I was racing to the movie theater, one of the smaller ones in the Los Angeles area, trying to get there before the movie started. My friends were all there waiting on my slow ass, and as usual I had left my apartment at the last possible minute. Cursing myself and the slow ass drivers placed in my path, I hurried while risking the possibility that I might get pulled over. With the economy now being located in the center of the earth while we slowly dig towards it, the police are handing out more tickets than ever. Heaven forbid I make some sort of unnecessary donation to them and miss the film.
Anyway, with an enormous stroke of luck I managed to make it to the theater just as the trailers were about to start. I was thankful to find my friends who managed to save a seat for me, and I was even more thankful to miss out on all those stupid commercials AMC Theaters feels the need to inflict on us. It is an addictive thrill to get to where you are going just in the nick of time and a hard one to get over (it would help if I did though). Thank god for Japanese machinery, especially with it having almost 200,000 miles on it!
I bring this up because my maddening drive to get to the theater on time turned out to be far more exciting than the movie I ended up seeing: “X-Men Origins – Wolverine.” It is the fourth movie in the “X-Men” franchise, and the first big movie of summer 2009. But more importantly, it is also summer 2009’s first big disappointment. This has been the case for the past couple of years, that the first big summer movie ends up not meeting expectations.
“X-Men Origins: Wolverine” takes place many years before the first “X-Men” movie, and we get to see the pivotal character of Wolverine as a young boy who ends up committing a violent act that he can never take back. As a result, he runs away from home with his half-brother Victor Creed (later to be known as Sabertooth). From there, we get a spectacular opening sequence in which we see both of them fight in just about every major war they were exposed to throughout their endless lifetimes. From the American Civil War to the Vietnam War, we see them fighting with the other side, taking their hits, and they come out of it all relatively unscathed.
Of course, when Wolverine and Sabertooth end up being played by Hugh Jackman and Liev Schreiber, they stop aging for good. Very convenient for the box office, wouldn’t you say?
With this being a prequel, a lot of the suspense of the movie is sucked out right there because we all know that Wolverine is going to survive this adventure and go on to many more. Granted, some prequels can be exciting and leave you hanging on the edge of your seat (“Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” is a perfect example of that), but it takes a really good script and precise direction to really suck you into the present tense of the movie you are seeing. The more you as an audience member are sucked into the moment, the more you forget about the film which chronologically comes after it. But since this franchise has been around since the early part of this decade, we have come to know these characters all too well. We know what will happen to them eventually, and we end up spending too much time trying to connect the dots between this and the other “X-Men” movies. It makes this origin movie a lot less exciting as a result.
Seriously, this is really “X-Men” meets “The Punisher,” and by that I mean the Thomas Jane version. I haven’t seen the one with Dolph Lundgren, but I doubt I missed much. We see Wolverine working as a lumberjack after having left special ops six years ago, and he lives with his girlfriend Kayla Silverfox (the lovely Lynn Collins) in a secluded cabin up in the hills of Canada, but the past, of course, catches up with him like we expect it to. Logan (Wolverine’s real name) is approached by William Stryker (Danny Huston playing the same character Brian Cox played in “X-Men 2”) to get back into action because Victor/Sabertooth is on the loose. Logan says no, and this had me rolling my eyes because we all know that Kayla is going to get murdered by Victor and that Wolverine will become thirsty for revenge. In doing so, he will be forced to alter his body to where he will be the indestructible animal we came to know him as today.
One of the movie’s real stumbling blocks is that both Wolverine and Sabertooth are presented as indestructible. No matter how many bullets are shot at them or how many times they get stabbed, we know that they will get back up and heal themselves in a matter of seconds. This knowledge affects the movie’s big action sequences because, regardless of whether or not they get the bad guys, we know that they will come out of this unscathed. We also know that Sabertooth is not going to get his due justice at the end of this story. It gets to where you expect either of these characters to start singing “Shoot Me Again” by Metallica. You know how that one goes, right?
“Shoot me again, I ain’t dead yet!”
In terms of performances, Hugh Jackman still can deliver the goods as Logan/Wolverine. If you think his successful stint as host of the Oscars might have softened his take on this character, you needn’t worry. Even with a script that deals with elements we have seen in other movies like this, he gives this comic book hero a real heart and soul just as he did before. Starting off an “X-Men” prequel series with this character wasn’t a bad idea, but it’s a shame that the filmmakers did not give him a more original and compelling story.
