Logan, Howlett, Weapon X...The Wolverine. No matter the on-screen name, this iconic X-Man has been played by Hugh Jackman in seven films. In the latest feature, X-Men: Days of Future Past, he is the anchor by which the very existence of time is at stake. Never changing, always constant. This is why Wolverine is unique to both comic books and now, time-traveling movies.
Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine is a comic-to-film character filled with missteps, artistic liberties and a touch more class and charisma. For the rest of his career, Jackman will forever be associated with Logan and vice-versa. Though his appearance in the films differs in some regard to the basic animalistic quality of the comics’ Wolverine, Jackman has made it his own. Bringing his physique up to the task all while striving for a more emotionally-involving character.
Stretching over the course of seven films (Yes, seven!), including his all-too-memorable delivery of a single line in X-Men: First Class, which, funny enough comes up again in DoFP. Many of us have grown up with this cinematic interpretation of Wolverine. He’s as much a part of the persona as the ’90s animated series. We know how Wolverine would react to a piece of exposition or chomp on a cigar with glee over the dismemberment of his foes. Given that we’ve spent 14 years and some 12 hours of screen-time with the character, we’ve seen Jackman as Wolverine longer than we’ve seen any other actor in the X-series.
Logan’s character sometimes lacked evolution. In any single movie, we’ve never got much in the way of inner turmoil. Logan has relatively stayed the same, learning small bits and pieces about himself along the way, but isn’t that just the way we like him? Many times, we have witnessed him losing a loved one or a friend; someone close to him, but he still manages to press on. It’s his burden to bear, being a person out of time yet tied to time’s repercussions. The inability to die or age (or at least age much slower than us) could create character fatigue if not left in the right hands. Some directors took a chance on Logan, Singer evolved the character in X2: X-Men United and James Mangold put Logan front-and-center in The Wolverine while others lacked a certain care for character development. Let’s face it, Gavin Hood has directed some strong movies but X-Men Origins: Wolverine isn’t one of them.
Until its climax in last year’s The Wolverine, The film successfully departed from the bigger-louder-more thunderous approach of the typical summer blockbuster. Wolverine, given healing powers by mutated genes and an indestructible skeleton by the U.S. military, may be functionally immortal, but his adamantium claws require him to work on a human scale: He kills his enemies face-to-face, not by throwing a building at them. The late film critic Roger Ebert pointed out perfectly why Wolverine may have started to wain in films like X-Men Origins: Wolverine:
“Why should I care about this guy?’ He feels no pain and nothing can kill him, so therefore he’s essentially a story device for action sequences.’”
Forward and simple, classic Ebert. This continues on in X-Men: Days of Future Past. Logan jumps back into his old body to discover he is without the metal claws but left with the bone shards of a more primitive animal. Without the indestructible skeleton, the fear of injury feels more real than in previous installments.
It was interesting then when director Bryan Singer and screenwriter Simon Kinberg decided to change the main protagonist of the Days Of Future Past comic by Chris Claremont. Instead of sending Kitty Pryde, Kinberg and Singer thought it more appropriate to center the narrative through Wolverine. He would be our guide between the future and the past.
According to writer Simon Kinberg, the reason is mostly logistical. He told Empire Magazine:
“We made the decision for a lot of reasons, some of them obvious and some of them more nuanced, to make it Wolverine who goes back in time. One reason is that he’s the protagonist of the franchise, and probably the most beloved character to a mass audience. Probably the bigger reason is that when we started thinking about the logistical realities of Kitty’s consciousness being sent back in time, to her younger self, as opposed to her physical body being sent back..it was impossible.
Obviously in the book it’s Kitty… but you’re talking about an actress (Ellen Page) who, in the age of Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy, would have been negative 20 years old. So we started thinking again, and the first reflex response to that was a character who doesn’t age. Wolverine is the only character who would look the same in 1973 as he does in the future.”
Wolverine is front-and-center once again, and the studio gets a well-known and conveniently male character to headline the film. The reasoning does make sense, but it’s ultimately an excuse. Now, let’s not point fingers, it’s appropriate enough that Wolverine is the main character, it’s just unfortunate to see what could have been an interesting and refreshing take on a super-hero movie… but it’s Hollywood; risk isn’t good for business. Obviously we have seen the use of Mystique as a very central character, but couldn’t that just be the incredible success of Jennifer Lawrence?
