Monday, May 4, 2009

X-Men Origins: Wolverine (5.1.2009)

Director: Gavin Hood Starring: Hugh Jackman, Liev Schrieber, Danny Huston, Lynn Collins Co-Starring: Will. I. Am, Taylor Kitsch, Ryan Reynolds Watch for: X-Men references, characters. Editor(s): Nicolas De Toth, Megan Gill Would I Buy It: When I get around to it.


Say what you want about prequels and their endless power to flesh out the backstory. Science fiction especially does this, their franchises each have their own world which countless fans will beg to be given every minute detail of. It makes sense, I can get into that too, if the story is interesting. The problem I find here is the characterization. This was a prequel to X-Men, featuring a character from the sequels.

Remember how tough Wolverine was when we met him in X1, beating up people in cages, being generally rude to everyone he meets? Remember Wolverine in X3, cries when Xavier dies, tells that chick he's trying to bang that he loves her, acts all big-brotherly to Rogue, the mutant with problems? Like I said, this was theoretical 'X4 Wolverine' trapped in an X-Men prequel.

And I wasn't buying it.

I read a paragraph of a review from the Detroit Free Press (a publication whose film section I tend to heartily disagree with... they didn't even like the first Matrix), and basically, their problem with Wolverine was this:

'Wolverine is a character who has two cool things about him. Sharp claws and mystery. Well, this film gets rid of the mystery.'

To be honest though, anyone who's read/watched X-Men for a little while knows who Wolverine is. They know he's Canadian, he was part of the Weapon X program. They might not know the little filler details like his original name or all the crap the movie explained in the first few minutes, but that's just sci-fi world trivia for the fans. When X2 came out, they were supposedly "revealing the mystery!" behind Wolverine's origin. I didn't really recall finding out anything new, except that Stryker was behind it.

I don't remember a clear explanation on why he changed his name from Jimmy to Logan. Was that when he was hiding as a lumberjack? I don't recall.

Anyway. Overall, I have one major problem with this film. It focused entirely too much on the wrong parts of his life. We see a young Jimmy, father is murdered, this kid with the nails is his brother... we'll always stay together. And while we do the credits, how about we throw the pre-Canada Canadians (I think it was Ebert pointed out there was no Canada in the year the opening scene was set) into every American war that we've had between then and present day? Alright? Cool.

Not cool. If this movie had been bold enough to be longer, I would've had it dwell on the wars for a bit. First of all, how do you enlist in the Army and then re-enlist again later? Did they have secret identities, did they just hop on the boat and steal a uniform? And why did they feel a need to fight in wars anyway? Because they could? Sabretooth obviously got his jollies out of killing folks, not that his brother would let him. I think this is the interesting part.

However, it jumps forward and we jump into the story and we see Wolvie and the 'Tooth joining up with Stryker, Wolverine very quickly develops a distaste for the work (he never even has to attack anyone. What a... wuss? Wait a second.), and leaves to find his own life. Then, holy crap, they kill his woman in an effort to drive him back into their employ.

Stop me if you've heard this one before. I sort of thought about Revenge of the Sith, not to mention my own Star Wars fanfilm which touches on that very idea as a mirror to Anakin's fall, but I'm certain it goes way beyond that. I mean, c'mon. Try harder, folks. I didn't even get choked up when Wolvie, very passionately, screamed his head off at his girls' demise. And I got choked up the first time Spider-Man started swinging through the city. I'm easy. They should've spent a LOT more time on his relationship with his team members before they had him split off. What we got out of the credits and opening scenes is that Sabretooth is the crazy one, and Wolverine is a level-headed humanitarian.

So yeah... about that?

And the whole "let's make it deep" bit with the Native American (?) story of the moon and the fool didn't really work for me, since it was very obvious that this was the only reason that scene was in there. The only thing that surprised me was when the teacher turned out to be Silver Fox, but I simply wasn't looking for a twist with her. I was paying attention to Sabretooth and Stryker still being allied, and them working together to get Wolverine back. "That's why he had to volunteer" pretty much confirmed that one.