Liev Schreiber also does solid work here as Victor Creed/Sabertooth. While the script could have given the character a little more dimension, Schreiber makes the character an effectively dangerous rival with a never ending blood lust, and he keeps our interest along with Jackman throughout the movie’s two hour running time. It also makes me forget for short time of the fact that he has Naomi Watts (“Funny Games”) as his girlfriend and I don’t. I guess that’s something I need to make peace with, darn it.
The other actors don’t fare quite as well. Danny Huston’s portrayal of William Stryker lacks the complex nature that Brian Cox brought to the role previously. The fact that Stryker’s son is a mutant is brought into this film as an afterthought, and leads to one of the character’s more ludicrous moments. Stryker’s fate at the end of the film doesn’t make as much sense either because you can’t help but wonder how he managed to become such a powerful military leader by the time we see him in “X-Men 2.”
Ryan Reynolds plays Wade Wilson/Deadpool, and it is same kind of the same character he played in the dreadful “Blade: Trinity.” While I got a kick out of Reynolds’ sardonic wit and lightning speed with swords, his appearance in “Wolverine” feels like a wasted opportunity. Ryan ends up disappearing from the movie too quickly and we don’t see him again until much later. This leaves us with mutants who are nowhere as interesting as the ones we met in the previous “X-Men” movies. Characters like Agent Zero (played by Daniel Henney) are so one-note that they cease to be interesting almost immediately.
In fact, that’s my biggest beef with “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” it has an utter lack of character development here. The three previous films gave us characters to care about as soon as they appeared onscreen. Bryan Singer, who directed the first two films, really took the time to make us feel what these characters were going as they were cruelly branded as outcasts. We sympathized with their struggles as they worked with Professor Charles Xavier to co-exist peacefully with humans. This made the action sequences all the more exciting; we worried about these characters getting hurt. It was like we got hurt along with them. Brett Ratner’s “X-Men: The Last Stand” managed to continue that tradition regardless of what many thought of it. Truth be told, it wasn’t that bad.
But with this newest “X-Men” movie, these characters cease to be as interesting as they once were. They exist here as a means to an end, to guide Wolverine to the point where we first met him. We get introduced to some cool characters like Gambit, but it feels like he is being given only a test run to see if he will be popular enough to be included in future installments. More attention is paid here to the spectacle than anything else, and it shows. There are some great visuals to be found in this movie for sure, but without stronger characters, they just come across as empty. There is no visceral feel to them, and not much risk is on display.
“X-Men Origins: Wolverine” was directed by Gavin Hood who previously directed the Oscar winning “Tsotsi” as well as “Rendition” which starred Reese Witherspoon and Jake Gyllenhaal. I’m not sure how much of the blame he should take for this one. Word is that the production was troubled and that executive producer Richard Donner took over directing duties for a few scenes, and the script was constantly being rewritten (no surprise there). I guess by bringing in an indie director like they did with Bryan Singer for the first one, the producers were hoping to bring a fresh new perspective to the long running franchise. But Hood’s direction is not exemplary here in the way Singer’s was, and he makes this nothing more than an average action movie. There is nothing really special that he does here which could have made this particular comic book movie more unique.
Indeed, there are many twists towards the end which serve to define the character of Wolverine. But the more they came, the less I believed them. There are gaps in logic that I am willing to forgive in movies like this, but once I start thinking about them while watching what unfolds onscreen, then I am going to have some serious issues. Some plot twists would have required years of preparation for the characters, and I can’t see any of them thinking that far into the future. Much more attention should have been paid to the script, and the characters should have been given top priority. They also should have given this film a much different story than an average one of a man scorned by the loss of love and the need for vengeance. We have seen way too movies like that recently, and the conflicted hero act is getting old.
It’s hard to dissuade you “X-Men” fans from seeing this movie, so I’m not going to try. Granted, I’ll be interested in hearing what you all think of this movie. Regardless of what I may think of it, you may end up enjoying it more than I did. Hugh Jackman is great as always, but his performance is not enough to make this movie work just as entertainment. “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” should serve as a warning for future origin movies in how they should and should not be made. Seeing Wolverine before he goes on his Jason Bourne-like mission takes many of the character’s mysteries away and renders him far less intriguing. Sometimes it is better to not know so much.