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Sunday, May 3, 2009

REVIEW - "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" (2009)

In 2000, director Bryan Singer helped ignite the comic book superhero explosion in Hollywood with “X-Men.” In 2003 he raised the bar for these movies with the exceptional “X2: X-Men United.” By the time 2006 rolled around Singer had moved on and fans endured the terrible “X-Men: The Last Stand” as a final bout. By then I was only hopeful that someone might give the franchise a proper ending with a fourth film; but Fox opted to continue the series through the cheaper route of solo-prequels and “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” was born. The prospect of these origin tales is actually quite intriguing, but finding someone to tell them properly may be a problem. If the future X-Men Origin films are anything like “Wolverine” we may be in for a long, bumpy continuation of the franchise.

In 1845 a young James (aka, Logan, aka soon-to-be Wolverine) discovers the identity of his true father and, upon killing him for the murder of his adopted father, runs away with his brother Victor. (aka, soon-to-be Sabertooth) We get a montage of these two fighting various wars throughout history and then taken by Col. William Stryker who heads a team of mutants for special ops. James, who later goes by his last name Logan, decides the job is too bloody for him and leaves the team for a quiet life with his girlfriend Kayla. Of course her death forces him to rejoin Stryker and transform him in to the character we all know and love in the X-Men.

By all means the origin of Wolverine should be the most interesting part of his character, but by the end of the film I can’t help but think he was more fascinating in “X-Men” and “X2.” The film seems to fast-forward through the more interesting segments of his life. What makes Logan a more ethically empowered person than Victor? What’s happened all these years to make these men the characters they are? Furthermore, what was the impact of Logan’s real father suppose to impose? Other than setting Victor and Logan up as brothers it added no substance to their tortured background and is never mentioned again.

The fact is the movie didn’t want to spend time developing the characters. Instead of acting like two men that have seen over a century of battles we start with the action hero cliché of two men “tickled” by death. The movie is more interested in an extravaganza with mutants that didn’t make it in the first three X-Men movies. There is no regard for Logan’s 100+ years of life.

Meanwhile, his relationship with Kayla seems superfluous compared to everything he’s been through. Why does her death set him on fire? I find it hard to believe he hasn’t lost other love interests after being alive for over a century. Did he act this way over them? Did he even consider the consequences of getting in a relationship with someone that will age while he doesn’t? No, because in the end, Wolverine’s character is reduced to nothing but the world’s greatest excuse for absurd action sequences. He can’t die. He heals immediately. His bones are indestructible. Since when did creating a character impervious to everything become interesting? Isn’t that what we’ve been trying to change with Superman?

Even with the more interesting and vital segments of Logan’s back-story, the movie seems to fall short of delivering the drama. Wolverine’s flashback to his “Weapon X” experience in the early X-Men movies are far more traumatic than what “Origins” reveals. And the reason behind his memory loss is rather disappointing. I’m still trying to figure out how that makes sense. (If his brain heals, wouldn’t it only heal around the object? Wouldn’t it still be in his head? Why didn’t the CT scan in “X-Men” reveal anything?)

Can it get worse? Well I’ll put it this way: Add Sabertooth’s character reinvention (which doesn’t fit Tyler Mane’s previous portrayal in the slightest) and the hideous Deadpool-in-name-only, and you can almost forgive the poor CGI claws and terrible green screen work.

On the bright side the movie features some nice and admittedly surprising cameos that should put a smile on any X-Men fan. The action, while absurd, is pretty fun if you just sit back and turn your brain off. And, as always, Hugh Jackman's presence could make "Troll 2" watchable, so he has no trouble looking great onscreen. I suppose for the weak story it tells the movie can be pretty fun, but the X-Men franchise used to be more than just fun. I remember it used to be quite good. Alas, Wolverine is just more interesting with his memory gone—It’s just as well. I wish my memory were wiped clean of these events too.

*½ out of ****