A film review by Craig J. Koban
X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE
2009, PG-13, 104 mins.
2009, PG-13, 104 mins.
Wolverine: Hugh Jackman / Sabretooth: Liev Schreiber / Kayla
Silverfox: Lynn Collins / Gen. Stryker: Danny Huston / Wraith:
Will.i.am / Deadpool: Ryan Reynolds
There are two main problems with WOLVERINE (or, to quote it’s full and unnecessarily wordy title - X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE).
Firstly, the character – the creation of artist John Romita Sr. and writer Len Wein, which first appeared in Marvel Comics’ The Incredible Hulk# 180 in October of 1974 – has always been more appealing as a largely enigmatic figure; you were never really altogether sure of his mysterious origins, which added a level of tense intrigue to him. Sometimes, characters are more intrinsically compelling for what we don’t know about them and Wolverine is no exception.
Secondly, for a massively hyped “origin” film, WOLVERINE tells
us astonishingly little about this X-Men member, at least not that much
more than what we have already pieced together form the last three X-MEN
When I was in my heyday of comic book collecting and reading (ages 12-18), I always thought that Wolverine (aka Logan, aka Weapon X) was an undeniably cool looking character, which is part of the reason that Empire Magazine recently rated him the 4th Greatest Comic Book Character of all Time (Wizard Magazine, a comic publication, rated him the single best comic book character ever in May of 2008). I mean, just consider his geeked-out awesomeness: he’s a mutant, he’s 175-years-old, he possesses animal-like senses and a barbaric ferocity in battle, can heal himself from just about any wound, disease, or toxin (hence, his super human lifespan), and, swiftest of all, his skeleton is made of an indestructible metal called adamantium, making him a literal man of steel.
almost forgot…he can retract three sets of mini-machetes from both
clenched hands, likes smoking cigars, and has a cheerful and rebellious disdain for
guy is James Cagney with claws.
appeal here, as stated, is easy to understand (plus, to many of us Canuck
readers, he remains the only really cool Canadian-born super hero).
Wolverine was also typical of the type of rigid, anti-authority heroes that
emerged in popular fiction in the 1980’s and onwards.
The red, white, and blue patriotism represented by the eagle
scout that was Superman was becoming blasé, which allowed characters like
Wolverine – with his brooding intensity, teeth clenched vigor, and
willingness to use lethal force – to blossom.
That, and he looked really good on the comic panels – he
is the ultimate poser comic book hero.
younger reader in me loved him, but as I got older I started gravitating
towards comic personas that had a more complex and fascinating psychological edge (like
Batman). As an adult I think
that Wolverine works better almost as an elusive and captivating secondary
character. He was enjoyable in
the previous X-MEN movies largely because he was part of a larger
ensemble and that we never really had a fully clear idea of who he was and
where he came from. Now, with
this X-MEN ORIGINS film, we have a story that pains itself to explain all of the
ambiguous aspects of his back-story, but all this does, as stated, is to
act as a counter-productive weight that holds this character down.
By the end of the film, WOLVERINE certainly fills in the
blanks, but it ironically does not really flesh out this mutant like it
aspires to. Instead
of offering up more layers of intrigue and allure to the character, the
film gives us a lot of dull exposition, routine action sequences, tired
action film clichés, and – yes – a whole lot of posing by its title
character. The end result is
a film that’s all surface sheen without anything really flourishing on
film’s opening is a categorical letdown.
Great origin super hero films demonstrate patience in slowly
developing the hero’s early past (like SUPERMAN,
BATMAN BEGINS, and IRON
MAN), but WOLVERINE does not allow itself time to segue into its story.
The film begins in 1845 in the Canadian Northwest Territories as we are
introduced to two brothers, half brothers to be precise, James Howlett (Troye
Sivan) and Victor (Michael James Olson) whom are both mutants (how there
are is never explained; funny, I thought this was an origin picture?).
