X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE
After a rough cut of the film was leaked onto the internet (personally, I had no interest in seeking it out – I wanted to see this thing on the BIG screen, not some small computer screen) and it started getting some negative reviews from critics, I have to admit I didn’t have high hopes for the new Wolverine movie. Even though I’ve been a long-time fan of the character (I remember buying Hulk #180 and 181 on the newsstands – the comics he first appeared in. Back then we all thought he was a one-shot villain. Who knew he’d become so huge!), I went into the movie theater expecting the worst.
I have to admit, it’s not one of the best comic book movies so far, but it’s not terrible, either.
The first of no doubt several X-Men solo outings, X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE takes us way into the past, beginning when Wolverine was a little boy in 1800s, sick and scared in his bed, while his very intense friend Victor (why would these two have anything in common so early on to become friends?) watches on, filing his finger nails down to points. In these early days, the man we’ve come to know as Logan and Wolverine had yet another name, Jimmy. Why this character needs so many damn names is a mystery to me.
When Victor’s drunken father shoots Jimmy’s father to death, Jimmy finds out for the first time that he has claws that spring from the back of his hands (at this time, they’re made of bone), and he uses them to avenge his dead father. Of course, we learn that the man he’s killed is his real father, and he and Victor are brothers. They are now, after the deaths of their “fathers,” on the run.
We then get treated to a montage of Victor and Jimmy fighting side-by-side throughout history, starting with the Civil War, then through World Wars I and II, and Viet Nam. How two mortal enemies who are so totally different are able to remain loyal brothers for decades is never very believable, especially in light of future events.
When a particularly violent incident in Viet Nam, in which some superior officers get killed, gets Jimmy and Victor thrown in the brig, it’s there that they first meet Colonel Stryker (Danny Huston), a rogue military man who adds them to his collection of mutant hitmen, who are above the law.
The rest of the group includes William Wraith (Will.I.Am from the Blackeyed Peas), who can teleport, Zero (Daniel Henney), who is like a John Woo character on meth and who can do amazing things with guns; Bolt (Dominic Monaghan – “Charlie” from LOST) who can control energy with his mind; Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) who would later become the indestructible assassin Deadpool (I actually wouldn’t mind seeing a Deadpool spinoff movie sometime in the future), and Fred Dukes (Kevin Durand) who is also known in the comics as The Blob. One obvious question for me was, “Where the fuck was Maverick? “
After a messy mission in Africa leads to Wolverine splitting off from the group when several innocent people are killed (Stryker is looking for the metal of a fallen meteorite, which will eventually become the mythical and unbreakable metal adamantium – a precious element in the Marvel Comics universe), things fall apart. Several other members leave soon afterwards, and Jimmy goes north to Canada to live a quiet life as a logger with his girlfriend Kayla (Lynn Collins), who is known as Silver Fox in the comics.
But Victor, now known as Sabretooth, won’t let sleeping dogs lie, and he starts killing off his former comrades, starting with Bolt. When Sabretooth kills Wolverine’s lady love, Stryker comes back into the picture to offer him a chance at vengeance, involving the bonding of the mystery metal adamantium to his skeleton. Since Jimmy/Logan/Wolverine heals immediately (his other big mutant power aside from the claws), he’s one of the only people who can survive the procedure.
Of course, Stryker is never trustworthy, and all of these incidents are conspiracies wrapped in conspiracies. Eventually, Wolverine’s new indestructible skeleton makes him more dangerous than ever, and when he escapes from the colonel’s clutches, both Stryker and Sabretooth are hot on his trail.
Along the way , Wolverine gets back in contact with Wraith, and eventually comes upon Remy LeBeau (Gambit) whose rather dumb-ass power is he energizes cards with explosive energy by touching them (to be honest, he can do this to anything he touches, but the card thing just seems goofy to me, since it’s his “signature move”). Played by Taylor Kitsch, Gambit is, sadly, totally miscast. Kitsch is great as Tim Riggins on the excellent TV show FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS, but he’s pretty awful here. His Cajun accent is inconsistent, and he is not believable as an action hero, and has absolutely nothing in common with the very popular character from the comics.
