Friday, April 8, 2016

X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) (Movie Review)

     After “X-Men 3: The Last Stand”, it seemed that this series was done for good, so I slowly found myself losing interest in X-Men, and started looking at other things. Batman for example reached all new highs in 2008 with “The Dark Knight”, and that more than anything reignited my interest in his franchise. Then near the end of the 2000’s it was announced that the X-Men were going to make a comeback, with all new theatrical movies, some lone outings for individual characters, and the guy to kick it off was none other than my favorite of the X-Men ... Wolverine, in his first stand alone action film. While I wasn’t exactly hyped at first, I was still very intrigued as he’s a comic book legend, worthy of his own film, and with Hugh Jackman reprising his signature role, things seemed to be fairly promising, and maybe this would be just the film to reignite my fondness for one of my favorite superhero franchises. Then I read the title “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”, and suddenly I got concerned.

      Of all the superheroes out there, Wolverine is probably the hardest one to do a proper origin story for. His back story in both the comics and the media have changed and expanded so much that it would be difficult to tell his story properly. Plus, part of what made Wolverine so intriguing was that his origin was very mysterious and clouded. We didn’t know much of his past, or what was even real or altered. A movie giving us a step by step telling of his past would spoil that mystique. In order for this to work, it would have to be something really big, extremely tragic, very ambitious, and explores this character in ways that we’ve never seen before. Did it succeed ... well, the short answer is NO. This film quickly gained the reputation for being the absolute worst in the X-Men series, and one of the worst comic book movies period. Even Hugh Jackman himself was disappointed with the final product. I’d say it’s mostly disserving of its reputation, but I really wouldn’t go that far to call it one of the worst films ever made. The film honestly isn’t without some highlights, and while it’s “bad”, I certainly don’t hate it either. So what makes this the stand out week spot in the X-Men film series, let’s start at the beginning and find out.

     So what would be interesting to explore in this origin film, well, maybe his child hood, his relationship with his brother (who would later grow up to become his arch enemy Sabertooth), the many centuries of war he fought in, or his involvement with Team X, which was the first mutant team he was a part of before he joined the X-Men. Well, that’s all in there for about five minutes, but to be fair we do get one hell of an awesome opening credit montage out of it. The first real problem with this movie is that just like it's predecessor, everything feels like it’s on fast-forward, and it quietly glances over things that might be interesting. What we do get is an extremely by the numbers plot that’s only setting up excuses for lots of pointless action scenes. Here’s the set up, Wolverine is living the quiet (and boring) life with his new lover Silver Fox. One day she’s presumed murdered by Wolverines vengeful brother Sabertooth, who proves to be more than a match for our hero. The evil Colonel Stryker offers him a deal to undergo an experiment in which he’ll become indestructible. Wolverine discovers that it was a trap, escapes and vows to hunt down both his brother and the evil colonel until he has blood for blood. From that point on, it’s just a series of fight scenes, and not much focus on our hero’s personal journey or character development.

      Not only is the story of a lone hero seeking revenge old and been done, but the film just adds nothing new to the table. Granted “Kill Bill” was also a clichéd revenge story, but done with great style. “The Mask of Zorro” almost fell victim to a generic revenge plot, but they changed the arch around in a way that revenge no longer became the hero’s motivation, and in the end we cheered for the films champion. “The Count of Monte Cristo” is my personal favorite revenge based story, and told with near perfection. I could list countless other examples, but there’s really no point. It’s just a tired and average plot, but I will say that the character himself is still very good. Wolverine still acts like an enraged animal in heated battle, he still has his bad ass moments, but he’s also very charismatic and even has a subtle sense of humor. Hugh Jackman is always great in the role, and this film is no exception. Whenever he’s on screen he’s putting his all into the performance, and making sure that every action he takes is as natural and as fitting for the character as he can possibly make it. The supporting cast unfortunately is only half as good. The love interest Silver For is probably the most boring and generic leading heroin I’ve ever seen. Her dialogue is stupid, her chemistry with Wolverine is stale, and it’s really hard to care for this women whenever something supposedly tragic happens to her. 

    There’s no point talking about the members of Team X as they have nothing to do in the film, and even the teleporting character John Wraith (played by Will. i. am of the Black Eyed Peas) is surprisingly underused. A young Cyclops is also shoe horned into the film for no reason, and as I’ve stated in past reviews, I’ve never been a fan of his character, so it bugs the crap out of me to see him in Wolverines stand alone movie. Now this will sound very hypocritical of me to say, but Cyclops could have had his own Origin film. Yeah, I still don’t like the character, but his back-story is deep enough, yet simplistic enough that it might have actually worked better than an origin movie revolving around Wolverine. Now of course I need to talk about Gambit, because aside from Wolverine, he was always my favorite of the X-Men. This is the cool guy with the supper charged deck of playing cards that explode on impact. I loved him in the cartoon, I loved him in the comics, and I’ve been waiting to see him in a live action X-Men movie sense the beginning. In this film he’s played by Taylor Kitsch, and he is awesome in the role. He’s charismatic, and he steels every scene he’s in with ease. Unfortunately, he’s only in the movie for about ten minutes, which sucks because it’s barely more than a cameo. It was great to see him at all, but I just wish there could have been more of him.

