And it seems not only did they change it, but they changed it to the most stereotypical power you could have – of course the real men like Wolvie and Sabertooth aren’t affected.

    And Emma, well, goodness, what is there to say about her? They even screwed around with her character. She does have a diamond-skin mutancy, but it only manifested many years later…after she had developed her TELEPATHY. But of course you can’t have too many telepaths, although you clearly have more than one feral guy. It would have made far more sense for her to use her tp to get the soldiers to stop shooting. Or for Xavier to contact her instead of Scott. Yes, he’s one of the first x-men, but if I were a tp, I’d want to contact a tp. Seems focusing on her diamond skin makes her more girly, and gives her a support role, instead of a lead role. Even my bud said it seemed like an excuse to show Cyclops with leadership skills. And that also isn’t according to continuity: Scott is very self conscious, and it took a lot for him to be ok in the leadership position. That whole end scene would not have gone down like that. It seems more than anything they are trying to put Emma together with Scott, since they have been celebrating that relationship for quite a while in the comics.

    Oh, to talk about how sexist the movie is, you should talk about Gambit. Did you catch that line where Wolvie says he’s not going to fight, and Will I Am says “dogs [eat] cats?” I heard eats, my friend heard beats, but either way that shows that dogs dominate cats. And what do people think of when they think of cats & dogs?

    Thank goodness that Gambit retained a tad of his usual flair. But it was very little. And quite a few people who don’t like Gambit have hinted it’s because of his more effeminate nature – ie. he’s going to use his brain, and not just go brawling for no good reason. He’s articulate, charming, and many women like the character. You would think that they would have played him up to attract more females to the man show, but they didn’t. So even a surrogate female, so to speak, gets bad treatment, but since he’s still technically male, it’s still better than Kayla.

    Oh, and even the couple bugged me! The man had the cool bike, was the one to initially defend the barn, drive, and was able to impart some wisdom to Wolvie before he left. But what did she do? Make meals and state the obvious for comedic effect.

    I was just sitting there marveling at why this had to be so one-sidedly male. It just makes no sense, and made me really regret going. Grr. But I have certainly been warning people to stay away (since like you said, there are even more problems than the H.C.). And the quote about the clothing….ugh.

    Oh, and the other thing you said – I’ll quote: “And overall in the X-Men film universe, where are the women mutants with the awesome fighting powers?”

    Oh they’re there, just stripped of virtually all the things that make them awesome. Many females do have the more awe-inspiring, non-physically based powers. But Rogue is completely unrecognizable in this series. She is the powerhouse. She eventually saps the mutancy of a fighter, and then shies away from absorbing people and just knocking them out with superman-like strength. Storm eventually lost her powers and led the team just as a normal old human who won battles fighting. Kitty Pryde eventually learns how to fight, and even Jean, who tends to do more things from a distance with her tp & tk can still use her tk to enhance her strength among other things. Not that you could see any of this by looking at the films. Rogue is the greatest tragedy because down & dirty fighting was her forte. And they even changed her background to make it more middle-class, as opposed to her poorer upbringing, which partially explained her tougher nature.

    Oh, and while they included the tougher fighters like Yuriko and Mystique, they stripped them of all their agency (Yuriko literally). These women were villains in their own right, siding with groups as they saw fit, not as henchfolk for the big baddie.

    I was just telling my friend how annoyed I get by the loving attention to history for one character, and yet the completely disregard of history for another.

    But I’ll get off my soap box now, sigh. X-women in general are some of the most powerful heroes in the marvel universe. Yet, despite the troubled history with Sue Storm’s character (sometimes she really was a pansy), and despite Sue being played by Jessica Alba, who many didn’t find at all intimidating, she is a lot tougher than all the female marvel women we’ve seen in the films…well, ok, maybe not Jean from X3. :)

    I did like agent zero though. I didn’t get the whole ‘gun ninja’ comments I’ve heard, unless they are honing in on his asian descent. He didn’t seem any more acrobatic than Wade or Remy. And I liked that he had a significant role in the film.

    thx! d

  2. Skye

    Thank goodness my review was about 200 words longer than your comment or I would have felt threatened. ;)

  3. Hannah

    Well, in Ultimate X-Men, Emma’s only ability was her diamond thing. I don’t like their replacement of Rose with Kayla but any woman Wolverine dates does tend to die so that’s pretty normal, comes with the territory usually

  4. Skye

    Thanks for the info, Hannah, that’s very interesting. Unfortunately I’m just not moved by “this is how they did it in the comics.”

  5. Ron

    You know, you forgot to mention one other major female character; the woman doctor in the Weapon X program whose name is. . . not mentioned at all in the entire movie. Seriously, she seemed to be in charge of the entire experimental/medical team behind the creation of Weapon X/Wolverine AND Weapon XI, and they can’t even grace the character with a NAME?!?!?!

  6. Rob

    “Men can do tricks with bullets, swords, fists, and claws, while women… well, they’re so cute and little tiny!”

    Alas, this so pitifully true in Hollywood.

  7. d

    Hey Hannah! I forgot about the Ultimates…probably on purpose, lol. Thanks for the reminder.

    Was Kayla a replacement of Rose, or just a combination? Didn’t Rose happen before Silverfox? Maybe they decided to choose Silver Fox instead of Rose? But then why change her ethnicity – just use Rose instead. Wasn’t Rose a redhead? Maybe they were afraid they would mix her up with Jean Grey?

    Just random thoughts.

    thx again.

  8. Kimberley

    I read the article from which the quote was taken. Maybe I’m misunderstanding something but wasn’t Jackman just playing an April Fool’s joke on Collins?

  9. Skye

    Kimberley, yes, it was a prank – although I can’t say I was too impressed with the prank. What I objected to was the way it was described in the quote from the article, sorry I was unclear. The “but of course, if Wolverine fell in love with her she has to be half nekkid!” comment…

  10. BonnieBelle

    Yes, this movie blew. There just isn’t much at all to recommend it. The story was crap and not very explanatory, (they never even used the name Sabertooth in the movie, so hey, what was the point??) and they screwed up the one character we were looking forward to, Gambit. Plus, yeah, one woman in the whole freakin movie. Boo

    Glad I got to see it for free. :( Would feel bad if I actually paid to get tickets.

  11. Dave Ryan

    Hey sorry for this, but me not being all that much of a comic book fan, but your review is a little off. You see when you talk of silver fox, evidently you didn’t realize that silver fox was in with wolverine in the comis, i.e. first appearance which goes along with the movie in Marvel Comics. First appearance. Wolverine vol. 2 #10, (August, 1989) where she is killed by sabretooth(Victor Creed) and then Logan leaves town not knowing she is still alive. Years later finds out.

  12. Skye

    Dave, thanks, I am quite familiar with the Wolverine / Silver Fox / Sabretooth storyline, and I am well aware that Silver Fox was with Wolverine and that Sabretooth killed her. What I object to is the reorganization of the plot that uses her death as a plot device to propel Wolverine into having the adamantium treatment.

  13. Anonymous

    > Emma’s power is to protect men from getting shot while they do the fighting.

    Interesting perspective. I saw it as a neat reversal of the usual gender roles: a typical scenario in a fantasy setting would be for a tough, armoured man to protect an oh-so-delicate woman as she slings spells or arrows at the enemy. Instead, we had pretty-much the reverse.

  14. Wayne Boogie

    The part that pisses me off is one, Stan Lee let this shit ride. Two, Psylocke had no part in XMen 3 and she ran with the Morlocks. Xmen was ruined.

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