(Release Date: May 01, 2009)
Take note before you skip down this time, folks (those of you still reading), one of the six movie reviews I launched this website with was the first X-Men movie. That one, in itself, was sort of a culmination of years of fan speculation, well before these spin-offs began. X-Men was a careful creation, debuting at a time when comic book movies were all but dead. Not coincidentally, it's look was much more reminiscent of The Matrix than the original comics it was based on. It was such a success that it spawned two sequels and helped comic book movies move from the experimental and careful straight into the closest thing to a Box Office Sure Thing that we've got in the current Hollywood environment.
Although the X-Men films (and, in fact, pretty much all of the X-Men tie in media since the late 1970s) has focused on Wolverine (played in each entry by Hugh Jackman) as a main character, a movie featuring Wolverine in a Solo Adventure had been discussed pretty much since the first film became a hit. Now that it's here, it's fair to ask why, with such a lead time ahead of it, does X-Men Origins: Wolverine feel like such a rushed hodgepodge of high points from the comic book stories, film continuity obligations and Whoreywood entertainment-saleable media bytes. Don't get me wrong X-Men Origins: Wolverine is an enjoyable popcorn movie and there are some truly fun moments, especially for fans of the comics. The ultimate result, however, is not quite perfect for the masses and not quite the saga of the comics. That said... what is?
Since he debuted in The Incredible Hulk #180, Wolverine was a mysterious character whose past was unknown even to himself. The only things we really knew about him was that his name was Logan, he was Canadian and his bones were laced with an unbreakable metal called Adamantium, which also seemed to make up his Claws. Over the next twenty years or so we learned a good bit more about him, but it wasn't until the producers of the series over at Twentieth Century Fox told Marvel that if they didn't reveal the actual Origin of Wolverine, they were going to make up their own history in the movie that eventually became X-Men Origins: Wolverine. With as many liberties as writers David Benioff and Skip Woods and director Gavin Hood took with these story elements, that's just about what they did.
We begin with a brief introduction that takes place in the Northern Territories of Canada (before Canada was Canada) that pays a small amount of lip service to the Origin comic book (retconning the character of "Dog Logan" into a young Victor Creed). There we meet a young, sickly boy named James who discovers one horrifying day that he has "claws" made of bone just waiting to pop out from his forearms and up through his hands as living weapons, ready to kill.
Our credits sequence shows the young Canadians Victor and James fighting for the good old US of A throughout a great many wars over the following century or so before being recruited by professional jackass William Stryker (here played by Danny Huston) into a team of super-mutant jerks who live to kill. Let's see, we've got Chris "Bolt" Bradley, master of machines and electricity, played by Dominic Monaghan; Fred Dukes, as played by Kevin Durand, who will one day become "The Blob"; Wraith, played by will.i.am, who can teleport as easy as blinking; Agent Zero (Daniel Henney), who can shoot with the approximate accuracy of Pecos Bill and smilin' Wade Wilson, the guy who uses Katanas like Lightsabers and is, for some reason, played by Ryan Reynolds. After years of slashin' and laughin', Century-old (but looking thirtysomething) James (who, somewhere along the way, decided to start calling himself "Logan", for reasons explained in the comics, but ignored here) gets fed up with the life and sets out on his own... but every time he thinks he's out they pull him back in again!
Yeah, Logger Logan may be thinking he can settle down with his lady love Kayla (Lynn Collins) and only worry about bad dreams and... splinters... but he soon finds himself right back in the thick of his old life and now at deadly odds with his half-brother Victor, now known as Sabretooth and played by Liev Schreiber.
Logan is now a man on a quest to find answers, peace of mind and a mysterious island that may house a great many clues while keeping his true berserker self at bay. Hmmmm... Kevin Durand, Dominic Monaghan AND a quest to find a mysterious island with mystical powers and answers to the mysteries that hound us? Is this X-Men or Lost? Along the way we see in more detail how he got the Adamantium Skeleton (and new, shinier claws), we meet a lot of new and familiar mutants and we get to see a great many big, bombastic and occasionally silly battle scenes, often laced with bad jokes and dialogue.
It's true that Wolverine does what it sets out to do, answering the questions that the previous films (set later in continuity) put forth (especially the shining gem of just how and why Logan lost his his memories). There is also somewhat of an intention of attention to the continuity set forth here. Still, the film just as often devolves into a standard action thriller of the Superhero Kind that follows a checklist of predictable items that we've seen in most similar films. That's not to say the film is bad, it's just that it could have been a good deal better. If the scenes between the prerequisite blot points had been more than just connective tissue and if the characters maintained the consistency they could have, this might have been a very fine film. That's setting aside how much better it could have been had the comic book continuity been followed just a tad closer. As it stands, we get a film that feels a lot like The Bourne Supremacy, laced with elements from the X-Films and just a sprinkle or two of Resident Evil's varied tie-in media.
But the hits do keep on coming as we're introduced to some more fan favorites like Emma Frost (Tahyna Tozzi), Remy "Gambit" LeBeau (Taylor Kitsch), Scott "Cyclops" Summers (Tim Pocock) and a radically redesigned Dead Pool (Scott Adkins) as we lead up to what I consider to be the ultimate X-Cameo!
Another redeeming quality in all this is that Wolverine is a very good LOOKING movie. Sure there is a time or two in which the CGI really LOOKs like CGI and not the most photo realistic of the kind, but quite often the film's design is given a great, unified look that includes some beautiful lighting and light effects. The penultimate battle at dawn is the prime example of this. The film looks incredible throughout, but especially during these moments of the climax.
Any way you slice it, while this might not be Mensa Material, it can be fun and even the most staunch comic book fans can admit that the previous three X-Men movies took just as many liberties in their adaptation of the source material. Hood might not give quite the comic book sensitivity that a Bryan Singer might have brought to the table, but Hood is the director of more cerebral character studies like Tsotsi and Rendition, therefore, considering the way the producers (including Jackman himself, along with Lauren Shuler Donner, John Palermo and Ralph Winter) wanted to go with this film, it's hard to say he was a poor choice.
The real issues in X-Men Origins: Wolverine have to do with the obligatory nature of the whole film. There's an over-produced, too-careful feel to the picture that undermines the dirty roughness it purports to convey. Further, events that were revealed in hints over three decades since the character's debut are given brief and simplified mention with litte regard to real pacing. In short, this is a summer, Hollywood movie intended and calculated to be a blockbuster and the faults here are as common as in most such films with similar intent. It's far from a waste of time, in fact, it's a film even fans could watch again and (hopefully) enjoy for its good parts.
Three Stars out of Five for the ambitious, polished, enjoyable but flawed X-Men Origins: Wolverine! As a companion piece to the existing films X-Men, X2 and X-Men: The Last Stand, it's a fun and decent enough addition to the previous editions. For the best and most comple stories of ol' Wolverine/ Logan/ James Howlett, your best bet would be to pick up the gridded pages and read the comics. Until then, I'll see you in the next reel. SNIKT!
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