Sunday, September 20, 2009

I wish I had the mutant power to erase this movie from my mind

X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)

At long last, the origin of the most popular mutant, the X-Man Wolverine, is revealed.

The result: mostly a big yawn.

Hugh Jackman is back as the Canadian superhero, but he doesn’t have a real focus here, like he did in X-Men 1 and 2. In those movies he had a great relationship as a sort of older brother/father figure to the young Rogue who was discovering her powers and her way in the world. In this film the center is the goofy love/hate relationship between Logan (Jackman) and Victor (Liev Schreiber), so that means the boys gnash their teeth and fight a lot.

The story comes across as very choppy, starting with a sloppy introduction to a young bedridden boy named James. The setting appears to be the 1800s but it’s very vague, not a good start to your movie. It turns out James is our Wolverine and he pops his bone claws for the first time when he sees his father killed by a man named Logan, who with his dying breath reveals that HE is actually James’ true father. Huh-wha? No time for answers as James takes off with his new half-brother Victor and the lads grow to become Jackman and Schreiber and they fight as bloodthirsty soliders in all our major wars - Civil, both WWs, ending in Vietnam.

They are soon recruited by Stryker (Danny Huston) who is running a secret military program using mutants such as the Logan Brothers to do dirty ops. This super SEAL team includes such crazy characters as John Wraith (played by, so should that be who’s a teleporter, and a wisecracking ninja - surely a contradiction - Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds).

Wolverine also gets a limp love interest named Kayla Silverfox (one of the sillier-sounding comic book names), played by a seemingly comatose Lynn Collins. Seriously Donny and Marie had a steamier chemistry between them than these two people. After she is killed by Victor, Wolverine spends the rest of the movie in a revenge-fueled fog, even agreeing to undergo a dangerous procedure devised by Stryker to bond the indestructible uber-metal adamantium to his bones (and his claws).

Playing almost like a very bland American, or I guess Canadian, James Bond movie, Wolverine traipses all over the place, his last op with Mutant Team Destructo ends in a massacre in Africa, after which he moves to Canada, then travels to New Orleans (he had a hankerin’ for Cajun food) and ends up in New York. But you really don’t get a sense of place, like the Bond and Jason Bourne movies do when they move from country to country. Wolverine could have been shot entirely in a soundstage and had the same bland effect.

The movie is pretty short, clocking in a 107 minutes. Jackman, who was the center of the X-Men movies, doesn’t hold much interest here, perhaps because the story is not very compelling. Aside from the opening credits bit where Logan and Victor fight wars as brothers and brothers-in-arms/claws, we get absolutely NO sense of what binds these two together. Victor has ALWAYS been a bloodthirsty monster; he even tries to rape a local woman during their time in the Vietman War (and that can't be the first time he's tried to do that). The only thing that they share is a bit of blood and the fact they both have claws, and that's not enough on which to hang a 175 year relationship. The same goes with Logan and Kayla, whom we first meet a few years into their relationship. We have no idea how they met or what attracted one to the other. Add to that the fact the two actors have no spark between them (I've seen more compelling chemistry on Flavor of Love).

The rest of the cast comes across as merely serviceable. No one stands out; they just read their lines and make their lame insults to each other. Where’s Bryan Singer when you really need him? The movie is just way too crowded with extraneous mutant characters. The movie is called Wolverine, and instead of truly focusing on him and his relationship with his girl and, more importantly with Victor, the story is chock full of John Wraith, the Blob, Agent Zero, Gambit/Remy LeBeau, Emma Frost, Deadpool/Wade Wilson, Cyclops, and on and on. (Fox Studios, if you want to sell action figures, you have to make a better movie!) And where's the fun of having a mutant, John Wraith, with the SAME teleporting power as X2's more popular Nightcrawler. He even does the SAME "teleporting while punching" routine that is Nightcrawler's trademark! How lame is that?

Are we a better audience for having seen this sloppy origin story? I’d say, No. The James Bond movies do just fine without us seeing that character’s complete origins. We don’t know what kind of family he came from, whether rich or poor. We don’t know what kind of childhood Bond had. We do know he was in the British Navy before becoming a spy, but we don’t need those intimate details – who trained him, what was his first spy mission (we do see his first “00” assignment in Casino Royale, but that wasn’t his first day in spy school). I have to mention the 1800s intro scene, which rather than clarifying things, muddles them something fierce. Wolverine starts out as James. (We get his last name Howlett from the end credits for the other actors in that scene.) A man named Logan claims to be his true father. Victor, who calls Wolverine "Jimmy" all through the film, is James' half brother. But his last name is Creed? Now I am a comic book fan and am familiar with much of the histories of the X-Men and Wolverine, but this information was presented in such a confusing fashion that I don't know what's what anymore, so I pity the poor audience member who isn't steeped in comic book lore as they are totally flummoxed by it.

The action scenes are loud and surprisingly dull, including the big motorcycle vs. helicopter set piece. They also almost uniformly screamed of green screen work. One sequence had me laughing out loud: at the end the captured mutants are led to the safety of a helicopter and we see the kids run across a leaf-strewn field WITHOUT disturbing so much as a leaf. The actors were obviously shot green screen and composited atop a background plate. It’s like they were walking on top of a photo. On top of that there are many shots of Wolverine's metal claws that look fake; they looked like plastic instead of gleaming metal. The CGI lighting must be off. They looked fine in the X-Movies, but they must have hired a different visual effects company to execute them for this movie.
To cap off all the lameness, the movie just ENDS. After the big edifice-crumbling finale at “the island” Wolverine just runs off and the scene fades out after a silly camera crane-up to the clouds move. A weak ending to an eXtremely weak movie.

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