Thursday, May 07, 2009

X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)

Turns out Wolverine's not so indestructible after all. Oh sure, he's impervious to bullets or knives or claws, but against up against foes like unsure directors and careless screenwriters, the popular X-Man is just as mortal as any other movie character. He may walk away victorious at the end of X-Men Origins: Wolverine but he's clearly lost the more important battle against listless big budget filmmaking. Like Wolverine's own mutant powers, the film devoted to his story (or more accurately his backstory) is more curse than gift.

Allegedly, the movie serves to explain just how the man known only as Logan (Hugh Jackman) arrived at the X-Men's doorstep before the franchise's first film. A brief prologue, culled from the pages of Marvel Comics' Origin series, shows him as a sickly young Canadian boy discovering his claws in the mid-nineteenth century. Another, slightly longer prologue picks up the thread as he's fighting in a series of twentieth century American wars beside his bloodthirsty brother Victor (Liev Schreiber). Yet another still longer prologue finds Logan and Victor recruited into a secret government program where they perform black ops for Colonel Stryker (Danny Huston, playing the younger version of Brian Cox's character from X2) before Wolverine quits and retreats to the Canadian wilderness where lives the quiet life of lumberjack and paper towel spokesman for six years until Styker and Victor claw their way back into his life and the film proper begins.

When it does, it is all what and no why. It's like the screenwriters went grocery shopping at the tortured hero store: bloody past, lost love, Oedipus complex, rides a motorcycle, etc. Those early sequences hope to cast Wolverine as a man tormented by the death he's seen and the pain he's caused, but trying to express that in an excessively stylized opening titles sequence is easier said than done, and the result is a lead character that looks more confused than conflicted; one moment, he's a dedicated soldier and the next, he's the voice of moral restraint. In its rush to cram as much as it can into its brief runtime, X-Men Origins often raises as many questions as it answers. What, for example, are the actual details of Wolverine's family tree? How did Logan meet his beloved girlfriend Kayla (Lynn Collins)? Why did he even pick the name Logan, since he's initially referred to as James? How did Victor a.k.a. Sabretooth transmogrify from sardonic and sleek Liev Schreiber to silent and shaggy Tyler Mane in the first X-Men? Meanwhile, most of Wolverine's actual revelations are irrelevant minutia dressed up as shocking discoveries, like the lengthy scene about how Wolverine acquired his jacket. Spoiler alert: he got it from some kindly Canadian farmers!

Despite spending most of the film's second half as a roiling cauldron of rage, Jackman's lost the charismatic spark that made his Wolverine such a fundamental component of the X-Men films' success and his own rise to stardom. Where the Wolverine from the first X-Men trilogy brooded, this Wolverine sulks; most of his badass attitude and winds up instead in Schreiber's enjoyable performance as Sabretooth. Jackman's actually upstaged a few times, with various characters like Ryan Reynolds' wisecracking mercenary Deadpool and Taylor Kitsch's playing card throwing Gambit nudging him to the edges of the frame as they vie for their own spin-offs. With so many hard-bodied dudes vying for the testosterone crown, maybe Jackman felt threatened. Then again, it's hard to play the tough guy when your character's so damn gullible – cool people don't get duped, played, gamed, and tricked as frequently as Jackman's Wolverine does in X-Men Origins. If this guy was angry in the X-Men movies about losing his memory, he's going to be really peeved when he gets it back and realizes how idiotically he used to act. And make no mistake: nothing we, the audience, learn in Wolverine has any impact on the character in the present; there's no framing story set in the modern day with Logan searching for the truth about his past. There are no stakes and nothing gained, only pointless things done and then forgotten.

Marvel Comics' produced their Origin comic book series about Wolverine in 2001 out of fear that the movies' X-Men franchise would beat them to the punch and screw it up. On the basis of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, their fears were very well founded. Director Gavin Hood, with his background in character-driven indies like the award-winning Tsotsi, may have been the right choice on paper to capture Wolverine's wounded psyche, but he doesn't draw any emotional weight out of the material and his action sequences and special effects are several steps down from the series' past highlights (Wolverine's claws looked more convincing in the first X-Men nine years ago). Spinning the ever-popular Wolverine off from the rest of the X-Men may have been a no-brainer business decision. Too bad the movie itself is a no-brainer too.



Blogger Tony Dayoub said...

"Meanwhile, most of Wolverine's actual revelations are irrelevant minutia dressed up as shocking discoveries, like the lengthy scene about how Wolverine acquired his jacket."

In this one sentence, you perfectly sum up everything that was wrong with this film.

2:14 PM  

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