Re: Superheros. More Being, Less Becoming.

There’s a Wolverine movie out. I’m not going to see it.

Normally I would be all about this sort of thing. I’m a shameless fan of things geeky, and I quite like superhero movies. I loved the first two X Men movies, Christopher Nolan’s Batman films have been excellent, and the first two Spiderman films were great. I even liked Ang Lee’s Hulk, which I know puts me in the minority, but I found it a nice take on the genre, and, say what you will, the Hulk-dogs were pretty nifty.

However, I have no desire whatsoever to see the Wolverine film. It’s not just because it’s gotten terrible reviews, though that’s a big part of it. The thing that really puts me off is the fact that it’s an origin story. I’m sick of origin stories in superhero movies. I know, I know, the director has to get the characters’ backgrounds and motivations out of the way and such, but, really, I would like to see something other than a variant on the whole “journey of self-discovery” thing. The origin story is something of a cop-out for writers and directors. Really, it has a simple formula: 1: Oh shit! I have superpowers! 2: Oh my god! Having superpowers means that my life is different from and in many ways more difficult than the average person’s! 3: Wow! I must use my powers to get out of a nasty situation, resulting in a certain equanimity about my newfound sense of self! Woo!

It pretty much writes itself. Telling a story about people who already are different though, and talking about what they do about it after they’ve come to terms with it is a far more difficult task. One of the best things about The Dark Knight was that Nolan didn’t bother with giving the Joker an origin story. He recognized that the Joker is an iconic character, a force sadism and clownophobia. Giving him an origin story would have robbed him of some of his power- it would have turned him into something of a person, rather than the frightening icon he is. I don’t care where the Joker came from. What I want to see is him embody fear, anarcy, and cunning. His origins are utterly and completely irrelevant.

Wolverine is much the same way. He doesn’t work because he has a compelling backstory- he works because of what he represents. When Logan says “I’m the best there is at what I do,” we know exactly what he means. He’s a pissed-off tough guy, a cigar-chomper, a guy who can feel pain but doesn’t give a shit. He’s not a prettyboy priss like Cyclops or a cartoonish muscle man like Colossus. Wolverine is a certain kind of sideburned masculinity that’s not pretty, not admirable, and not even all that functional. He feels pain and doesn’t care, doens’t bother to really make connections with anybody, and snarls dismissively at just about everyone. Yet he somehow works. Like Dirty Harry, he’s a nasty asshole, but he’s a nasty asshole in a way that inspires you for some ineffable reason.

And I really don’t care how he got that way.

I’d rather see Wolverine being “the best he is at what he does” than becoming that. It would be like a whole movie of seeing the Joker go crazy, but only seeing him put on a purple suit at the end. Really, it’s the representation and the iconicness that’s important. Unless the origin story is particularly unique, I’m fine with it being hand-waved away.

What’s more, origin stories are utterly perfunctory. One of the nice things about Hellboy was that even though it had a lot of origin stuff in it, it was mainly concerned with an actual plot. We got to see Hellboy and his associates doing what they did on a regular basis, rather than being subjected to a grueling sequence in which they all awaken to their powers in an awkward metaphor for puberty. Instead of that, we got an actual story. Yes, it was a little silly, but I appreciated it for what it was.

That’s what I want. I want to see superheroes be superheroes. I want to see people who emobody ideas of awesomeness, not another movie where the protagonist goes “Holy shit! I can suddenly shoot fire out of my eyes! Zowie, my life is forever changed!” As much as I like Wolverine, I’m giving his movie a pass. I would be happy to see his whole origin hand-waved into vagueness, not trotted out in front of me.

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