James has to endure the unthinkable by seeing his father, John
(Peter O’Brien) brutally killed by Victor’s dad, Thomas Logan (Aaron
Jeffrey). Showing some of the
berserker rage that his future adult self will later display, young James kills
the elder Logan with his mutant bone claws, but he discovers
that he actually killed his biological father.
This leads to the two distraught boys quickly fleeing the home. This whole opening sequence barely lasts minutes when it
should have simmered more slowly and observantly.
We then get whisked way into the future where we see the two boys as adults, James (Hugh Jackman) now goes by the name of Logan (the film is sketchy here as to why) and his brother (Liev Schreiber) are shown fighting throughout the largest military campaigns of the American Civil War, World Wars I and II, and eventually the Vietnam War. All of this is swiftly shown in a wonderfully executed opening credit sequence, but no matter how polished and well orchestrated it looked, this montage left me asking too many obvious questions: Like, for instance, if the brothers are Canadian, then why are they participating in American-centric conflicts (the Civil War and Vietnam)? My college History degree informs me that Canada had no direct part on the battlefront of those two wars, so as to why the mutant brothers would bother with them is never fully explained.
is an origin movie, right?
Anyhoo’, Victor demonstrates some grisly, animalistic behavior in war (he, like Logan, is super strong and quite invulnerable), but it takes one bad turn when both of them end up on the receiving end of a firing squad (Victor killed a superior officer after he attempted to stop him from raping a very young Vietnamese girl). Of course, no one on the firing squad has been informed that these two are impervious to gunfire as they have shown that they can’t be killed in battle, as seen by hundreds of eye witnesses.
they do get shot and survive, but are thrown in military
jail and are soon
bailed out an army General named William Stryker (the always commanding Danny
Houston), who wants the pair to join his new “elite” team of people with “unique” talents. After
a series of missions where Stryker’s methods are too much of an immoral
burden for Logan to bare, he quits the team and exiles himself to a serene
life as a lumberjack in Northern Canada, where he lives with girlfriend,
Kayla (the beautiful Lynn Collins). Of
course, one just can’t leave Stryker’s top secret military group, and
It soon appears that both Stryker and Victor have discovered Logan’s
whereabouts, which has calamitous effects on his love life, not to mention
that it acts as a catalyst for his really, really mean behavior that the
character is legendary for.
film also shows, as did the first two X-MEN films (albeit much more
clearly in X2: X-MEN UNITED) how Logan decided to become a guinea pig in
Stryker’s super secret, billion dollar medical experiment that injected
adamantium into his body, essentially creating the “Wolverine” as we
know him. Yet, all this elaborate sequence does is explore areas we are
already keenly familiar with. And,
yes, the film does offer up a laundry list of cherished comic book cameos by
other popular characters (like Remy LeBeau as Gambit, Fred Duke as The
Blob, and Canada’s own Ryan Reynolds as the shockingly lethal Deadpool),
but all are never really developed as characters: they are essentially
window dressing for an already dull script.
Reynolds in particular - who does seem to have an enjoyable
level of mischievous and snarky charisma playing his mutant - is curiously
vacant through much of the film, despite a heavy preponderance of
advertising him as a prominent character.
as far as being an origin film, Wolverine never feels revelatory.
What’s perhaps even more disappointing is that the film had me
asking so many questions (which is a no-no for a prequel).
Can someone please explain to me why Logan, despite being an
immortal, decides to age up until the point he appears to be a adult in
Hugh Jackman form and then never apparently ages any further (he looks the
same as he did in the Civil War as he does in the film’s present).
This also confronted me to ask myself questions, like how much can I
be truly involved in a story about a lead character that, under most
circumstances, can’t die? There is not much tension that can be derived from a
character that is death proof.