     Now let’s talk about the villains ... all two of them. Well, there are some side villains like the gun wilding Agent Zero, but who cares, it’s Sabertooth and Major Stryker that really mater. Sabertooth is given more of a character arch in this film then the first X-Men movie, and Liev Schreiber dose a respectable job in the role. He even has good chemistry with our hero ... not great mind you, but there’s definitely something there between the two. He also looks the part, all though I didn’t care for Saberooth’s redesign at all. I like him better when he’s more beastly looking, but like I said, Liev Schreiber compensates by adding a subtly quiet and creepy side to the character, rather than just being loud and over the top. Unfortunately, Sabertooth keeps getting sidelined by the films secondary villain Major Stryker, who pretty much sucks when compared to Brian Cox’s previous version of the character back in “X2: X-Men United”. In that film, Stryker was far more terrifying, and determined to see all mutants killed off. This films portrayal of Stryker is more interested in mutants, and aims to harness all their powers like some typical Saturday morning cartoon villain. Danny Huston’s performance in the role is nothing special either. It’s just your typical boring evil general, with typical bad guy motivations.

    Another common complaint from critics is that the visual effects weren’t rendered very well, and ... yeah, there’s lots of moments where the effects look really bad. What sticks out the most are the unforgivably bad CGI effects for Wolverines claws. They’ve never looked more fake then this, and they always distract when their on screen. However, for all the films poorly rendered effects, the film balances out with some beautiful locations, and gorges cinematography. Seriously, for the most part this is actually a very good looking film. The music composed by Harry Gregson-Williams is also really good. The opening track called “Logan Through Time” is comprised of a choir singing “stanzas from an ancient Norse poem in Old Icelandic” ... and it honestly gives me chills every time I hear it. 

    How about the fight scenes, can they at least entertain despite a weak story to support them. Actually there’s two stand out action scenes that are among my favorites in the series, one of them being the climax which I’ll talk about in just a little, and the other is the motorcycle chase. Ever sense the first movie I’ve wanted to see Wolverine in a car chase style action scene, and this didn’t disappoint. We see him slicing through armored jeeps, taking out a helicopter and lots of explosions, most notably a clichéd yet awesome slow-motion hero walk with a big explosion in the background. The remaining fights are either too short, or so un-engaging that they just come off as boring filler. We have a scene where Wolverine is boxing with a character called the Blob and not only is it completely pointless, but it just didn’t do anything that exciting. Even the fights between Wolverine and Sabertooth are surprisingly underwhelming, and these should be big highlights. Unfortunately, there poorly shot, very repetitive, and there’s just no tension between them.

     Okay, let’s address the elephant in the room ... Deadpool, the sword wilding murk with the mouth who’s nothing like his comic book counterpart. Personally, I’ve never been a fan of the guy, but I can at least respect why real fans of the character didn't like this. I must admit, I didn’t care that his mouth was sowed shut, because even if he did have his mouth, he wouldn’t have had anything funny to say. In case you views didn’t notice, the dialog in this film was terrible. I can prove this because we see Deadpool talking at the beginning of the film, and everything he said was stupid. To be honest, this isn't Deadpool at all, he’s just “Weapon 11”, a character created for this film alone. So, lets all take a deep breath, we have the real Deadpool in the movie "Deadpool", and this Weapon 11 character is not him. At the end of the film, he and Wolverine battle on Three Mile Island in a climactic final showdown. Unfortunately, Weapon 11 has more than just two swords, he also has a wide collection of different mutant powers, and ... I think that’s awesome! I know I’m in the minority about this but I’ve always wanted to see a character that utilized several powers at once. Plus, the final fight scene with Wolverine and Sabertooth teaming up to battle Weapon 11 is firkin fantastic. Its shot beautifully, it’s a big spectacle, and manages to thrill even though I’m not invested in the characters or story.

     Now dose that save the movie, of course not. “X-Men Origins Wolverine” is obviously a miss guided film, a missed opportunity, and subjected to the most clichéd written of scripts. The film just never cares to tell a deep or meaningful story. It’s all about the action, and while that can be fun at times it’s still not enough to support a film with no substance. I will admit that I’ll enjoy some of the films obvious clichés on some level. We got the cool explosion just a few feet away, the hero with the complicated past, the money shot of a team of hero’s walking in a straight line, the hero and villain charging at each other before their big fight, and I’m just a sucker for those little touches. Also, for a movie that takes place before the original X-Men trilogy, there are a lot of noticeable continuity errors that just don’t add up. The scene when Wolverine undergoes the experiment doesn’t match with the flashback footage from the first two films at all.
Emma Frost is seen as a young girl among Stryker’s prisoners, which doesn’t connect with her next appearance in “X-Men First Class”. Near the end, Patrick Stewart makes a little cameo as Professor X, which is a very nice touch, but once again it just doesn’t fit with the timeline continuity of the future films. There's an after credit scene where Stryker is arrested, and that doesn't tie in to when we first meet the character in "X2: X-Men United”. We have a second after credit scene that shows Weapon 11 survived after his fight with Wolverine, but he never comes back in the series again, so what’s the point of that. Personally, I think that for the next “Deadpool” movie, we should have the real Deadpool fight the fake one, that would be so satisfying.

     To be perfectly honest, for all this films faults, I really don’t hate “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” the same way most critics do. It’s undeniably a weaker entry the series and problematic from start to finish, but I’ve definitely seen worse. It’s the kind of film I wouldn’t actively watch, but I also wouldn’t mind having it playing in the background while I’m ironing cloths or making dinner. There’s just enough going on in the film to keep it mildly entertaining, and it’s still cool to see Wolverine break out the claws and fight. It's a movie that really should have never been made, but sense it’s here, I’ll go ahead and passively enjoy it for what it is. Plus, the movie was still a modest success at the box office, which guaranteed another film. Still the damage was done, if the X-Men series wanted to continue and thrive, it would have to do much better next time. Thankfully “X-Men First Class” followed, and cemented the franchises longevity, but I’ll talk about that next time.

                                       I give “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” 2 ½ stars out of 5.   


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