We meet Wolverine when he's still just a cub — a few years back, in 1845.
Of course he's not Wolverine yet. He's a sickly kid named James, who inadvertently discovers a way to get better when his dad is killed in a scuffle with a neighbor: James hears a gunshot, leaps from bed to find his dad lying in a pool of blood, and suddenly he's seething — and not at all sickly anymore.
Huge, bony claws sprout from his knuckles, much to the apparent surprise of everyone but his brother, Victor — who helps him run away after James kills the guy who killed their father.
"We're brothers," says Victor, helpfully. "We stick together no matter what. Now keep running, and don't look back."
And run they do, right out of childhood and into matching sideburns, into the bodies of Liev Schreiber and Hugh Jackman and into a big war montage. The Civil War, World War I, World War II, Vietnam — both of them stay perpetually angry for a century and a half, though you would think they'd be delighted to have stopped aging in their mid-30s.
Sometime after Vietnam, a government tool named Stryker (Danny Huston) gets involved, and while Victor adopts the name Sabretooth and goes on a killing spree, James proves he is really Mr. Mild by moving to Canada, becoming a lumberjack and hitching up with a beautiful girlfriend (Lynn Collins) who tells him stories about wolverines baying at the moon. Naturally, that can't last.
And after some thoroughly unmotivated carnage, James says "Yes" to an adamantium transfusion. You'd think this would turn him into British rock star Adam Ant; instead, Stryker tells him, it will bond metal to his bones and make him the ultimate fighting machine — indestructible.
Naturally, it's only after he's become indestructible that it occurs to anyone that Wolvie is not the most manageable guy. And the rest of the movie is an attempt to neutralize him while citing every comic-book-origin cliche in the Marvel playbook.
When he escapes Stryker's adamantium lab, for instance, he holes up with farmers who are such dead ringers for Spider-Man's Aunt May and Uncle Ben, you half expect a radioactive spider to bite our hero in their hayloft.
And when his friends die, as friends of superheroes are wont to do in origin stories, he does that head-back, howling thing with the camera ascending above him, as ... well, as grieving superheroes are wont to do.
Wolverine also has to deal with a lot of what I started thinking of as mutationally challenged mutants — one is, um ... well, really he's just rather fat, while another does card tricks — before being isolated with his various antagonists in a spot where no one will interfere as they hurl special effects at one another.
You know all those movies where people get sent to an island somewhere, and then discover that everybody is a clone, or a nuclear reactor is melting down, or crazed killers are on the loose? Well, imagine all of that happening at once, only everybody is indestructible because they all have to make more movies, and you have X-Men Origins: Wolverine.
The most terrifying thing about the movie, really, is that plural: Originsssss. So many mutants, so much time. Thank God we can leave that for another summer.