REVIEW: “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” (**)

Posted by · 6:36 pm · April 29th, 2009

X-Men Origins: WolverineAfter weeks of bad press following an unanticipated work print leak and rampant speculation that the film was likely to be D.O.A., both financially and creatively, the best thing one can say about “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” is that it wasn’t as awful as expected.  But positivity hits a brick wall after that concession.

In a genre that only seems to spark when filmmakers come at the material from a place of passion, Gavin Hood’s prequel to Fox’s “X-Men” franchise comes across like an anonymous, factory-assembled piece of corporate product with no personality and no thematic virtue.

What it lacks in quality it doesn’t exactly make up for in spectacle, and while it is more centered on character than story, it nevertheless skims the surface where that is concerned.  A film that might have had something for everyone nearly offers nothing for no one.

Hugh Jackman dons the too-tight jeans and adamantium talons for the fourth time in nine years as James Logan, a hyper-healing mutant with a shady (and lengthy) past.  Screenwriters David Benioff and Skip Woods borrow and manipulate Marvel’s “Origin” mini-series at will, especially in the early portions of the film, to give a vague point of entry that neither gives the audience a nuanced portrait of the character nor Jackman the proper material in which to invest himself.

As a child, young James was apparently part of a broken family.  He learns his bully of a friend, Victor Creed, is actually his brother, though nothing further is given in the way of explaining the clearly awkward circumstance of this environment.  But it serves as a spring-board into the film’s most intriguing idea, an opening credits sequence that spans decades and wars (both domestic and global), Logan fighting for America with his brother at his side every step of the way.  (But I have to wonder: Who storms the beach at Normandy with a stogie hanging out of his mouth?)

As an adult Creed, actor Liev Screiber borrows what might have been left over from his similar black-sheep-sibling performance in Edward Zwick’s “Defiance.”  He has a bloodlust that Logan doesn’t share, an attitude of “us” against “them” that dovetails nicely with Col. William Stryker’s (Danny Huston, his talent wasted throughout) development of a military squad with “special privileges.”

Differences are had, lines are drawn in the sand and Logan leaves that world behind for a simple lumberjack’s existence in the Canadian Rockies.  But Creed’s final words to him serve to foreshadow: “We can’t just let you walk away.”

(from left) Hugh Jackman and in X-Men Origins: WolverineThe particulars of Stryker’s intentions are better left discovered in a darkened theater, but every powerful mutant has a hand to play in his scheme, a role to fill for this, a mad scientist in the guise of a military man.

The script itself clearly rushes through the motions, but Hood’s handling of the material is creatively criminal.  While Bryan Singer made the franchise sing, especially in the 2003 sequel “X2,” with personal elements and waves of an artistic mind’s wand, Hood comes across as a director-for-hire.  No passion, no sense of understanding of or excitement at the character and certainly no care for mythos and the material’s history.  What he has sliced and diced is a passable piece of entertainment, something far too harmless to be considered brazen.

The most intriguing aspect of the film for some viewers might be the chance to see Jackman tackle the role that made him with deeper meaning via an origin vehicle.  But instead he dials in yet another snarl-laced turn, seemingly confused as to his motivation at times.  Huston, while serving as a decent 15-years-back likeness for Brian Cox (who portrayed Stryker in Singer’s “X2”), he essentially barks and growls his way through a villainous part with no source of his mania apparent.  Hood and company might have considered dealing with Stryker’s son, Jason, rather than relegating him to an ice cube easter egg.

Schreiber is little more than serviceable as Creed, while his chemistry with Jackman isn’t an eighth of what it should have been to feel the tough love going on between the two.  The performance is hardly “bad,” but one nevertheless wonders how the Tony-nominated actor lost his way between “Talk Radio” on Broadway just over a year ago and this.

For the geeks, there are plenty of bonuses.  While the concept of packing the film to the gills with a wide array of secondary characters from the X-universe might have seemed like overkill from afar, each piece has its place in the puzzle here and never overwhelms the mixture.

Liev Schreiber in X-Men Origins: WolverineFor example, though an arbitrary fight sequence between his Gambit and Jackman’s Logan sullies Taylor Kitsch’s early moments (and though his Creole accent could use some dusting off), he works for what he’s called to do.  Ryan Reynolds, meanwhile, (though replaced later in the film by Scott Adkins as the film’s excuse for the character of Deadpool) is wasted in a role some say he might have been born to play.

