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    « Tangled Viral Video | Main | Hilary Duff in Contention for Spider-Man Reboot »

    Marveling At The Past - 'X-Men Origins: Wolverine' (2009)

    "I was just the fool that got played."

    'X-Men Origins: Wolverine' represents everything that is wrong with prequels. We knew going in that it was a mistake to devote an entire film to Logan's origin. You were not only going to completely undermine and damage the first two X-Men movies and the time they spent developing the character and his back story but also create a film completely devoid of surprise, suspense or tension because we already know what happens.

    I resigned myself to that. I expected it. But 'X-Men Origins: Wolverine' also represents perhaps the point where the comic book movie genre has, for the most part, become truly stale. The film shows all the symptoms of a film series' fourth time at bat, the point where it has nothing original left to say and falls back on a proven but utterly creaky formula. It also throws in a fair few elements from other films of the genre and, in one case, downright plagiarism (that would be the scene where Logan is taken in by Ma and Pa Kent for five minutes, just for those of you who managed to purge that atrocity from your minds).

    I resigned myself to that as well. For the first hour or so, the film was what I expected it to be; lame, unoriginal, confused and dull. I was expecting to walk out of the theatre saying that the film was crap but 'Ghost Rider' and 'Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer' were worse……

    ..…I think the movie might have heard me at that point and cried back "you wanna bet?". Because the movie then proceeded to become as utterly stupid and retarded as those two films but topped off with the most atrocious special effects I’ve seen in a $100 million movie in a long time. At least Ghost Rider and the Silver Surfer looked good. Wolverine couldn’t even manage decent computer animation in a bathroom scene where he’s just looking at his new adamantium claws in a bathroom mirror. It isn't as though this was something that had not been done before. We've seen Wolverine's claws done quite successfully in three previous films, in large scale action sequences no less. It just defied belief.

    When it comes to comic book movies, I will admit that I can be quite shallow regarding my criticism at times. If the film provides that spectacle and fun then I am willing to forgive it a lot. What stunned me the most about 'X-Men Origins: Wolverine' was how damn cheap and small scale it is as a film. Director Gavin Hood, whether intentionally or not, stages the film as if it were a play being performed on stage with the most minimal of set decoration, backdrops and extras. The world of 'Wolverine' never feels alive or lived in. This only worsens towards the back half of the film when it starts to resemble a live action beat 'em up video game as Logan travels from one colourful location to another to fight a bizarre collection of characters. By the time Gambit gets pinned down, you are tempted to yell "YOU WIN" at the screen.

    Things could have been different. If we follow on from my article on 'X-Men: The Last Stand', where I re-concieved that film into an epic two parter which would have ended with Logan heading out onto the lonely road again, the Wolverine movie would have certainly been a sequel. Although I personally do not hold the Wolverine solo comic series penned by Frank Miller in as high regard as some, there is certainly something to be said for doing a solo sequel movie for the character. Wolverine, being a mutant whose power is to slice and dice people to pieces with razor sharp claws, is a rather ridiculous character to be constrained by a PG13 rating. If the studio were able to take a risk on making a lower budget, R rated Wolverine film with a completely different tone and style to the X-Men movies then we would certainly have something worthy on screen.

    The original Chris Claremont/Frank Miller Wolverine comics are not particularly dense. They are a simply story told well. Logan travels to Japan, falls in love with the daughter of a powerful crime lord and fights overwhelming odds just to be with her. Though Miller's intention is to re-mould the Wolverine character slightly to give him more of a Japanese sensibility, the story is really just a very cool excuse to see him fight ninjas, samurai and Yakuza. It is the perfect pitch for a straight forward action movie. It might actually be one of those rare cases of the source material working better on screen than on paper.

    By having the story set after the X-Men films, they would have had the creative license to do whatever they wanted. We would have felt for the character. We would have feared for his life. We would have no idea where his journey was going to take him. As a prequel story we are robbed of all of this. Wolverine is going to lose his memory. There is no point trying to create any tension over the possibility of Logan not surviving the adamantium bonding process as we know he does. There is no point having any final face off between Wolverine and Sabertooth as the latter's fate is already pre-determined and he must show up in X1. There is no point having Logan threaten to rip Stryker in half because he has to show up in X2. The moment Logan's love interest Kayla Silverfox shows up on screen she has a sign growing out of her reading 'dead meat' in big neon letters.

    In fact the reason the final act of the film is so painful to watch is because it finds itself without the freedom to tell its own story anymore and so constrained by the need to make sure the continuity of the series ties together. Even though the studio is intending to get back on our good side by setting the prequel sequel in Japan, those handicaps remain. Logan is still going to have to end up back in that shitty Canadian bar fighting people for money.

    The character himself is barely recognisable as the Wolverine that I know and that we have been told about in the previous X-Men movies. What glimpses we got of his backstory in the first film was perfectly satisfactory. When Bryan Singer delved back into it with the second, he wisely upped the ante for the character by bringing him face to face with his past and the realisation that he may not want to know where he came from or who he was beforehand. Stryker taunts that Logan was always an animal and he just gave him claws. Maybe there was the intention to really delve into that origin based on that tantalising line and show the real Logan. But that is not what we get. The Logan of 'X-Men Origins: Wolverine', or little Jimmy if you like, is an adorable little kid with sibling issues who endures several lifetimes of violence and kills countless people.....but only in the service of his country. As a result, those first two X-Men films are completely undermined.

