X-Men Origins: Wolverine
starring Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber, Danny Huston, Ryan Reynolds, Taylor Kitsch, Scott Adkins, Lynn Collins, Dominic Monaghan
written by David Benioff & Skip Woods
directed by Gavin Hood
original release date: 01 May 2009
Fox, 107 mins.
There's Frakking Worse Things
What people remember from X-Men after leaving the theater for all three installments isn't simply the action sequences or the story, it's a specific character that has won the hearts of nearly every audience member - Wolverine. A man with a mysterious, assuredly painful past who is torn between what side to choose: join Professor Xavier and his gang of mutants who believe in peace, or Magneto and his brotherhood who understand the dark side of human nature and seek to strike first? Although the ending choice is obvious, it was interesting watching Logan's journey of identity in X-Men and X2: X-Men United (2002). It wasn't long after the release of X-3: The Last Stand (2006) that two "origin" stories were announced as in-development: Wolverine (exploring Weapon X) and Magneto (picking up directly after the prologue in the original X-Men). Suffice it to say, fans were salivating.
And now here we are, summer 2009 is upon us, and we have X-Men Origins: Wolverine to watch whenever we want. Does the film do justice to the Wolverine character? Does it fill in the gaps? Is this The Dark Knight 2.0? How is Weapon X portrayed? Why the hell is Gambit in the movie? Why's a teenage Scott blowing up a hallway?
X-Men Origins: Wolverine is first and foremost an action movie, and a character movie second. Don't go in expecting the Second Coming like Iron Man or Dark Knight, and you won't be disappointed. Things go boom, there's mutants a'plenty, government aberrations, and a romance story tossed in for good measure.
At a young age in 1859, Jimmy, in a state of rage, kills a man who turns out to be his actual father. His brother Victor whisks him away before the police can get to him. And on the run they go for years on end, going head-first into every war, killed a bunch of times but keep coming back. The brothers join an team of mutants run by Stryker who seeks to locate the landing site of a meteorite that contains special properties. When Stryker goes too far to get the information he desires, Jimmy/Logan leaves the team. Fast forward six years later: Logan is living the simple life up in the mountains with his girlfriend Kayla, but everything turns to red when she's murdered by Sabertooth, the newly-coined title to his brother Victor. Logan, seeking bloodthirsty revenge, asks Stryker for his help, and infuses adamantiam as an exoskeleton. With his super healing ability power and near invulnerable body, Logan goes out to face and kill Victor.
In comparison to other Marvel ventures, I would place Wolverine in league with Elektra and The Fantastic Four. For most, that's the kiss of death, but since I'm one of those few insane movie-goers and evidently "not-a-true-fan" fan, I dig 'em. But the comparison is only in that Wolverine seems overly interested in the battle sequences and overuse of CGI than actual character development, a unfortunate habit of movie studio's part that I hoped would be extinguished with The Dark Knight [but I can't necessarily hold Wolverine entirely at blame; they were probably in the midst of principal photography while Dark Knight was released]. If there were to be any other character that could benefit from a character-driven adaptation in the same league as Batman, Wolverine would be the guy. But instead, we're given a explosion-fest of bad CGI, quick editing, funny one-liners, and a overall sense of the filmmakers blatantly saying, 'We're not taking this seriously.' It seems like Jackman himself is the only one who understands the character and intends to do as much as he can with what he's given.
Origins: Wolverine should by all rights, and as the title indicates, be a character study of Logan, and how he became the person he is when you meet him in Bryan Singer's awesome superhero flick X-Men (2000); and although there are some beats that influence the overall character of Logan and changes him, but it comes off as an everyday action movie with Wolverine at the center of the action, and his past and personality are secondary to the fights and one-liners. Of course, I could be completely wrong in my assessment, but that's simply my initial response.