Elsewhere, hip-hop artist is just…there…as teleporter John Wraith.  Kevin Durand (“3:10 to Yuma” and television’s “Lost”) is somewhat intriguing beneath a fat suit as The Blob.  And Scott Summers (Tim Pocock) even shows up as an introduction to the film’s overall plot point without muddying the continuity waters as bad as you’d expect.

Frankly, all the story elements are in the right place, linearly speaking.  Beyond the lingering confusion as to how you bridge the gap between Schreiber and “X-Men”‘s Tyler Mane, “Wolverine” makes for a solid lead-in to the franchise with nary a piece out of place, which of course reveals the fatal flaw of the film: contrivance above substance.

And who can be surprised when we’re talking about the fourth entry in a lucrative studio franchise?  Then again, dual sets of philosophies seem to continuously be at odds where translating comics to the screen is concerned.  Some seem to embrace the material as a pool of potential good for more than selling action figures while others apparently prefer to get in and out as quickly as possible and with as little hard work as necessary.  And in the final analysis, there’s something to be said for the entertainment value of each.

You know what you prefer.

→ 24 Comments Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Filed in: Reviews

24 responses so far

  • 1 4-29-2009 at 6:53 pm

    AmericanRequiem said...

    Damn, we all saw it coming though, ya Ill see it still

  • 2 4-29-2009 at 7:29 pm

    brian said...

    I saw Talk Radio on Broadway and Liev Schreiber blew my mind.

  • 3 4-29-2009 at 8:00 pm

    anonymous said...

    i have a feeling that most superhero films are going to be underwhelming from here on out. the “action movie formula” just doesn’t cut it after the dark knight hit the scene, and the sooner studios realize that, the better.

  • 4 4-29-2009 at 8:06 pm

    Pete said...

    I think The Dark Knight has made it a hell of a lot tougher for upcoming comic book movies. It is really hard to measure up to. Christopher Nolan is just a superior filmmaker to all who have tried their hand at comic book films.

  • 5 4-29-2009 at 8:23 pm

    Pete said...

    I’m not a comic book expert, but can someone tell me why every comic book film i’ve seen has this glossy look and is riddled with CGI? All the comic book films i’ve seen have this glossy look and are completely uninteliigent and are not very authentic; the acting is bad, the dialogue even worse; in a way, awful when compared to other good films. The only exception to me, are the Christopher Nolan Batman films – they are so beautifully made – very little CGI, and a lot of character development and emotionality; just plain good cinema. Why has nobody made a comic book film with the same quality as DARK KNIGHT? It’s a mystery to me. Maybe lack of talent? I don’t know. Roger Ebert once said that X-Men 2 is a movie made for and by people with short attention spans. I would agree. If Chris Nolan is the only filmmaker raising the bar in this genre, it’s gonna be a long time before anyone takes this genre seriously.

  • 6 4-29-2009 at 8:35 pm

    Speaking English said...

    You confused me, Pete. You want a great, smart comic book film that’s not “The Dark Knight?” There was this film called “Spider-Man 2″… which, I think is an even better film than Nolan’s.

    And what you said about Ebert doesn’t really make sense, since he liked “X2.” Maybe you’re referring to what he said about the first one?

  • 7 4-30-2009 at 1:56 am

    brian said...

    A comic book film that is also great cinema? Other than Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, I would put forth Batman and Batman Returns, Spider Man, and to a lesser extent Spider Man 2, X2, and Superman. And the Shadow. Alec Baldwin kicks ass.

  • 8 4-30-2009 at 2:00 am

    Jonathan Spuij said...

    Batman has had very few real fantasy elements thus far. Thus it can be situated in a more real world that with more realistic characters.
    A lot of others deal with special powers and abilities that are not so everyday.

    Anyhow, the movie offers only mildly geeky pleasures but is a frustrating studio-film pur sang.

  • 9 4-30-2009 at 5:04 am

    Jack Martin said...

    Am I the only one who thought that this film was awesome? The action sequences were great, the character development handled very well(for Wolverine at least, but I agree with the whole Deadpool thing – I think he could have used a bit more screen time) and Hugh Jackman is the balls here. And it’s a LOT better than X-Men 3, which I thought was quite shit (and not just because of the director being the guy who did the freaking Rush Hour movies). A very enjoyable film.

