X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
Directed by: Gavin Hood
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber, Danny Huston, Will.i.am, Ryan Reynolds, Dominic Monaghan
3 out of 10 Stars
2000’s X-Men, Bryan Singer’s film based on the long-running Marvel comic-book, was a gloriously and sublimely rich movie that transcended the superhero genre to become one of the absolute best science fiction films of my lifetime. Along with the equally impressive sequel, X2, Singer created a perfect allegory about tolerance, one which can find resonance with audiences in all eras. More importantly, the X-Men saga is filled with characters who are memorable not just for their amazing powers, but for also having genuine emotions that give extraordinary weight to themes presented to the viewer. Too bad you won’t find any of that in 20th Century Fox’s new prequel, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, a ponderously redundant film that feels more like an X-Men History textbook than an engaging cinematic experience.
As the title suggests, the film takes the most memorable character, AKA Logan (once again played by Hugh Jackman), and gives him his own adventure, shedding light on where he came from and what kicked off his journey to become an X-Man. Up until now (on celluloid at least) Wolverine had been a mysterious loner, but at the start of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, we’re introduced to him in the year 1845 as young Canadian James Howlett. In one night the teenage mutant discovers that the man he thought was his father isn’t, sees his real father murder the surrogate, discovers his mutation while extracting revenge, and finally running away with his older half-brother, the similarly animalistic Victor Creed. That is followed by an opening credits sequence where we see the two serving the U.S. in The Civil War, World War I and II, and Vietnam (despite the fact they’re Canadian). During their tour in Southeast Asia, both are recruited by Major William Stryker to be a part of a team of fellow mutants who conduct covert missions for the U.S. The group includes familiar X-Men mutants such as Blob (Kevin Durand) and Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds), who would later become Deadpool. Creed gets out of control, forcing “Jimmy” to walk away from the team and retreat back to Canada, where he works as a lumberjack named Logan and has a romance with school-teacher, Kayla Silverfox. Stryker comes calling six years later, asking Logan to come back to the fold after it’s learned that his former mutant teammates are being knocked off. Logan, of course, refuses, but soon the assassin reveals himself as Victor and kills Kayla. After the obligatory shouting to the sky, Logan agrees to take part in Stryker’s Weapon X project to take him down. It’s there that Logan gains his indestructible metal skeleton and claws, as well as knowledge of Stryker’s true intensions. Wolverine breaks loose and during the course of the rest of the film wages war on seemingly everyone, from Stryker to his former teammates (good and bad) to a suave poker-playing mutant named Gambit to Victor.
Now, I’m a Wolverine fan as much as the next guy, but I expected more from a picture focusing on the crazy Canuck. You would think someone like Gavin Hood, who directed dramas such as Tsotsi and Rendition, would be ideal to bring some credibility back to the franchise, after Fox pushed Bryan Singer aside to make the series conscious-free with X-Men: The Last Stand. Alas, the studio might proved too powerful, as X-Men Origins: Wolverine winds up another step in the franchise’s downward slide into mediocrity. The problem is that the movie is crammed with so much going, there is no time at all for the viewer to really care about what’s being shown, or for the characters. X-Men Origins: Wolverine feels more like a succession of facts rather than drama. What’s really sad is that even though the picture focuses so much more on superhero action, the visual effects look so cheesy there’s no sense of real danger, making the exhaustive effort worthless. All of this culminates to a point where the viewer ultimately asks, “What’s the point of all of this?”
After two monumental X-Men pictures, you get a sense in the minds of Fox that success of this series is guaranteed, and that they don’t need to challenge themselves or the audience with each film. The X-Men are going down a path similar to that of the Superman and the first batch of Batman films, one in which high quality is distilled by commerce into high camp. X-Men Origins: Wolverine is not the Batman and Robin of this franchise, but given it’s empty-headedness and cartoony visuals, it might well be a ominous omen of worse things to come.