Gambit and Wolverine then go to the former nuclear plant on 3-Mile Island where Stryker is rounding up young mutants to experiment on (one of whom, unnecessarily, is future X-Man Cyclops, played here by Tim Pocock). And we get a lot of fighting, a prison break, a showdown between Sabretooth and Wolverine, and even a brief appearance by Patrick Stewart as Professor X. There’s also Weapon XI (Wolverine was Weapon X), a creation of Stryker’s who has the powers of several other mutants (even though this “taking of other mutants powers” thing is never explained and makes absolutely no sense, it’s not like he’s Sylar on HEROES where stealing powers is his friggin power!).
The biggest question here, of course, is how Hugh Jackman pulls off his now most famous role, as Wolverine, and the truth is, he’s just fine. He carries the film well, and is suitably intense and charismatic. As his biggest enemy, Liev Schrieber is actually very good as Sabretooth as well, even if you never believe for a moment that these two could ever be allies for any real length of time, even as boys.
Huston is fine as government bad-guy Stryker (a fairly wasted role for such a good actor overall), and a lot of the supporting cast is pretty good, too, especially Lynn Collins as Logan’s great love. Will.I.Am and Dominic Monghan do a decent job here as well. Even Ryan Reynolds, who I was sure would be completely annoying as one of my favorite characters, Deadpool, is actually pretty good here. I actually found myself wishing he’d gotten more screen time.
But two performances stand out as being wince-inducing. As I mentioned before, Kitsch is awful as Gambit. And Kevin Durand’s Fred Dukes is a complete joke (he looks more like Fat Bastard from the Austin Powers movies than a formidable enemy like The Blob is in the comics, and his only role in this movie seems to be as comic relief).
The story is adequate, but not amazing, with some plot elements that just aren’t believable at all. But I found myself involved throughout the film, and I didn’t hate it. If you’re a fan of the X-Men movies then you’ll eat this up, especially with some of the in-jokes and brief surprise character appearances.
And there are definitely times during the film where I got exasperated by how many characters there were. All of the X-Men movies seem intent on jamming as many mutants into these films as possible. I know the team of mercenaries and the whole Weapon X storyline are part of Wolverine’s past, and make sense here. But on another level, I think the movie would have been a lot more satisfying with less characters. If it focused, let’s say, on just Wolverine, Silver Fox, and Sabretooth, I think it could have been a much more intense and effective movie. But that’s just me.
The direction by Gavin Hood is adequate, but not amazing. He’s no Bryan Singer, and there’s not much here to show any real sense of style. In fact, a few scenes (such as Wolverine shouting up at the sky when he finds his girlfriend dead) are just cliché to the point of being laughable.
Could this movie have been a lot better – hell yeah! But it was still good enough to recommend, and comes nowhere near the more awful comic book movies we’ve seen (any of the Batman movies by Joel Schumacher come to mind, and the incredibly dopey Fantastic Four movies). If you like the Iron Man and Hulk movies that came out last summer, you’ll like this one as well. At this point, Marvel superhero movies have become an assembly line, and all of the product is starting to look a little too similar.
This being a Marvel movie, we also have some “surprise” scenes during the end credits. So stick around to the end. Not that the scenes are so terrific you’ll be glad you stayed – but I just thought I’d give everyone a head’s up.
Of course, this being an X-Men movie, the true “origin” of Wolverine is rather anti-climactic. When Stan Lee first created the X-Men concept in the early 60s, it smacked of laziness. No radioactive spiders or gamma bomb explosions. The X-Men, as mutants, were just “born that way.” So instead of learning how Wolverine got his powers, this is really a story of character development and how a mutant who already had powers got a metal skeleton. However, that turns out to be enough to create an entertaining movie.
But I still found myself disappointed. This movie could have been a whole lot better in other hands.
To give you an idea where WOLVERINE stands in the pantheon on X-Men movies, here’s a brief grading system:
X-MEN (the first movie) ….a solid B
X-MEN 2 (easily the best of the bunch) … B+ to A-
X-MEN 3 (weakest of the bunch) ……C to C-
X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE is about a B