As his fourth outing as Wolverine, Hugh Jackman (Australia) is, as always, magnificent; I can honestly say I can't imagine another actor taking the reigns from Jackman for the role - he owns it completely. Sadly, the majority of his cues here are to growl, look mad, yell, and punch things, and doesn't leave enough room for him to pursue other aspects of the character not yet hinted on. What exactly - hell if I know; my X-Men experience is limited to cartoons and the movies.
Competing against Jackman as top-biller is Liev Schreiber as Sabertooth/Victor. Whenever he's onscreen, I couldn't help but grin as Victor's sheer glee at doing what he does is evident in every frame: this guy loves to kill, and his candidness makes us dig the character more, despite his being a rotten bastard. Victor and Logan have a love/hate relationship: their brotherly love makes them want to save each other, but if only just so they can kill one another on their own time. It's an interesting dynamic, and easily the most interesting thing about Origins: Wolverine. Oh, and this is just a little side question, but has Sabertooth always had the fast-healing power Wolverine had? I don't recall him every featuring said power, so it sent me for a loop.
So...Gambit. Yeah, I dug him; I liked the character in the film. My experience with Gambit is solely secluded to the 1990's animated series, so I'm not privvy to his history and particular character traits, but as a viewer with only a miniscule knowledge of a character seeing him on screen, I liked it and I think they did a fine job with his portrayal, and leaves the possibility for his appearance in future X-titles. Performed by Taylor Kitsch, he's about what I would imagine the character to look and act. He gives a impressive, albeit unspectacular, performance. Dominic Monaghan gets a bad shaft as he's in the film for maybe 5 minutes, same goes with Ryan Reynolds - their involvement includes two quick Weapon X sequences and one of them gets a death scene, and that's it. Disappointing, but I enjoyed their one-liners and visual jokes immensely.
As early reports indicated, the CGI work here is dodgy at best. There's some truly excruciatingly bad moments such as when Wolverine takes shelter at a ranch, uses the bathroom and inspects his newly instated blades, and thrashes them together: the CG work is horrendous.; I don't think even a 9-year old kid would be convinced by this effect. Another horrible, horrible offender is an digital cameo of someone mentioned briefly in a early Aint-It-Cool News review: Patrick Stewart as Professor X in all his digital glory. Except, without the glory. This was bad, bad, bad CGI. The background, the composition of the live-action group of ex-jailers all comes together in one of the worst digital shots in a major blockbuster production. Another instance that comes to mind is a quite naked Wolverine jumping from a waterfall - that was more awkward than the Beowulf fight in the nude.
There is an over-reliance on the CGI, enough that made me ponder that if it was financially feasible to digitize every character instead of hiring actors, Fox would do it. The backgrounds, the stunts, the explosions - computer generated, computer generated, and oh look: more computer generated. I'm all for special effects, believe me, but using it when it's really unnecessary bugs me.
I'm also not sure this is the avenue the story should have took. Do all heroes have to have a fallen romantic entanglement which pushes them to do good in the world? The film handled it well, and there's even an unanticipated twist near the end with it that helps the story a few notches, but I'm done having a cut-short romance be the instigator of a life of crime-fighting.
When all is said and done, did I enjoy my time in the theater? Yes, immensely. I was as giddy as schoolboy getting the newest Spider-Man issue after class watching Wolverine beat down his brother and all the baddies in his way. But, however, I can't help but feel disappointed in that there was an avenue not taken, a opportunity that wasn't fully exploited in this movie. For what we have though, it's a okay installment of the series, and a below average origin story. X-Men Origins: Wolverine is a big-budget summer blockbuster movie - it doesn't have time for thorough character analysis and a deep script.
I don't know - perhaps my disappointment is clouding my judgment with the movie, but I don't think I'm wrong with some of my points. It's time for the character's to take center stage and the action be icing on the cake, not the main entree. One way or another, you're definitely going to enjoy yourself watching Wolverine - 'cuz what's there not to at least find fun? There's action, attractive girls, explosions, beat-downs, motorbikes and helicopters, secret government organizations, and for the truly fan-obsessed, some nods to comic and movie continuity that will at least elicit a grin.