A conflicted antihero, virtually indestructible thanks to a skeleton generously coated in an adamantium metal, is the main attraction in “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” and the stuff of badass comic book-to-big screen legend. Wolverine fights for the good guys while wrestling his inner demons and making mincemeat of anyone who stands in his way.
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It’s a great set up for a central character in an action flick, but if that’s all Mr. Muttonchops had going for him, Friday’s premiere wouldn’t hold much interest for many moviegoers. For film fans whose appreciation wades solely in the shallow end of the pool, this movie’s all about the sexy beast.
A bad boy with a good heart packing a half-dozen built-in switchblades and a leather jacket? That mainline taps into the “Rebel Without a Cause” archetype we’re genetically programmed to adore. Our primordial brains have no defense against it.
Heck, if Wolverine’s über-powerful star-crossed ladylove, Jean Grey (aka Phoenix), fell for him at first sight, what hope do we mere mortals have? In the first “X-Men” film, his unconscious form barely hit in the X-lab before Jean found herself pawing him with more than a medical touch. Sure, he nearly choked her for her troubles, but the fact that he didn’t finish the job just amped up the “beware of my dangerous animalistic hotness” vibe.
Not long after, Jean revealed her true superpower — the ability not to dump her boring, goody two-shoes fiancé at lightening speed. Forget the telepathy and telekinesis. When Jean showed Wolverine his room, he asked her where she was staying. She actually told him she’d be down the hall with Scott “Cyclops” Summers, rather than “with what’s-his-head” … or the more obvious, “here, please!”
That’s what separates Ms. Grey from the real-life masses pining after the cigar chomping hottie. She waits and keeps him at arms length, while loads of Wolverine-lovers couldn’t even postpone their lust long enough for the new movie to hit the silver screen.
Those eager fans illegally downloaded their way to an early mutant fix. But in their defense, he of the horribly nicknamed and ridiculously sexy “wife-beater” tank inspires urgency. Anyone who’s seen an installment of X-Men action in theaters understands.
Crowds, guys and gals alike, erupt in squeals the first time Wolverine unsheathes his claws with a “snikt!” Who flips out over his fellow X-folks’ onomatopoeia? Storm’s weak “whoosh”? Cyclop’s pathetic “zsheep”? Whatever. That why “X-Men Origins: Someone Other Than Wolverine” isn’t set for its big premiere.
It’s all about the guy on the stolen motorcycle with two-ton chip on his shoulder rebelling against something he can’t remember. That image is so danged hot, even his enemies yearn for a piece.
Even Mystique and Rogue can’t tame the beastShape-shifting Mystique (as played by a jaw-droppingly gorgeous, perma-nude Rebecca Romijn) tried putting the moves on him in “X2: X-Men United.” No matter what form she took, the blue menace couldn’t sway Wolverine. He’s not like other guys.
Face it; no man in his right mind would turn down cozy-time with Mystique even if he was fairly certain she’d snap his neck like a praying mantis when it was all over, because — well, look at her!
But not our Wolvie. Going beyond the bad boy blueprint, he needs something more than physical attraction. If a hookup doesn’t pack soul-torturing love, he’s just not interested. On the upside, that means in fantasyland terms those of us who don’t look like Mystique can pretend we actually have a shot with this guy (in your face, Rebecca Romijn!).
Too bad there’s a catch. That whole soul-torturing love thing? It never ends well. Wolverine may be easy on the eyes, but he wreaks havoc with the heart. And, frankly, what he does to the body is no treat either.
That’s what Rogue, the regular gal’s analogue in the X-Men universe, learned the hard (and sharp) way. The awkward young woman met Wolverine back when he was just a bare-knuckled bar fighter in a backwater Thunderdome. You know, with his sexiness and demons on full public display.
One could hardly blame Rogue for falling for him or for making an ill-fated gawk-stop to his bedroom later at Xavier’s School for Gifted Children. The problem with her plan was simple. See, Wolverine’s dark reality shtick is the real deal. Even in his sleep, he’s battling his demons, grasping at forgotten memories, bashing his inner-fears … and slashing open life-sucking teenage girls who wake him unexpectedly. Oops!
Yet, minor evisceration aside, Rogue’s crush lives on from a distance. In her perfectly reasonable Wolverine-obsessed eyes, the man can do no wrong. Because, when he does do wrong, Wolverine is so vexed about it, it’s he who earns the sympathy … even from his victim. Behold the power of sexy.
It’s the same power that packs theaters and earns the man behind the mutant, actor Hugh Jackman, a loyal female following — at least Wolverine-wise. How many fans foolishly followed the Aussie star into roles after his “X-Men” fame only to be disappointed by a limp rom-com offerings. Never forget ladies. Jackman has little in common with his sexier on-screen alter ego.
Wolverine would never break into song and dance or smile ear-to-ear or star in a stinker like “Australia.” Plus Jackman seems reluctant to sport those trademarked ear-curls and muttonchops or maintain that flawless six-pack when he’s out of character, thereby unjustly relegating our steamy fantasy to the big screen. The nerve!
Ree Hines is a frequent contributor to msnbc.com.