Saturday, May 2, 2009

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

Directed by Gavin Hood
Written by David Benioff and Skip Woods
Starring Hugh Jackman, Liev Schrieber, and Danny Huston

 For the last thirty years Wolverine has been the most popular member of the X-Men.  He is know for being hairy, smoking cigars, being able to heal from any injury, his rage, his mysterious past, and last but not least his claws.   He has appeared in dozens of comic book titles and was the focus of all three  X-Men movies. In X-Men (2000) the plot revolved around Wolverine joining the team and trying to uncover the mystery of his past.  In X2: X-Men United (2003) the plot revolved around Wolverine discovering more about his past. In X-Men: Last Stand (2006) Wolverine more or less was the leader of team, at the very least Hugh Jackman was the star of the film. One could make a good case that the character launched Hugh Jackman's career more than Hugh Jackman made the character come to life.

Audiences are intrigued by the character. They want to see more of him and they want to know more about that mysterious past. 

The films opens with Wolverine as a young boy at this point we learn that his real names is James. After a tragedy James goes on the run with his brother Victor who grows up to become the villain named Sabertooth. During the title sequence we are shown that James and Victor spent most of their life fighting in American wars. For some unexplained reason Victor decides that he really likes killing people. This happens around the same time that James discovers that he doesn't really like death all that much. This is the beginning of their conflict. 

In Vietnam Victor murders a superior officer because he tried to stop him from rapping somebody. Again, we aren't really sure why Victor turns into a murdering rapist other than it serves the purpose of the plot. James and Victor are to be executed but because part of their powers include an accelerated healing factor, it doesn't really work out.  It's at this point that the two of them meet William Stryker who is putting together a team of mutants to do covert government work. That work appears to involve each member individually displaying his mutant abilities while everybody else watches on and waits for their turn. 

Eventually, James leaves the team because he doesn't like killing and everybody else does. He abandons them, goes by the name of Logan, and settles down with a nice woman who tells him a Native American legend that gives him the later give him the idea to go by the name Wolverine. Of course that doesn't last long.

It doesn't feel like this film had a director, Gavin Hood is given that title but I question it. Instead, I get the feeling that this film was a real team effort. Of course that team consisted of a bunch of Fox executives that really wanted to make some money this summer. To that end they decided the best way to do that was to have this film feature a parade of X-Men fan favorites. Each of them show up for about ten minutes of screen time, do something "cool" and then walk away. 

This is a very shallow film. The plot is very paint by numbers. As events happen you get the feeling they are being crossed of a checklist. The characters don't really do much more than go through those motions. They act and react to one another and just move the film along. Occasionally they stop for some kind of cliche action, word, or scene. As the audience we don't ever get the sense of who they are and what motivates them. We know that Wolverine doesn't like killing innocents because he makes eye contact with innocent people and is the hero. We know that he is sad when somebody dies because he drops to his knees and yells to the heavens on three separate-occasions. We know that Stryker is the bad guy because he lies to people and stands in shadows. We don't know what motivates him but we don't have too, we can watch the far superior X2: X-Men United to understand. 

Another thing that really stood out to me was how bad Wolverine's claws looked. Wolverine's first appearance on film was in 2000. How did they manage to take a step backwards nine years later? I know that Hugh Jackman can't really extend metal claws from his hands, but I shouldn't be thinking that every time he uses them. In fact, all the CGI in the film doesn't help as much as it turn it into what's real and what's fake game. It's kind of like a Highlights for Kids game. A very easy Highlights for Kids game.

The action scenes are unbelievable and not in the good way. Of course anybody seeing a movie about mutants needs to harness their own  ability of willing suspension of disbelief. That being said there's a difference between accepting somebody can heal from a gun shot to the head and that somebody can soar through the air after a truck explodes underneath them. The former invites the audience to enter their world of fantasy. The latter is just plain silly. 

Still, I found myself being entertained by the film. That credit falls squarely on Hugh Jackman. There are very few true blue movies stars and luckily for this film Mr. Jackman is one of them. As silly and flat out ridiculous as the film can be the main character is always engaging. He is able to deliver the cliche' action quips with conviction. He might not be given a lot to do but he does what he can with it.  One might says he is the best at what he does. Of course if anyone says that they are letting their nerd flag fly, it's one of Wolverine's classic lines. 

At the end of the day I believe audiences will be entertained by the film but not necessarily satisfied. As I was leaving the theater I heard another audience compare the entire film to when little Ralphie finally is able to use his Little Orphan Annie decoder in A Christmas Story (1983).

Be sure to drink your OvaltineOvaltine? A crummy commercial?"

Yep, that sounds about right. 

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