***Warning: Spoilers about WOLVERINE and the STAR WARS series follow, though if you haven't seen STAR WARS by now . . .***
***Other Warning: I will only be discussing the X MEN in relation to the films, not the comics***
There are two attractions to prequels—we get to expand popular series without moving into ever far-reaching futures and we get to see early motivations for characters. The Daniel Craig 007 movies have attempted to explain why James Bond is so messed up about women, for example (he was hurt, so he gets to be a sexy, sexist guy later (which is somehow earlier)).
WOLVERINE promises to show us what Wolverine has always wondered—who he is and what happened to him. The answers are relatively interesting, but not entirely important, given that his memory loss makes all of it somewhat moot. If you can never remember the woman who died, she can't be said to be influencing who you are later in terms of behavior.
Here's what we get (in general, if not specifics): his relationship to Sabertooth, exactly how old Wolverine is, who injected him with adamantium and why. We see that despite his memory loss, his personality remains consistent—he is adverse to
killing innocents, appreciative when people are good, violent when provoked.
Is this the Sabertooth we remember?
The most interesting part of the film is at the very beginning, when we see Wolverine and his brother fight in a series of wars (Civil (despite the fact that they're Canadian), WWI, WWII, and Vietnam (which is again odd, as they're Canadian). The very short clips show Wolverine doing his duty, but his brother taking sadistic pleasure from it. Intriguingly, the brothers are on the "right" sides during the first three wars. It's in Vietnam, the more controversial war, that the brothers start to be torn apart. Ah, ambiguity . . .
When I got home from the movie, I watched the first X MEN film again. Knowing Wolverine's background didn't help. In fact, his memories of the adamantium injections were very different from what WOLVERINE showed. The biggest problem, though, is with Sabertooth. Sabertooth in WOLVERINE has a distinctive look, distinctive moves, distinctive attitude, and a distinctive relationship to Wolverine. Yet the prequel would have us believe that in 15 years, Sabertooth's looks change (though they haven't for over 150 years), he moves and fights differently, loses many IQ points, and doesn't feel the need to discuss his relationship with his long lost Logan/Wolverine. Whatever has made him change so much has also apparently made him more vulnerable. His demise in the first X MEN film (being shot by lasers and then falling) is something he survives in WOLVERINE.
Of course, all this prequel stuff reminds me of the problems with the STAR WARS prequels. I'm not alone in lamenting them—miticlorians create spontaneous pregnancies (which would be more believable if Anakin's mother were in a single sex environment, as the science geeks among us know), but don't exist in the "future." Technology goes backward in terms of power and development. Even the fighting suffers in the future—maybe this is just due to a relative lack of Jedis in the future, but no one in IV-VI can fight worth a damn compared to people in I-III. The exception of course, is the red shirt Jedi, who are slaughtered excessively easily in III.
For all of its problems, there are several things in STAR WARS prequels' favor. Knowing the stupid little things (like who built C3PO) are satisfying in a small way and the "coincidences" could arguably be tied to an idea of destiny.
WOLVERINE and the X MEN series do not have this idea—there is no force. There is only evolution and the choices people make. Now, on a philosophical level, I align myself with evolution/choices. On a reading/viewing fictional level, I can appreciate both evolution/choices and force/destiny. The former is more thought provoking while the latter is more satisfying in terms of mythology/hero's journey storytelling.
Better without the beard!
The prequels to STAR WARS also explain behavior—why is Luke so whiny? Well, his Dad certainly was at that age. And while his mother was kick-ass in some moments, she was also very weak in others. On a deeper level, our own behavior is explained. Many, including the writers at THE SIMPSONS, apparently, thought the parliamentary stuff in the prequels was boring. I generally enjoyed it—it showed how politicians are able to use fear to gain power (I'm looking at you, Patriot Act).
Prequels can also be valuable in less high-minded ways. A naked Hugh Jackman and a Jedi Ewan McGregor can cover a multitude of sins.
Will all this in mind, I will be heading off to see the STAR TREK prequel with some hesitation, but I will be indeed be there.
Live long and prosper!
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