X-Men Origins: Wolverine

WolverineThis is the film where we finally get to discover Wolverine’s origins, which is obvious by the title. Some of these revelations are good. Some are not. Contrary to popular opinion, though, I don’t think this is that bad. It’s not great, but it’s not the crapstorm everybody makes it out to be.

My fiancee and I decided to do some catching up so we could finally go see X-Men: Days of Future Past before it leaves theaters. Last night, we watched X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009), and over the next few days, we’ll be watching X-Men: First Class (2011) and The Wolverine (2013). I’ve seen the Wolverine movies but not First Class. My fiancee has seen none of the above.

Wolverine/Logan and Victor Creed/Sabretooth.

Wolverine/Logan and Victor Creed/Sabretooth.

Our story begins in the one place you’d expect to find violent, gruff, cigar smoking Wolverine/Logan: Canada. He’s introduced to us as a small boy growing up in a loving family in 1845. Victor Creed/Sabretooth is even friends with the young James Howlett (Wolverine’s real name). Once James discovers his bone claws and his healing ability via the murder of his father at the hands of Thomas Logan, we cut to a fun opening credits montage of Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and Sabretooth (Liev Schreiber) fighting in the American Civil War, World War I and II, and Vietnam. Wolverine is getting tired of Sabretooth’s progressively violent and animalistic habits, killing without mercy and even attempting to rape a Vietnamese woman. Surviving a firing squad, the two are recruited by Colonel William Stryker (played by Danny Houston) to join a unique team of mutants. They carry out a number of special jobs before Wolverine opts out for a normal, non-violent life with his love interest played by Lynn Collins. Eight years later, he is, of course, forced to work with Stryker again so he can stop Victor, who has been killing old team members for an unknown reason.

A cliched and often silly script that tries to fit in WAAAY too many mutants, famous or otherwise, is the film’s weakest component. We get appearances from Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds), Gambit (Taylor Kitsch), the Blob, a young Scott Summers/Cyclops, and a small cameo at the end that I won’t spoil. There’s a butt ton more mutants in this film. A few are interesting and serve the story well. A lot just seem shoved in because the director/writer/studio needed to fill a mutant quota.

I enjoyed seeing Blob in the film. I did. But his main scene, a boxing match with Wolverine, is utterly pointless. The Blob doesn’t want to give important information to Wolverine. A face-off ensues. Okay. Why a boxing match? Why doesn’t Wolverine just threaten to gut the Blob with his claws if the big guy doesn’t tell him what he wants? I know the two have a shared past and that Wolverine is a good guy, but Wolverine is not above threatening people if the stakes are high, which they are by this point in the film. I’m not saying he would actually cut into the Blob. He would threaten at least. Blob’s motivation to keep quiet is simply a weak excuse to force these two characters to fight even though it doesn’t make sense within the story.

Let’s say this confrontation was needed. In that case, can we at least make the fight interesting. There is little excitement, and it doesn’t take full advantage of the strengths and weaknesses of the men. We get a few fun moments with Wolverine punching Blob’s soft, bulbous exterior with little effect and Blob body slamming Wolverine across the room but little more. I commend the director Gavin Hood for wanting a different style fight than Wolverine stabbing people. Variety is always needed in an action flick to keep the audience from getting bored. What Hood offers as an alternative is short and looks as if the fight choreographers ran out of time and only gave him a few punches and a bland finish. When Blob went down, I was left wanting much more than what the film gave me. This was true for the rest of the action scenes, which were competently done but have little that will stick with you.

Wolverine and the Blob in a poorly executed fight that served little to no purpose in the story.

Wolverine and the Blob in a poorly executed fight that served little to no purpose in the story.

Cyclops’s and Gambit’s appearances don’t serve much purpose either. Gambit plays a part in the story and helps to progress it. It’s a role any other character could’ve filled, though. Cyclops does nothing to warrant his presence either. This is a similar problem that X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) suffered from. The filmmakers think a large number of mutants equals a good film. It doesn’t. Yeah, I want to see some of my favorite characters on screen. There needs to be compelling reasons, however, for those specific characters to appear. Some fan service is okay, but it should be limited to small doses.

Wolverine letting out his inner beast.

Wolverine letting out his inner beast.

The story, like the excessive amount of useless mutants, is uninspired. This is essentially a tale of revenge that attempts to delve into the character of Wolverine and explore his human and animal side. If only the movie actually cared about any of this to present it in a striking way or to go into it in any depth. Nothing new is added to the revenge element, which is executed in a stock fashion. I’ve also seen this type of character examination before. This wouldn’t be a bad thing but the script doesn’t even scratch the surface of this inner conflict between man and beast. What it does give us is overused “Let the beast out” and “No, you are not an animal” stuff. It’s so basic and boring that it renders this aspect of the plot almost superfluous. If you want a story about the civilized and uncivilized halves of a man, go read a good Hulk comic.

Hugh Jackman and the early days of Wolverine are what make the movie watchable for me. Jackman breaths life into the inconsistent and sometimes unclear script. He knows the potential of delving into Wolverine’s past and wants to deliver. We don’t get to see this time in Wolverine’s life very often in stories. While Wolverine is pretty gruff and still likes to smoke cigars, I enjoyed seeing him have a normal life with a normal job and a normal lover. It was nice to examine a time in his life where he had a lengthy past with plenty of demons but where he still managed to find happiness. This life and the man who lives it is essentially lost when Wolvie’s amnesia kicks in. It’s a tragedy that is hardly examined in the movie, but is fascinating to think about all the same.

The visuals and set work aren’t bad. I especially liked the period work on the opening montage. The film’s action also has plenty of energy, which helps make up for its less than memorable qualities.

A mixed review for a middle of the road movie that dips into the bad end of the scale. It’s worth seeing as a light entertainment that fills you in on the backstory of the most famous mutant in comics. Be warned that not all answers are satisfying (the reason behind Wolverine’s amnesia is stupid), the actions scenes are a bit lackluster, and there are too many mutants. I know it seems like I’m ragging a lot on this film. I am. But it really is an okay comic book film. Don’t expect too much from it, and you’ll leave happy.

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