However, the choice in centering the narrative around Wolverine does give us an interesting theory of time-traveling characters, and is not the least of the movies flaws, though they never diminish the overall film.
If Wolverine shares any similarities in DoFP‘s time-traveling motif, it would be with Desmond Hume. Anyone who watched Lost (despised it, loathed it, loved it, obsessed over it, etc.) will remember Desmond is a reluctant time-traveler; one who becomes “un-stuck” in time rather than using a machine to do so. He doesn’t physically transport his body in time (or does he? Oh Lost!) but relives consciousness. Wolverine doesn’t so much travel back in time as enter his younger body. As Kinberg said, It works logistically as Logan would appear much the same 40 or 50 years ago. We physically see a Wolverine played by the same actor with relatively the same look, albeit a few greys in his older days.
This kind of time traveler cannot change the past because he has always traveled back and done what he did. Think of time like a book. Most people read a book from start to finish, but what if you skipped forward or went back and read it again? Same words, same paragraphs, it doesn’t change anything but the order in which it was visited and digesting enough of it will give you the entire picture. Of course, Logan goes back to in fact change history and seems to succeed, but ends up in the Weapon X program anyway, back at the same school for gifted youngsters and still hanging around with the same people.
Yes, things have changed, but unlike a movie like The Butterfly Effect, there is not a series of vignettes in which Logan experiences a number of possible alternate realities. Nope. We still get the claws (in one way or another), and what kind of Wolverine movie would it be without them?
Similarities abound between Desmond, Wolverine and for that matter, the quintessential time-traveler of modern storytelling, Billy Pilgrim – the protagonist of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five - who recalls the war through personal memory and travels with his war buddy to Dresden, the site of his most painful experiences. Billy travels to the past a little more literally; he never knows when he’s going to be sent back down his tricky stream of memories and experiences but he will inhabited himself. Unlike Marty McFly in Back To The Future who could technically interact with himself, these characters step back into their own shoes and carry on from there. Going back to Lost, that character od Daniel Faraday combats this discombobulating effect of time travel by creating the notion of the ‘Constant’. The Lostpedia can explain better:
“…when a consciousness travels back and forth through time, it needs a constant to latch onto. A constant is an object or person that exists in both periods of time, that the traveler deeply cares about and could recognize.”
Desmond Hume’s constant is the love of his life. Wolverine appears to be his own constant though he is very aware of all these people in his surrogate family. It’s a part of the fabric of his being to endure through time, war, victories and defeats. Wolverine also becomes or became our, the audience`s, constant. Over seven films we’ve watched Hugh Jackman bulk up and let it rip as Wolverine. Some times from film-to-film it would appear as if we were slipping through time. The X-Men movies are infamous for their lack of continuity and from the sounds of Singer, he doesn’t much care.
Wolverine endures characters over and over but sometimes different actors portray the same role or they skip over events that would conflict with what is now being presented. These continuity errors take on some weird relevance when speaking of time-travel, one that`s all too likely to be full of holes. However, if Singer is strictly trying to make the best movie he can make then perhaps letting go of things (though they may be canon) that were weak or not fully realized is the best move, and more power to him.
Like soap operas, comic books don’t end until their audience has had enough. No death is final and this has become a norm in many comic-book movies. The stories wind on and on, reaching a conclusion only to have it undone. Characters like Wolverine are left haunted. We remember previous installments as vividly as he. We become angered and enthralled by continuity errors or the notion of treating a character erratically but no one exhumes as much heated torture in the films themselves as Logan. Losing the love of his life, pressing on always, never changing yet always present. He’s now endured two lifetimes of pain and torture, all of it seeming familiar to him just as it does us. Time travel and death seem to go hand-in-hand and never actually dying is always a possibility in comic book movies. It`s surprising it took anyone this long to incorporate the two into one movie.
Keep reading our Weekdays of Future Past series as we begin to wind down on the newest X-Men installment.
Images: 20th Century Fox, Disney, Marvel Comics