Honestly, I've had this discussion many-a-time now, but I'll say it again for posterity. We don't go see movies like this for the story. At least, you probably shouldn't. If they HAD focused on the bit about the wars for the first, hell, even the first HALF hour, it could've gone somewhere. But they rushed it. The movie felt WAY too fast. Frankly, the scenes took a lesson from X3 in "how not to linger". We WANT linger. We want characters to get fleshed out. Dark Knight helped prove this... give. us. MORE. Make the scenes intertwine, for crying out loud. This back-to-back crap just doesn't do anything.

Though yes, the action was cool. We knew it would be. There were a few surprises, mostly thanks to Wade/Deadpool. The sword/bullet shots were totally slick, I fell in love with the adaptation of the character in that instant. They didn't really cut him loose in terms of just how funny Deadpool can be, but if he gets his spin-off, we'll prolly see it then. As we learned from Hulk vs. Wolverine, it's VERY easy for Deadpool to steal the show, and they prolly didn't want that here.

Blob was the Juggernaut of this film. Scratch that, he was the Angel. They put him there just to make a couple of fans wet themselves. The boxing scene? Bah. Wasted screentime. Okay, it was funny and it helped showcase the relationship between Wraith and Logan... but they PROBABLY should have spent a little more time doing that when they were still working together for Stryker. However, this is like the Native American tale all over again. You tell it so you try try to evoke an emotional response later. Guess what? Next scene, Wraith dies. Granted, I was a little sad cuz he was pretty cool, but I was mostly upset because they just wasted a perfectly good character in one scene in order to replace him with a more famous character.


I think I'd seen every single one of Gambit's money shots in trailers and TV spots, and I wasn't even trying to watch all of them. I do think he made a good Gambit, though. A little bit softer around the edges than the famous 90's animated Gambit, but that seems to be what's going on in general with the characters here.

Remember Stryker in X2: "If you remember what kind of person you were, the kind of work we did together..."

Stuff like that. Well, I REALLY didn't get a feel for it. They did sort of make a good "Stryker the Deciever" reference out of another of his X2 lines: "As I recall, it was you who volunteered for the procedure". Well, yes he did... because you totally fucked with his life. But his claws are in your shoulder, it's best not to mention that right now.

Anyway. I'm trying to recall a specific moment of "the kind of person you were/the work we did together" that actually holds true because of Wolverine. And I'm coming up short. Maybe Stryker just has a poor memory of who did what in their operations, but of what we saw, Wolverine was fighting wars humanely and doing his best to keep his crazy half-brother in line. Honestly, he came off as a good soldier, not the soulless mercenary that is earlier implied. That, and even though Silver Fox was part of the scheme, he did end up being a good husband and earned an honest day's work for a while. You could tell he got along with his fellow lumberjacks and had a regular life going.

Then the girl is killed, and he goes on a revenge streak. Naturally, but this doesn't really go anywhere. They give him the adamantium skeleton and then he discovers their ill intent and runs on out of there. And they chase him. And he kills them. And he looks for them. Then he kills them some more. But we'll let Sabretooth off the hook, cuz he didn't ACTUALLY kill anyone Wolverine loved.

In fact, she didn't even get killed by any of the main characters. Wasn't it a ricochet or something?

Cripes. So much for the revenge plot.

Really, what I was hoping for was an idea inspired by the original Spider-Man trailer. I remember when he was chasing down the crook in his wrestling outfit, for the trailers they did some quick (tho decent) renders of those scenes with the actual Spidey outfit. So, since I imagined his claws were often digital, I imagined maybe we'll get lucky and the adamantium thing won't be until the end. Yeah, not so much. Remember when Wolverine, in X2, finally remembers getting the adamantium and storming out. He's covered in blood and screaming about these metal things sticking out of his hands? They really should have stuck with that. The movie wouldn't work as is, you'd have to seriously move some stuff around and omit other parts completely. However, I always imagined he volunteers, for whatever reason (to be more badass, ala Abomination, is how I imagined it, tho not quite so creepily), but Stryker's betrayal is his mind wipe. Then Wolverine goes animal, busts out, and he's caught in a Canadian winter with nothing but claws to keep him warm. That's how I imagined it. I'm pretty sure that's what Bryan Singer had in mind too. But for the sake of climatic action scenes, they fixed that up a little bit.

