'X-Men Origins: Wolverine' was released in May of this year (2009) and was directed by Gavin Hood ('Tsotsi'). With no really successful big budget action movies on his c.v., I was initially worried when Hood was announced to take the helm on the latest X-Men movie; a feeling largely derived from Brett Ratner's appalling work on 'X3'. For Hood, this is a gargantuan leap in terms of potential box-office draw so I was also surprised that he got the gig at all. I suppose that this may seem somewhat unfair but with Singer's outstanding portrayal of Logan et al. in the first two X-Men outings I know, that with the right director, this movie could really be something special.
The ever popular Hugh Jackman, a firm comic book fan favourite, reprises his role as the eponymous Wolverine/James Howlett (or Logan as he is later known). Back when a big screen adaption of the X-Men comics was just a pipe dream, this reviewer had always imagined Mel Gibson playing the most popular of the Marvel mutants. Now, with Jackman making his fourth appearance as the adamantium wielding Wolverine, I cannot imagine anyone else playing this iconic comic book character. Joining the lead man (who is the obvious big draw for this movie) are; Liev Schreiber ('Defiance') playing Sabretooth/Victor Creed; Danny Huston ('How to Lose Friends and Alienate People') playing Col. William Stryker; Will i Am ('Madagascar' and also is a member of the Black Eyed Peas - hence the funky name!) as John Wraith; Taylor Kitsch ('The Covenant') as Remy LeBeau/Gambit; Daniel Henney ('My Father') as Agent Zero and Ryan Reynolds as Wade Wilson/Deadpool.
When you look at the cast one things springs to mind, they are (for the majority) young, good looking and inexperienced. In fact two of the most experienced cast members (in terms of action blockbuster exposure) are Dominic Monaghan (Bradley) and Kevin Durand (Fred Dukes/Blob), who don't feature heavily. The terms “hot”, “sexy” and “summer blockbuster” immediately spring to mind when I think of this movie, which is not a good thing. With the gravity and experience of Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen no longer present, the entire cast seem very weak in comparison to the previous movies. In combination with the fact that a relatively unknown director was going to have to hold the entire project together, I was having very bad feelings about the whole idea of this Wolverine movie.
The movie kicks off with a pretty cool and innovative sequence wherein half brothers James Howlett/Logan (Wolverine) and Victor Creed (Sabretooth) form a bond in the mid 1800's and then survive and fight through all the major wars in history. It's obvious from this snazzy opener that these two men are (semi-)immortal, mutants and also savages. Given their battle prowess and seeming invulnerability, it's not long before they are recruited by Col. William Stryker to join his team of elite mutant soldiers, Team X; which comprises Deadpool, Wraith and all the “new” mutants. The team's missions include tracking down unusual compounds for scientific experimentation amongst other covert operations, whilst mowing down anyone who gets in their way. Logan does not seem to enjoy the mindless slaughter of civilians as much as his half brother and it's not long before he quietly disappears, leaving the depraved acts of Team X, Sabretooth and Stryker behind.
Six years later, in a secluded village in the Canadian Rockies, we see that Logan has found refuge from the horrors of his past life. Although he appears happy with his idyllic life, which is now complete with the love of his life; Kayla Silverfox (Lynn Collins), it's not long before his past comes a calling. Out of the blue his old pal Stryker appears and informs his ex-captain that someone has been killing off the members of Team X (which has now been disbanded). The mutant assassin is in fact Sabretooth. He eventually comes for Logan himself, overpowers him and leaves him for dead. The enraged Logan turns to Stryker for help, who introduces him to an indestructible metal alloy called adamantium, which uses to enhance Logan's abilities. It's not long before a few choice facts about Stryker's own tainted background surface, forcing him further down the path of mutant experimentation. He reaches new levels of obsession regarding the eradication of all mutant life (via his Weapon Plus programme); a pre-emptive strike on the war which he believes has been brewing for years. For the remainder we see how the berserker was unleashed and how the Wolverine was created as Logan continues to battle his half brothers blood lust while struggling to keep his own under control.
Hood has included plenty of new faces and some exciting action sequences but ultimately this movie also suffers the same fatal flaw as 'X1'; there's simply too many complex characters introduced at the same time. I understand that the movie aims to tell the story of Wolverine's early involvement with the Weapon X project but a lot of the characters are simply not given enough time to evolve on screen. As a result they simply become cannon fodder for the remarkably blood free killings which are prevalent throughout. This once again brings me on to my major gripe with these types of superhero movies, the lack of gore. Although these stories originate from sometimes dark and violent comic books, they are “tamed” to reach a wider target audience. The two main characters in this movie have large claws and use these to kill and maim but yet there is no carnage and not a whole lot of bloodshed. I mean when you plunge three feet adamantium claws into a body there's bound to be a horrific mess! There's also a notable difference between the adamantium infusion scene in this movie and the one featured in 'X2'. The latter was bloody and dark, while the former is not. It appears as though Hood has traded violence and gore for a few mild swearwords uttered by Jackman to maintain the PG-13 rating; a poor choice in this reviewers opinion.
