Tuesday, May 05, 2009
In Theaters: X-Men Origins: Wolverine
From the opening scene, in which a young boy in flannel pyjamas cries out “NOOOOO!” and stabs a man with bone claws embedded in his hands, you can rest comfortably knowing what kind of movie X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE will be. It’s not good by any means, in fact it hovers quite near outright bad. But it’s the rare funny kind of bad, not so close to good that it frustrates you but not so utterly horrible that it’s hard to bear. The first theoretically solo screen outing for Marvel’s immortal cash cow is comfortably dumb, and in a sense captures the unwarranted seriousness and bizarre plotting that have dogged the character’s comic incarnation ever since he became a draw.
Hugh Jackman plays James Howlett, later Logan, later Wolverine, a mutant with healing powers that allow him to survive just about anything and keep him and similarly mutated brother Victor (Liev Schreiber) alive through the Civil War, both World Wars, and Vietnam, which is sort of interesting because I’m almost sure they’re Canadian. They’re recruited by General William Stryker (Danny Huston) for a special covert group of mutant soldiers doing unsavory black ops, but flees when Victor and company massacre the inhabitants of a village in Nigeria. Years later he’s living in the mountains with a gorgeous girlfriend (Lynn Collins) and working as a lumberjack, when Victor shows up again and for vague reasons kills said girlfriend. Wolverine signs up with Stryker again to get revenge, and his powers are augmented by a skeleton of unbreakable adamantium, with claws to boot. He overhears that Stryker plans to wipe his memory and ship him to “the island”, so he breaks out and triggers a manhunt that eventually leads him to some old partners and the revelation that Stryker and Victor are working together to capture mutants for a program to build the ultimate mutant soldier under U.S. control, or something.
As twisted as the overall story is, it’s almost impossible NOT to predict where a given scene is going to lead. The script is composed of at least 75% action film clichés, and the film makes no attempt whatsoever to disguise the recycling. The dialogue is particularly ripe with this sort of thing, all sorts of macho posturing about blood and vengeance and badassery that becomes giggle-inducing after a while.
It helps that Hugh Jackman is an actor who’s apparently game for anything. After three movies he’s comfortable with the part of Wolverine, obviously, and he jumps into it with enthusiasm. There’s even a bit of comic exasperation in his performance, Wolverine being constantly betrayed, knocked around, having things fall on him, etc. Schreiber plays off him well, but strangely Victor gets sidelined in the film’s final act.
Now, I suppose you’re wondering what, for me, the practicable difference is between a bad but enjoyable film and one I’ll legitimately defend. I gave a good review to TRANSFORMERS, after all. But TRANSFORMERS knew it was kind of silly, while WOLVERINE comes across as almost entirely straight faced. There’s comic relief, of course, and a scene where Wolverine battles the corpulent Blob (Kevin Durand) in a boxing match approaches a kind of kitsch brilliance, but we’re apparently expected to take most of the amateur melodramatics seriously, and the filmmakers show too much restraint for the picture to realize its full camp potential.
A certain inconsistency dogs the action and effects sequences. Some of the effects work is quite good, some is not great but acceptable, and some of it was clearly done the day before release. None of the action scenes really stand out, although the climactic fight has a few good shots in it. The direction is sometimes quite sloppy and pedestrian, and last minute editing seems to have cut out most of Ryan Reynolds’ performance as Wade Wilson / Deadpool, which is a shame. Speaking of editing, I’m fairly sure that we don’t hear Wolvie’s girlfriend’s name until some time in the final act. (It’s Kayla.)
X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE may be so slipshod it makes THE LAST STAND look like a polished masterpiece by comparison, but if you know what to expect going in it’s hard to dislike the film too much. Honestly, the convoluted backstory and enforced edginess of the Wolverine character/brand made any solo effort likely to fail from the start, and an effort that fails entertainingly is probably not the worst we could do. I’m disappointed that it didn’t turn out to be a musical, but that was too much to hope for.
Based on characters created by various persons within Marvel Comics
Screenplay by David Benioff and Skip Woods
Directed by Gavin Hood