How a 2009 Video Game Showed the Promise of an R-Rated 'Wolverine'

How a 2009 Video Game Showed the Promise of an R-Rated 'Wolverine'

The 'Uncaged' edition of 2009's 'X-Men Origins: Wolverine' masterfully delivered on the vicious hero's core fantasy Activision/Glixel

'Logan' captured acclaim, but a forgotten tie-in realized the hero’s untapped bloodlust first

'Logan' captured acclaim, but a forgotten tie-in realized the hero’s untapped bloodlust first

Logan is a fabulous film. Unflinching, morally murky, and above all, gruesomely violent, it’s the movie Wolverine deserves. Hugh Jackman has been squeezing his hulking Aussie frame into insanely tight tank tops for the past 17 years, yet it’s only now a filmmaker has fully tapped into the inner turmoil (and dizzying gore) that lies at this vicious superhero's core. Turns out an R rating fits Wolvie like an adamantium-shredded glove.

Writer-director James Mangold deserves all the credit in the world for the character’s transformation. Over the course of one bleak road movie, he takes the established image of a quip-cracking, sarcastic badass, and gradually turns him into something altogether more fascinating: a truly vulnerable hero. Mangold excels at creating put-upon leads – witness Sly Stallone’s overwhelmed New Jersey sheriff in 1997’s Cop Land – and the Wolverine you see in Logan is both deeply damaged and emotionally shattered.

He also rains down a storm of F-bombs at every given opportunity, and eviscerates men with the aloofness of a parking attendant dishing out tickets.

Here’s something you may have forgotten, though: an Xbox 360/PlayStation 3 spin-off actually beat Logan to the adult-only punch by the better part of a decade. Back in 2009, Raven Software released X-Men Origins: Wolverine, a decidedly decent God of War tribute that served as a companion piece for the decidedly crummy silver screen prequel of the same name. Don’t worry if you’ve forgotten the film. It’s solitary claim to fame is getting Deadpool spectacularly wrong – why would you ever make the notoriously foul-mouthed antihero a mute?!

The "Uncaged" edition of the game embraced Wolverine's underlying brutality in a way the source material, least of all the Marvel movie canon, rarely had. Like Mangold’s Logan, Raven’s take on the tortured hero is a straight-up butcher. Jackman may have been scratching out goons on the big screen for years, but never before had those claws been so starkly unpleasant. Compared to the censored slaughter of the Bryan Singer X-Men films, both Logan and Origins Uncaged present a Wolverine that has more in common with Freddy Krueger than Cyclops and company.

The game’s opening level serves up the perfect, murderous mission statement. Within minutes of taking control of Wolvie in the sweltering depths of the jungle, Canada’s crankiest son is decapitating mercenaries, obliterating stomach linings, and introducing his enemies to the business end of a helicopter’s rotors. If you were tired of the cuddly curmudgeon’s PG-13 antics from the X-Men movies, here was the ideal, sickeningly sociopathic antidote.

As a studio, Raven was uniquely qualified for the task at hand. A cursory glance at the Wisconsin developer’s resume reveals a penchant for giddy, gleeful gore. Before X-Men Origins, its two best known works were Solider of Fortune (an absurdly violent shooter where you turn enemies into walking packets of bullet-ridden burger meat), and Jedi Knight II – a Star Wars sequel focused on removing Stormtroopers’ arms and legs with a lightsaber. It’s hard to imagine a studio more perfectly placed to deliver an R-rated Wolverine video game.

So much of the appeal lies with the damage those claws can inflict. They lop limbs off with embarrassing ease. They pierce skulls as if the victims’ craniums were constructed from fleshy styrofoam. They cut through human bone and cartilage like a knife slicing through butter... butter that’s been left out on a windowsill to barbecue in the unforgiving afternoon sun.

That said, Origins can’t match God of War’s screen-filling spectacle or its impeccable pacing. The game leans on drawn-out boss battles and uninspired turret sections too often to ever fully rise above the label of "respectable movie tie-in." But at its best moments, you see shades of the flesh-rending savagery that made Kratos such an icon.

The game’s fights are as feral as its mutton chopped star. Brazenly monstrous button mashing complements the character’s intrinsic fury, while a set of gratuitous executions feel like they belong in Rockstar North’s Manhunt rather than X-Men. The effects of all this violence aren’t one-sided, either. Take too much damage, and soon Wolverine’s famous healing powers are put to gruesomely graphic use, gaping wounds opening up all over digital Jackman as bullets pierce his torso.

Of course, Wolverine should have always been presented in such visually stern fashion. Those pointy signature pieces protruding from his knuckles are pure adamantium, not plastic. When cooled and properly shaped, Marvel’s iconic metal is indestructible. Wolvie isn’t hitting enemies with a set of dessert spoons; this is the most lethal material ever forged. In theory those claws can cut through titanium, let alone some generic henchman’s squidgy biceps.

There’s something thoroughly cathartic about seeing Wolverine in such unfiltered form. While part of the success of Logan can be attributed to Mangold’s stark, unsentimental script, much of the picture’s appeal owes to the simple pleasures of seeing its conflicted hero tearing bad guys to ribbons. Raven’s title wisely revels in this same sense of unchecked brutality, and though its script is leaden, the core battles channel the raw animal aggression only now being replicated by this year’s Logan.

Video games aren’t exactly renowned for subtlety, so it’s no surprise the most successful virtual recreation of Wolverine prioritizes violence above all. Does Raven’s take on the most beloved of all the X-Men exhibit the same knowing weariness as Mangold’s hero? Absolutely not. After all, it’s hard to express degradation of the soul when you’re cutting soldiers’ heads off every 17 seconds. Nevertheless, both incarnations of the character easily capture his most defining trait: simmering, barely controllable rage.

It’s no surprise the neutered PS2, Wii and portable versions of X-Men Origins: Wolverine were poorly received next to Xbox 360 and PS3’s Uncaged bloodbath. Just as every X-Men movie that preceded Logan knows, it’s hard to capture Wolverine’s barbarism if you can’t show those iconic claws ruining human flesh. So here’s to Raven Software, and its ruthless interpretation of Jackman’s sardonic stogie smoker. Both Logan and Mangold owe a small debt of gratitude to an oft forgotten video game that showed there was a real thirst for a riotously R-rated take on Wolverine.