Aside from the complexity of the characters, the introduction of some cool new mutants is always a sure fire way to rejuvenate an X-Men movie. One of my favourites is included here; the telekinetic card wielding Gambit. I have to say that I'm a little undecided about Kitsch's performance. He certainly looks like Gambit (although initially he looks like Kid Rock!) and conveys his cheeky charm but where the hell is the thick Cajun accent? His fight with Wolverine in this movie also seems somewhat unnecessary and contrived. The other major fan favourite addition in 'Wolverine' is Deadpool. I don't know a whole lot about Deadpool but I was disappointed that his uber-cool mask was not featured but I suppose this inclusion would have disrupted the “sexy” factor (by covering Reynolds's handsome visage)! This presumption is bolstered by the copious Jackson sans shirt shots/close ups (which includes a super cheesy shot of him emerging from a flaming wreckage!). Agent Zero was an enjoyable addition but the manner in which his powers are conveyed is a little weak and vague, which is the case for a number of the other mutants. I suppose this is where Stewart's dulcet voice over would have come in handy. Some liberties also seem to have been taken with the inclusion of Weapon XI. Feel free to correct me, my comic book history is a little rusty, but I don't think that there was a Weapon XI and I certainly don't think that its creation involved the destruction of one of Marvel's characters? There are a couple of other minor comic book discrepancies throughout, not to mention the fact that Sabretooth is reputedly Wolverine's father in the comics, but I digress.
The action content, one of the few strong points of the movie, is top notch and the pace is pretty relentless. The presentation is slick and stylish but is let down by some woeful CGI effects (such as some of the claw shots) and obvious green screen effects. There are a few quieter moments as Logan builds his relationship with Silverfox but for the most part this is a non-stop rollercoaster of action. The problem is that a lot of the action sequences feel somewhat regurgitated and samey. Sure, the helicopter chase sequence is well executed but it just feels like it has all been done before. There are also no novel applications of the mutants' powers or really innovative stunt set pieces. There are some pretty cool ones but they can be decidedly “ho-hum” at times, such as Wolverine using his claw to pull a handbrake turn during the helicopter chase sequence. In fact, the end nuclear power station fight sequence was the really only memorable fight (for me) in the whole movie. The cheese factor is also strong, with Deadpool slicing a bullet in half and Zero's mid-air reload, acting as prime examples. The plot is somewhat disjointed and while it revolves primarily around Wolverine, there are numerous sub-plots, giving the impression that this movie is merely a building block for further instalments. I also felt as though too much time was spent highlighting unimportant aspects of Wolverine's past, such as how he acquired his famous leather jacket or where he got his name; does anyone really care?
Jackman must be commended for his performance once again, not to mention his incredible work ethic to get into shape for this part. As the main character he convincingly pulls off some of the more tender moments and also adds nice characterisation to Logan, while also maintaining credible berserker rages. It appears as though Jackman also has the brains to match his brawn as he also produced this movie, earning a cool $25 million for his efforts. He is Wolverine and without him this movie would not have worked on so many levels. Schreiber is also convincing as the monstrous Sabretooth, having put on 15kg of muscle for the role. His acting largely consists of sneering but he is menacing enough to pull this off. His bulk, however, can make his movements seem somewhat clumsy on occasion, especially in comparison to his CGI-doppelganger, as it runs on all fours; lithe and sleek. Huston does a reasonable job with Stryker but he doesn't really compare with Cox's portrayal of the mutant hating colonel. Ryan Reynolds puts in a strong performance as the smart mouthed Deadpool and raised a few chuckles but overall the cast are decidedly average.
The movie suffered a horrendous blow when an unfinished copy was leaked on the internet. The movie was slandered, with Fox striking back to say that the movie was in an unfinished state and was not ready for audiences. But with many people now stating that the end product is not much better than the leaked unfinished version, I can see where they are coming from; such is the poor quality of some of the special effects. Sure the action factor and Jackman's (and a few other cast members) performance adds a layer of acceptability but ultimately this movie is not a whole lot better than 'X3'. The entire production just feels somewhat contrived and false (with some cheesetastic inclusions) and it just isn't as engaging as Singer's efforts. As comic book fans will be aware, somehow, Sabretooth tracks Wolverine down each birthday without fail and almost kills him. This movie certainly leaves the door wide open for such a plotline in a (guaranteed) sequel and possible spin-offs. This again indicates that Fox are more than likely milking this fat cash cow with no real consideration for the Marvel characters' reputation. It's clear from the interview segments in the additional supplements that the great Stan Lee has not seen this movie and I would be very interested to hear his opinion on this disappointing release. The fact rings through that no-one but a true comic book fan should be permitted to make another X-Men movie. The characterisation and history, which has been created over decades via the pages of Marvel, should not simply be crammed into a 90 minute movie, processed and then simply spewed out to audiences around the world. So, with The Green Lantern, Deadpool (who also features in an alternative ending post credits), Gambit and Magneto all getting their own movies in the next couple of years, here's hoping that Brian Singer's reported interest to work on another X-Men movie holds true. In the hands of Donner, Winter and the other major Fox producers, I'm not too sure that any of these will be really successful projects without a director who has real passion for the subject material.
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