  • 10 4-30-2009 at 6:16 am

    Mike said...

    Ther is no need to use The Dark Knight as an excuse for Wolverine’s shortcomings. The movie is just plain awful.

  • 11 4-30-2009 at 6:40 am

    JAB said...

    I am sorry, but Spider-Man 2 is not not not not not not not not not not not a good movie.

  • 12 4-30-2009 at 6:55 am

    the world said...

    Movies can’t be properly compared to comics(nor books) because there’s the element of the reader’s own creativity to read between the lines that is not in movies. It’s actually the director’s own vision pushed upon you instead of your own mind wandering.

    As one of the ones who saw the leaked version, I’m not not surprised by the movie reactions even with the fx properly finished. The movie stalls in the opening scenes and never gets out of 2nd gear. An Reynolds was indeed born to play deadpool, what a waste! Even the animated feature of Wolverine Vs Hulk was sooo much better than this giant budget live feature.

  • 13 4-30-2009 at 8:28 am

    Liz said...

    JAB, I completely agree. I haven’t really liked any of the “Spider-Man” movies. They always seemed so bland and cartoonish (in a bad way) to me.

  • 14 4-30-2009 at 1:58 pm

    tony rock said...

    the great: Dark Knight, Spider-man 2, X-men 2, Superman, Batman Begins

    the good: Spider-man, X-men, Batman, Batman Returns, Superman II, Iron Man

    the mediocre: Hulk, Incredible Hulk, Superman Returns, Watchmen

    the bad: all the rest…

  • 15 4-30-2009 at 2:02 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    “Christopher Nolan is just a superior filmmaker to all who have tried their hand at comic book films.”

    On behalf of Ang Lee, I beg to differ.

  • 16 4-30-2009 at 3:18 pm

    Jonathan Spuij said...

    Jack Martin, are you feeling lonely yet?

    Oh and I love Spiderman 2 as well. One of the most perfect popcorn movies ever.

  • 17 4-30-2009 at 5:19 pm

    Bill said...

    “Christopher Nolan is just a superior filmmaker to all who have tried their hand at comic book films.”

    Ang Lee, Peter Jackson, Steven Speilberg, Kenneth Brannagh, Bryan Singer, Guillermo Del Toro.

    Hm. Quite a list.

  • 18 4-30-2009 at 6:59 pm

    tony rock said...

    True, Nolan is not the only good or great filmmaker to have made a comic-book film…I would add Raimi and Burton to that list but that’s my opinion. However, Spielberg and Jackson? To my knowledge they haven’t been involved with any comic-book property…unless you count Lord of the Rings and Spielberg’s producing credit on Transformers. But yeah, those don’t really count as comic-book superhero movies.

  • 19 4-30-2009 at 7:00 pm

    Ringo said...

    Tony: Tintin. Part one is Speilberg, Part two is Jackson. They both produce.

  • 20 4-30-2009 at 7:09 pm

    Bill said...

    Ringo, I was referring to Tintin, which not only involves those two as directors but Guillermo del Toro, Stephen Daldry and David Fincher as consultants and Keminski as the lighting director.

    I also left out Edgar Wright who’s directing Ant Man and wrote Tintin.

    The real question is not whether quality directors do involve themselves in comic book fare, but whether they should. Are they all doomed to what befalls the Gavin Hoods and Marc Fosters, who trade prestige for a paycheck and bastardize their reputation? Or can they find the art that Christopher Nolan and David Gordon Green have found in mainstream films? Are we punishing the talented to serve us in the shallow waters of comic book films because of their fiscal needs? (Speilberg must still be stinging from Madoff). Whether or not this indulgence is a waste, it appears to be the American way. Hollywood runs on dollars. I suppose we can only sit back and enjoy the product of these creative minds, although maybe not in their best application…

  • 21 4-30-2009 at 8:14 pm

    Rekha said...

    Kinda enjoyed the film. Although not at all up to the mark as I had expected.

  • 22 10-22-2009 at 7:50 am

    Coder55 said...

    On the view defended here, there is no deontological case for holding racial partiality to be intrinsically morally wrong when it does not proceed from animus or prejudice against those who are singled out for inferior treatment. ,

  • 23 10-23-2009 at 5:44 am

    No_limits66 said...

    This invests the opposition, and its struggle to replace the government, with apparent legitimacy, while undermining the legitimacy of the government under attack. ,