    Even sweeping aside the film's problems simply functioning as a prequel, it is still a confused mess that does not know what it wants to be about. I love the fact that the filmmakers wanted to try and make an X-men movie that deals exclusively with character relationships and doesn't feel the need to explore concepts of prejudice, tolerance and teen angst once again. But you still have to pick a theme and stick to it. 

    The film initially appears to be the story of two brothers being torn apart by circumstance and a lifetime of violence, and the consequences which come as a result. It isn't particularly original but it would have held our attention. The film looses this angle after the first reel and by the climax you would be forgiven for forgetting that Wolverine and Sabertooth are brothers. It seems to have no bearing on the proceedings. The film tries for an angle of betrayal by love akin to 'Casino Royale' but there is too little of the romantic relation ship for it to be potent. The film tries to be a quest for revenge for a little while but ends up being so confused about who Logan is really angry at between Sabertooth and Stryker, not to mention the realisation that neither of those characters can be killed as they show up in future, rendering it pointless.

    The icing on the cake of course is the treatment of Deadpool. I don't know very much about the character myself but I think it is fair to say that when Wade Wilson is revealed at the climax of the film in his mutated form, we are supposed to be freaked out or at least mildly spooked. Instead we are just left scratching our heads about yet another character that is supposed to provoke a reaction from the audience but has not spent enough time on screen to resonate. We are, however, truly freaked out when Patrick Stewart shows up a little later as a as a soulless, dead eyed, expressionless CGI corpse.

    But you know something? After twenty articles and revisiting every Marvel movie, things like that don't hurt anymore. I'm not angry about a bad comic book movie made by Fox anymore. I'm just fed up. We deserve better. Whether we get it or not as Marvel Studios attempts to take greater control of their properties and Fox lets Bryan Singer back into the X-Men franchise, 'Marveling At The Past' will continue with each new release. I hope you'll join me.

    Reader Comments (4)

    You raise a lot of interesting and valid points. I take issue with your overall assessment, however. I enjoyed Wolverine. It was a decent movie. It wasn't a horrible movie, or even a bad one. It was ok. And these days, ok is about all we can ask for and have any reasonable chance of getting. When Hollywood continues to remake and re-remake and reboot past successes (and astonishingly even the failures) instead of coming up with something original, a movie like Wolverine, which while not exactly a fanboy's wet dream, fulfills what a number of moviegoers are looking for: a fun escape.

    With the overwhelming tendency to inject politics into just about everything, the little that was done in Wolverine didn't detract from the action and characters. They were fun. They were interesting (I suppose we may have to agree to disagree on that point), and I didn't feel like my money was wasted. In a modern moviegoing experience, that's really all I can expect.

    09-8-2010 | Unregistered CommenterCG

    Wolverine was even worse than the article makes it out to be. The second viewing isn't the charm when it comes to this particular film.

    09-8-2010 | Unregistered CommenterI SEE SPIDEY

    I'm of a split mind, Phil. I enjoyed the prequel, I didn't mind it at all. Would I have liked the Japan story a bit more? Yes- and it looks like folks will get such a tale very soon. But I actually thought this prequel made up for a lot of the problems by way of the acting department. Hugh Jackman was good, but Liev Schreiber was outstanding. Liev Schreiber nearly saved the film. I will also admit that I would have rather have seen Gambit's escape from Three Mile a focal point of the film and NOT the Wolverine origin story. Because that is one reason why the film could have been so much better. Does Gambit even join up for the final battle? Nope. It's a cool character, and his inclusion isn't entirely disappointing...but the character was hardly used at all.

    I did not hate the movie. But I wasn't on the edge of my seat either. That's where Gambit comes in, see, or where he should have. In You are right on the button when you say where we know where Logan will end up shortly after Japan. (Even if the promise of Silver Samurai is a treat) because that IS the main problem of this film.

    - Wolverine will fight another day.
    - Creed/Sabretooth will fight another day (at least until the first X-Men)
    - Even if Cyclops did not die and is resurrected for X4, he still survives until that film.
    - Stryker buys it in X2.

    That's four characters in an around the action, that we know will not die- that cannot die. It's not like Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom, where we know nothing seriously bad can happen to the main character, but all sorts of thrills and chills can happen to other characters. That's why Gambit was/is important. Same with Deadpool. And Blob. Hardly a thing was done with the characters. I was, however, warming up to Maverick (Wil.Ia.m) but it was a teport power which was not as impressive or memorable as Nightcrawler (still the best character overall in the entire film franchise)

    The film's lead actors and the conflict between the two leads was enough for me to enjoy the film. But that said, I think they missed the boat a great deal. I also think it's a good idea for the currently filming X-Men First Class to take note of that and have characters that could be in trouble (not counting Xavier and Lensherr)...but I really do think folks would rather have an X4.

    I Know it sounds like I agree with you that Wolverine is a pile of stink, but I also think that it didn't suck as bad as some say.

    09-12-2010 | Unregistered CommenterDarren J Seeley

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