WOLVERINE regrettably sidesteps the sobering themes that made the X-MEN
pictures so involving, like the political and cultural struggle between
humans and mutants. Much like
the best of STAR TREK, the X-MEN films set their fantastical characters
and otherworldly stories within the framework of motifs and themes that
resonate with a familiarity. The
alienation of mutants as fringe elements by an uncaring society is an
utterly lost theme in WOLVERINE, which is more in love with placing its
hero in perfunctory action and battle sequences where he is forced to
slice and dice his way through adversaries, all while looking as kick-ass
as possible. Wolverine is a poser, to be sure, but the character and story do
too much posturing for their own good.
are some elements that I liked in the film. Some of the individual
performances hit the right notes, as is the case with the terribly brief appearance of Reynolds' Deadpool
and, as far as villains go, Danny Houston can play duplicitous
and vile bad guys in his sleep.
Liev Schreiber, an actor that one may not initially think as being
perfect for this type of material, gives his role of Victor an eerie,
underplayed detachment. A
weaker actor would have hammed in up to eye rolling levels, but Schreiber makes
Victor stand out more by doing less.
Finally, we have
Jackman, a bonafide leading man (see AUSTRALIA) and an
underrated actor (see THE PRESTIGE) who effortlessly
plays Wolverine for the fourth time, and there is little doubting his
snarling charisma, gnarly charm, and ferocious energy. He certainly
like the living embodiment of that raging and scowling character that
occupied countless splash pages in Marvel Comics.
rest of the film looks good too. WOLVERINE
was directed by Gavin Hood, a South African that made the Oscar winning
TSOTSI in 2005 and also made 2007’s ambitious, but somewhat misguided RENDITION.
He does a decent job of helming WOLVERINE's high octane action
sequences (one in particular, which involves a military helicopter and the
hero attacking it while on his motorcycle, is exhilarating, as is a
chaotic three way battle atop of a nuclear reactor at Three Mile Island near the
film’s climatic conclusion). The
visual effects are also solid, if not a bit inconsistent (oddly enough,
this film comes nine years after the first X-MEN film, but Wolvie’s
adamantium claws seem even more obviously the product of feeble-looking CGI effects
ever). Hood captures the
escapist spectacle of Logan’s comic book allure, but he fails to embody the film with any
dramatic soul. WOLVERINE
has oodles of machismo and brawn, but it never sinks its teeth into what really makes
its characters tick.
ORIGINS: WOLVERINE was not a instant summer blockbuster picture that was void of
production problems: Hood
apparently clashed with 20th Century Fox regarding creative
control, which resulted in several re-shoots and, as some insiders have
insisted, eventually led to Executive Producer Richard Donner stepping in
to “advise” Hood on some of the action sequences (maybe “advise”
is an industry euphemism for “taking over in the director’s chair”).
Then there was that much publicized leaking of the work print of
the unfinished film on the Internet, which is essentially, in my mind, not as large of an
issue as many think (the film will open huge, regardless of those who have
seen it already).
all of this does not matter, because to die-hard comic fans and X-Men
completionists, the film is essentially critic proof.
However, that does not absolve it from being largely
underwhelming and, let’s face, kind of unnecessary, especially
considering that it (a) fails at developing a character that
worked better when his origins were mystifying and (b) as far as carrying
a film, Wolverine is not all that interesting enough to require further
embellishment. Now, my personal
choice for an X-MEN ORIGINS movie would have been Magneto. You
may recall that he was a figure
that experienced racial bigotry and intolerance during the Holocaust and then later, as a
metal controlling super mutant, would exact his own brand of ethnic
cleansing by trying to rid the world of the humans that want to place him
in bondage. He becomes a
sociopathic villain not because he is amorally vicious and insane, but
more because he harbors emotional childhood wounds that he wants humanity
to feel tenfold.
Now...does that not sound like a much more satisfyingly compelling origin film? In my mind...absolutely...but I guess that the image of a shirtless and sweaty Hugh Jackman has more mass marketing appeal than that of Ian McKellan.
Oh well. Not all mutants can be posers.