Posted by: jamesodinwade | May 11, 2009

Review: X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)

“I’m coming for blood, no code of conduct, no law.”

wolverine

Director: Gavin Hood

Writers: David Benioff, Skip Woods

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Liev Shreiber, Danny Huston

Rating:

Some movies are triumphs of art over commerce and others are a triumph of commerce over art. X-Men Origins: Wolverine is unabashedly the latter.

No one is unfamiliar with this beloved comic-book character, but to set the scene the movie is about Wolverine, a character from the X-Men comics and later the ‘okay to good to bad’ X-Men movie franchise who has metal claws and a shadowy past or some such thing. Think of him as something of a comic-book Steve McQueen, the man who does not say much, but whose actions are more decisive than those that do. Here we explore the origin of his character as Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) avenges his true love by attempting to track down her killer by cutting through as many people, helicopters and bathroom sinks as need be while uncovering something called the Weapon X Program headed by the shady William Striker (Danny Huston).

The McQueen reference may seem excessive, but to his credit Jackman has created a character as iconic in today’s culture as, say McQueen’s Bullitt. And like Bullitt, Jackman’s Wolverine is best when he is brooding in the background, stepping into the fray only when the time is right. Here we are dealing with all Wolverine all the time, and the movie suffers because Wolverine was never meant to say anything intelligent or insightful and…doesn’t. What can a character say whose most memorable lines end in “bub?”?

Fans of the Origins graphic novel may have thought the storyline might take place predominantly in the 1800s, but that would be a risk and this movie takes none. Instead they use this opening scene in the Northwest Territories only to introduce the sibling relationship between Wolverine and Victor/Sabretooth (Liev Shreiber) and show Wolvy’s gross bone-claws. From there the director Gavin Hood (Tsotsi, Rendition) takes us on a convoluted journey through World Wars, top-secret missions and the deep south apparently just to throw in every flashy character unused in the previous X-Men installments. And no, in case you are wondering Will.I.Am can’t act.

But after we are shaken out of the pretense that this movie will be at all interesting or emotional there is an amount of fun to be had, at least counting the number of clichés the filmmakers are determined to cram in. The ‘old couple with the most-likely-dead son’ scene was downright funny to me. Lesson: Don’t hold a glass of ANYTHING in an action movie. Maybe it wasn’t the intended effect, but I chuckled heartily at the more audacious action sequences in all their tank-punching, bullet-slicing glory. He’s really going to calmly walk away from that explosion in slow-motion? Really? We’re still doing that? If they had just made this a go-for-broke comedy it really could have been something.

Oh, and forget the plot. They really would have been better off without one. Watching Hugh Jackman tear up bad guys while occasionally stopping to let his hair gently waiver in the wind would have been fine, but throwing in characters whose sole purpose is to kill or die to move the plot forward is frankly insulting to a growing comic-movie fan base fresh off some genuinely good adaptations like Watchmen or The Dark Knight. Whatever your feeling about these films they are actually raising expectations instead of lowering them with the predictable tripe that X-Men Origins: Wolverine offers us. “An island you say? Let’s go there.”

You may think I’m being a bit harsh on what was only meant to be a fun “summer movie”, but the memorable “summer movies” of years past at least gave us something. Even Transformers, with it’s gaudy dialogue, product placement and irrelevant subplots could still dazzle us with the technical achievement of the animation. Wolverine brings nothing to the table.

We have the medium of film and a growing respect for the source material so is it still necessary to inject plot 96-B into this movie to put butts in the seats? Other cultures have rich mythologies with Gods and Monsters and epic quests. North America is still young. For better or for worse our greatest mythology is the Super Hero. Our most popular medium is film. Is it too much to ask for something palpable for a character recently voted as one of the best Superheroes of all time, (beaten only by Spider-Man and Buffy The Vampire Slayer, according to the Chicago Tribune)?

In the X-Men movies we know Logan has amnesia (yes, amnesia) and can’t remember the events of this movie. In a month I will look back and see if I can recall the events in this movie any better than he can. Note to Ellen Page. Take a pass on X-Men Origins: Kitty Pride if they offer it to you.

-James

Great moment: None. The French version of the poster (above) is the best thing about this movie.

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Responses

  1. I didn’t even bother seeing this movie, and instead opted to read the Wikipedia article’s plot synopsis. I think I made the right choice.

    It seems pretty akin to X-Men 3, with them cramming as many mutants into the film as they can, no regard to doing the characters justice. It’s a travesty that James Holloway didn’t play Gambit like he was supposed to…but now I’m glad he didn’t.

    I agree with your point about superhero movies. I wasn’t a fan of The Dark Knight, as a whole, but it was a good step forward for superhero movies, (and Watchmen was brilliant but it had brilliance to work from) and I can appreciate it outside of my personal dislike of many choices made (to be clear: I loved most things about it except the plot).

    Transformers is garbage though, I don’t care how great the effects are. (they aren’t that great)

    Good review bud!


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