This was supposed to be the dawn of the New Great Age of comic book adaptations. Marvel Studios brought us Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk, and DC/Warner Bros. gave us The Dark Knight. Then, sadly, Lionsgate delivered the one-two sucker punches of The Punisher: War Zone and The Spirit.
Now, with the release of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, it’s my sad job to officially welcome you back to the days when studios churned out crappy comic book movies.
Actually, the film isn’t quite that horrible. It’s better than say, Daredevil…although Wolverine‘s post-credits “surprise” owes more than a little to the one that followed the end titles of that rancid Ben Affleck vehicle. The problem with X-Men Origins: Wolverine is that it’s a prequel–and therefore subject not only to handling the double duty of trying to keep an audience enthralled with revealing “new” aspects of the title character, but also connecting the dots between said aspects and what has already been revealed about him in the three X-Men films so far. Unfortunately, director Gavin Hood (Tsotsi, Rendition) and writers David Benioff (Troy, The Kite Runner) and Skip Woods (Swordfish, Hitman) aren’t up to the job. The way the story’s developed, it seems as if Hood and friends sort-of know the details of Wolverine’s true origin in the comics, meshed together things they liked with their own ideas, and then chose to toss in a bunch of other mutants fans might like, because hey–who knows when’s the next time they get to play with such beloved characters as Gambit, the Blob and Scott Summers?
The story begins in 1845, where a young Victor Creed (Michael-James Olsen) stands at the bedside of his sickly best friend James (Troye Sivan). Victor’s father comes a’callin’, apparently drunk, and kills James’ father. Horrified and enraged, James’ mutant power kicks in and sharpened bones extend from his knuckles. Without thinking, he attacks Victor’s father and kills him, just as the man reveals that he only arrived to tell James that he’s his true father, which makes James and Victor brothers (not in the comics, though!). Since Victor had no love for his old man anyway, he asks James if he can run, since terrified residents are on their way, presumably to kill the two freakish boys (Victor has sharpened talons for nails and a mean streak within him that will only grow as he gets older). James is miraculously well enough to run, and the two head off into the night as the opening credits begin, showing them as adults moving through history, fighting in different wars. While this montage is very effective in showing that both men don’t age very much due to their regenerative powers, and that their feral natures–especially Victor’s (now played by Liev Schreiber)–have taken firmer hold over them, the quick-cut scenes also demonstrate one of the many problems to come with telling the tale of Wolverine’s origin.
I honestly believe that part of the problem with this movie is that it isn’t a film made by Marvel Studios. Yes, their name is above the titles, but that’s only because the character is ultimately owned by Marvel Comics. However, before Marvel branched out into the world of filmmaking, they sold the rights to several of their characters to various film studios, Fox among them. Fox hasn’t had a very good track record recently for releasing decent films, whereas Marvel has done the job right thus far on their own, and seems committed to staying the course. If Wolverine had been a Marvel-produced film, then closer attention might have been paid to specific aspects of his origin, such as the fact he fought alongside Captain America during World War II. Marvel has been making a big deal about the impending re-intro of the Captain to the big screen in 2011, even going so far as to have a deleted scene on the Incredible Hulk DVD showing the Captain’s accidental release from the Antarctic by the green goliath. How much cooler would Wolverine‘s opening credits have been, if a shot were included of an adult James, rifle in hand, protecting the back of a red-white-and-blue figure who’s got his hands full busting the jaws of several Nazis? What a missed opportunity.
That’s an ongoing problem with the story–it’s full of missed opportunities, while going forward with grabbing hold of the wrong ones. After an incident in Korea where Victor kills a superior officer and James (now played by Hugh Jackman, who also produced…and if you’ve seen Deception, you’ll know immediately what a problem this is) defends him, they’re set up before a firing squad and “executed”. To the dismay of the army, the two men survive, and are approached in their jail cell by William Stryker (Danny Huston). The character should be well familiar to X-Men fans, as he played a significant role in the second part of that trilogy. Stryker offers them a chance to join a unique team he’s putting together, supposedly working in the U.S. government’s best interests…yet after accepting, it soon becomes clear they’re nothing but mercenaries, working towards Stryker’s own unseen goals. James quits, heading off to Canada where he shacks up with local hottie Kayla Silverfox (Lynn Collins) until the day Sabretooth–Victor’s new codename–shows up and kills her, supposedly as part of his revenge against all the former teammates that left Stryker’s group. Desperately wanting revenge, James joins up with Stryker once more to accept biological enhancements which will make him indestructible and able to kill Victor, whom he’s never been able to beat before.
The plan goes well and James has unbreakable adamantium grafted to his bones. Yet upon hearing a hint of betrayal from Stryker, James–now with the codename Wolverine, based upon a long-winded story Kayla told him earlier–goes beserk, killing several people in the lab and vowing vengeance upon Stryker, as soon as he deals with Sabretooth. After escaping Stryker’s base, Wolverine somehow ends up in Smallville, discovered naked as a baby Kal-El by Ma and Pa Kent (Julia Blake and Max Cullen, standing in for Phyllis Thaxter and Glenn Ford from Superman: The Movie), who take him in on their farm, calling him “son” the entire time, and even bestowing upon him the very insignificant jacket he wore in the first X-Men film. Seriously. The comparisons are inevitable, which takes away much of the gravitas of what Wolverine has thus far lost. As we are treated to horrendous CGI claws as he sits in their bathroom, examining his new tools of destruction and accidentally chopping their sink in half before sitting down to dinner with his makeshift family, the laughs–both intended and accidental–begin piling up. It’s not until after a chase with a helicopter that was far more thrilling in the trailers than it is here, that things start to get serious again.
When Bryan Singer crafted the first two X-Men films, he at least tried to imbue his characters with a sense of the possible…how such powers and personalities might be able to exist and work in the real world. Once Brett Ratner got his grubby mitts on the franchise with X-3, the laws of real world physics and probability went out the window, and director Hood is quite happy to continue along those lines. As Wolvie becomes aware of Stryker’s real plans, and the list of guest-starring mutants–including a young Scott Summers (Tim Pocock) and Gambit (Taylor Kitsch)–continues piling sky high, more open battles occur in bars and the back alleys of New Orleans. Gee, weren’t mutants trying to keep their abilities and identities secret, out of fear of a human populace that hates them? Oh, wait…prequel! The only thing missing here besides the kitchen sink (but we did have the bathroom) is Jar-Jar Binks.
The movie constantly thumbs its nose at its own internal logic, such as when one of Stryker’s scientists notes that they’ve depleted their supply of adamantium while grafting Wolverine’s bones, and then Stryker suddenly pulls out a gun with six adamantium bullets to put him down after he escapes. The battles are over the top, even for a film like this, with Wolverine and Deadpool going mutant-a-mutant on top of one of the Three Mile Island reactors. And if you thought the CGI de-aging of Patrick Stewart in X-3 was terrifying, let’s just say you ain’t seen nothing yet. The only solid thing this film really has going for it is Jackman’s performance, because honestly…for a film showing up with a $130 million price tag, I couldn’t believe how low budget and set-bound the entire picture appears.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine is just one more prequel we didn’t need, which makes one wonder that if Fox could screw up Wolverine’s movie so badly, what will they do with X-Men Origins: Magneto. Did George Lucas have a hand in this, somehow?