Speaking of the memory wipe... they handled it really poorly. I accidentally read somewhere that he got shot in the head, and that's what caused it. Alright, head trauma. Makes sense. Then they said in the movie they could only kill him with an adamantium bullet, which I thought alright, cool. Kinda like a Werewolf. Makes him seem more animal-like. Then the doctor-lady says "Psh, no. It won't kill him," and wait for the point of ruin... "No, but it'll wipe his memory."

COME ON. Why couldn't that have been a lucky side-effect. Why wouldn't Stryker be naively convinced it WOULD kill him... try... fail, but lucky for him, Wolvie doesn't know what's going on. That's over-writing. I always have to trim my scripts, I tend to do this a lot. Eventually, one learns you don't always have to explain things. Sometimes you should just make them happen, and tell the audience to deal with it. Stop holding our freakin' hands.

I know it really sounds like I hate this movie, but honestly, I sat there and enjoyed it. I thought it was interesting on the first viewing, but looking back on it (I may be in a bit of a mood today), I'm finding faults. Hindsight, and all that. The action was cool, but I felt their compositing and CGI wasn't quite up to modern standards. I don't know what the budget was or who worked on it, these are often large factors, but I was very disappointed to find a shot I thought was simply made for the trailers, was actually used in the movie.

Remember when he escapes the facility, cutting a big ol' X into the doors with his claws. First, not only does this scream CGI, second... he just cut two three-layer cross-sections into a door, but the little cubes in the middle stay put. Shouldn't these, like, fall? Gravity?

The movie should've been longer, and they should've spent more time making it. The script is obviously something they had some writer come up with ASAP, and while I haven't checked on the time spent on production, something tells me they had to rush a bit.

Though, at least the action was cool. Cinematography wasn't too bad, either. I remember a number of non-effects shots popping out at me. And as a general geek and hardcore Marvel/X-Men fan, I got into it. Another critic/blooger I read said that this movie will be good for the established fanbase, but he didn't expect it'll bring many new fans to the series. As a fan, I enjoyed it. As a film critic, it's pushing my buttons a little bit. Not as bad as X3, not nearly as bad, but it's not bad where I thought it'd be. I totally thought they were going to mess up continuity with having Cyclops present and using Sabretooth so prominently... but one thing I will give the writers credit for is that they were really good about knowing which characters knew what. Gambit never saw Silver Fox until the end, for example. "Do you know her?" Cyclops never actually sets his eyes on Wolverine. It's very possible some of the kids mention him later, hence his distaste for him in X1, but it's hard to say. Things like that worked out very well, and I came out decently alright with it's placement in the X-film timeline.

I'm hoping from this movie we get Deadpool. I'm not really interested in seeing Magneto with his own film. If they do X-Men: First Class instead of X-Men 4, with Apokolips or X-Cutioner's song... like they SHOULD, then I hope at least they'll take Wolverine's Cyclops and Emma Frost and use First Class as a bridge between Wolverine and X1. Sure, Emma Frost wasn't technically in the first group of X-Men, but we learned a while ago there's such a thing as comic canon and film canon, and they don't often walk hand-in-hand.

So... I'd say this movie was cool, but not as good as it should have been. Not bad, not great. That's the best I can word it for now.

I could go on about all of the little X-verse references, Prof. X, Quicksilver (I think), the old couple who get sniped by Zero... but that sort of thing is pretty much standard by now. Honestly, I think this movie was a launching pad to help people forget about the failure that was X3... but it's not going to make them forget it for the reason they were hoping.

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