Posted on 12 May 2009.
Since last year’s The Dark Knight, superhero movies have had the bar raised in terms of quality and what depth they should bring. This was matched earlier this year with Watchmen, which explored the extreme dark side of the hero and almost left its image surreal. The characters of The Dark Knight and Watchmen were complex and layered. It’s the characters that the audience wants to understand the most, even beyond the action the heroes attract. I think since those two films, there’s a yearning to demystify the hero. X-Men Origins: Wolverine doesn’t reach any of these points, or at best half-assess them.
Wolverine had the potential of being one of the best in the X-Men series. It was to be a movie dedicated solely to the franchise’s most beloved character. It was good to see Hugh Jackman reprise his role as Wolverine, but his character never conveys enough emotion to care for him. Instead, you get a killing machine. The beginning of the movie is flat-out terrible. I had no idea what was happening and by the time you get close to figuring it out, the opening-credits roll. It opens in 1845 Canada with James Howlett Logan (Young Wolverine, Troye Sivan) and Victor Creed (Young Sabretooth, Michael James-Olsen), two mutant kids who run away from their home after James kills Thomas Logan, the groundskeeper who shot his father. After James brings Thomas within an inch of his life with his bone-claws, Thomas reveals to the young boy that he’s his real father. By the way, Victor is Wolverine’s half-brother.
Okay, this mess of a beginning was so confusing and ridiculous that it must have left three plot holes and the movie was only five minutes in. One, it never established why the young Wolverine was sick in bed (that’s where he starts out). Two, why in the hell did the groundskeeper kill the elderly Howlett and then decide to tell the young boy he’s his father after he’s stabbed by the boy’s bone-claws? After the young James kills his supposed father, he and Victor go on the run and decide to always have each others backs. Since Wolverine and Sabretooth have “healing factors,” as part of their mutant powers, they age very slowly and can recover from an injury in a matter of seconds. With this unique ability, they serve in most major wars, including the Civil War (the North), WWI, WWII and Vietnam. Since both Wolverine and Sabretooth are Canadian, why in the hell would they serve in the United States Military? Plus, if they did serve in four major wars, don’t you think ANYONE would recognize that these guys don’t age and are the same people? Mind you, this is in the first ten minutes of the movie, now.
During the Vietnam War, Victor kills a superior officer and James defends him. They are ordered to die by firing squad, but they naturally survive because of their mutant ability and they’re then thrown into military jail. They are approached and asked by William Stryker (Danny Huston) to join a secret government project involving other mutants, including Wade Wilson (later Deadpool, Ryan Reynolds). They agree and then perform special ops in other countries as part of the project. While doing a mission in Africa, they go after a terrorist group, which knows the whereabouts of a metal from space, called “adamantium.” While the team is about to murder a village of woman and children to get information on the metal, James stops them and quits the team.
"My love for you is like a truck. Berserker (rage)!"
James spends the next six years as a lumberjack in Canada and goes by the name of Logan. He lives in the woods with his mutant girlfriend, Kayla Silverfox. While at work, he is approached once again by Stryker to come back to the team, but Logan declines. He is forced to change his mind when Victor, now Sabretooth, kills Silverfox. Logan allows Stryker to perform an experiment on him so he can defeat Sabretooth. Stryker, who finds the adamantium metal in Africa, fuses Logan bones with the substance. Logan now proclaims himself Wolverine and escapes in a rage after he hears Stryker true plans to exploit him. He must also exact revenge on Sabretooth for the death of Silverfox.
Since I had high expectations for Wolverine, I have to say I was really let down by this. A problem with most of the X-Men films is that they try to pack too many other mutant characters into the movie. Although you’d think that would be the reason for a spin-off film, to give one character the vast majority of screentime, this film falls into the same trap. They introduce characters like The Blob and Cyclops. It was too grand a scale when things should have been lower key, perhaps only having three to four mutants, not something like fifteen characters smashed into a less-than-two-hour film. I partly blame this on the studio for almost certainly pressuring the writers to include as many characters as they could. Despite not having any good reason to include him, I thought the role of Gambit was well-done. When I first heard the Gambit character was going to be in it, I was excited. Gambit, along with Wolverine, was one of my favorite X-Men. Taylor Kitsch plays Remy LaBeau/Gambit as I had hoped and I’d much rather see a spin-off with him than Deadpool with Ryan Reynolds. The Deadpool character was vastly different from the comics, but I was impressed with how he turned out. Another glaring problem with the film was determining what time period it took place in. Judging by when they first left Vietnam and then spending the next 6 to 10 years in a government program, I assume this took place in the late 1970s or early 80s. Yet the clothes are very contemporary, the use of modern computer software and their weapons seem state-of-the-art, even by today’s standards.
The film did have some positive moments, particularly Liev Schreiber as Victor Creed/Sabretooth. Schreiber was very menacing and sometimes unpredictable in scenes, which left the other characters and the audience on the edge of their seats, wondering what he was going to do next. Another good performance came from Danny Huston as William Stryker, who was also very dark and ominous. Jackman was good as the lead (he’s been this character four times now), but I really felt he was hindered by the writers (David Benioff and Skip Woods), because he has the talent to do more raw emotion with the tortured Wolverine character, he just didn’t get a chance. He was sadly reduced to a grunting, pissed-off killing machine. I don’t blame this on director Gavin Hood at all, because I’m sure he wanted a different outcome on the story, as well. Studio middling was widespread on the film. It had the potential to go down the path set by The Dark Knight and Watchmen, because the Wolverine character is so complex and emotionally torn. Instead, you get an action-adventure movie with no substance. Wolverine tried to give the people what they want with an action-adventure film, but failed to realize this might not be what the people want any longer.