After X-Men: The Last Stand left fans with a sour taste in their math, anticipation has been building for the next film, a prequel that looks at the early life of Logan, also known as the hairy, foul-tempered and clawed Wolverine. Unfortunately, X-Men Origins: Wolverine is a disaster, and makes the aforementioned film look like an Oscar-winner in comparison. That's impressive, but not in a good way.
In X-Men Origins: Wolverine, we begin with a young Logan in the mid 19th century, who following a violent situation realizes his true nature. Scared and in shock, he goes on the run, led by his older brother, Victor - the man that would become Sabretooth. The two run amok through various U.S. wars, but Victor shows signs of drifting to the dark side; his distaste for humans and willingness to kill on command begins to worry his more moral partner. Nevertheless, the two are recruited by the government through a man named William Stryker, who promises them that they can find their true calling by carrying out missions for him. But Stryker's motives are less than sincere, and Logan soon goes on the run.
Of all the comic book characters in existence, Wolverine is generally regarded as one of the more interesting and complex characters imagined. A man with a forgotten past whose age is undeterminable due to his regenerative abilities, he has centuries of experiences under his belt and a disturbing past filled with murder, deceit and scientific experiments. As such, this makes Wolverine the best candidate for an origins story, even though the basics were already revealed in X2: United, one of the best superhero films ever made.
Unfortunately, Wolverine has so many back stories that it's hard to know where to begin. Apparently, the screenwriters also didn't know where to focus or end, either, as the movie is a jumbled mess. Whereas they should have focused one on or two central, highly regarded stories from the comics, it appears as though they took a little bit of everything, shoved it all together and hoped that audiences wouldn't figure out that there was lots of glue and tape under the surface. We're not that stupid.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine moves along at a furious pace, but that's not a good thing. The opening moments, where we see Logan as a child and then a montage of he and Sabretooth fighting in just about every war you can imagine, could have been its own, two-hour movie. Instead, this is just a sign that the writers aren't going to worry about character development or focus, but rather just piec together a bunch of scenes that roughly fit together. What we get is a haphazard mess designed to showcase a bunch of mutants fans have been clamoring to see for years, including Gambit, Deadpool, The Blob and a few others. Unfortunately, these other mutants just serve as distractions to the story and are woefully underdeveloped; Gambit, who seems to have some extra powers not seen in the comics, isn't as interesting as one would expect (his Cajun accent seems to come and go, too), but fans will be absolutely devastated by what becomes of Deadpool.
Characters aside, though, the screenplay is just a cluster. The dialogue is largely embarrassing, though it could have been worse. More importantly, the storytelling lacks focus, depth and intrigue. Wolverine jumps from one moment to the next, rather than establishing strong relationships and characters to make the audience actually care. The relationship between Wolverine and Sabretooth is an interesting one, and not unlike the one between Obi Wan and Anakin Skywalker. And while this relationship is indeed a running theme throughout the movie, it never feels completed or developed; Sabretooth's turn to the dark side is never fully explained, and the love-hate emotions that exude from the bristly man are barely explored. Liev Schreiber turns in a strong performance as Sabretooth, but the screenplay prevents him from being the complex villain he could have been.
The screenwriters needed to drop many of the elements included and instead worry about developing their central character. Wolverine's tragic relationship with Kayla Silverfox should have been the crux to the story, and yet it shows up in passing for a few minutes with no real development. More importantly, I actually believe that Wolverine's back story was developed with much more intrigue and care in the first two X-Men movies than it was here, in a film devoted to him. We learned almost as much about him in those films, and we actually cared at the time. Hugh Jackman gives his signature role his all, but with so little depth provided by the writers, his hardest task is to flex his shiny muscles and yell at the sky a lot. And he does yell at the sky a lot.
The writing aside, no love can be given to others involved in the making of this film. Gavin Hood, who directed the excellent Tsotsi, clearly wasn't up to the task of a big-budget action movie. Wolverine is fast-paced, and yet it's boring; the action sequences are unremarkable and forgettable; the rest is just dull. Yes, it's a movie about Wolverine, so it is entertaining on a visceral level, but it could have been so much better. There are a few sequences that should have really been something, such as the scene where Wolverine is injected with adamantium and subsequently goes berserk, but they were done better as flashbacks in X2. Hood is unable to build up anticipation for any scene, and he seemed content with just taking us from one moment to the next without any set up or foreshadowing. The picture feels wholly amateurish.
The visual effects are also stunningly bad. In this day and age, and with a movie that must have a massive budget, the visual effects crew has to be embarrassed by the finished product. There are multiple scenes where I laughed out loud at how bad the visuals were. In one scene, where Wolverine is looking at his new adamantium claws for the first time, the claws look absolutely cartoonish. In another scene, Wolverine jumps out of a plane and skips along the surface of the water; I'm pretty sure I could paint better-looking water with yellow watercolor and a spoon.
If you thought X-Men: The Last Stand was bad, wait until you see X-Men Origins: Wolverine. The movie has its entertaining moments, but overall is an embarrassing piece of filmmaking. The summer movie season has officially started off with a fizzle.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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