Hugh Jackman - James Howlett/Logan/Wolverine
Liev Schreiber - Victor Creed/Sabretooth
Danny Huston - William Stryker
Lynn Collins - Kayla Silverfox
Taylor Kitsch - Remy LeBeau/Gambit
will.i.am. - John Wraith
Ryan Reynolds - Wade Wilson/Deadpool
Daniel Henney - Agent Zero Kevin Durand - Fred Dukes/Blob
Dominic Monaghan - Chris Bradley
Scott Adkins - Weapon XI
Genre - Action/Fantasy/Comic Book
Running Time - 107 Minutes
After 2006's blockbuster hit, X-MEN: THE LAST STAND, many X-Men comic book fans were worried about the future of the franchise. While the film ended up grossing more money than any of the others, the change in directors and screenwriters took away what made the X-MEN films so strong in the first place - deep characterization and intelligent storylines that matched well with the action that came along with it. Messing up the classic and cherished The Dark Phoenix Saga in THE LAST STAND was the last straw for many people, something I'm disappointed with as well even to this day.
In 2008, the way audiences looked at comic book adaptations drastically changed when Christopher Nolan's THE DARK KNIGHT was released, smashing all box office records and even earning Academy Award nominations, especially for the late Heath Ledger's performance of The Joker [which won an Oscar for the film]. It combined action, drama, laughs, and anything else you would want not just in a comic book movie, but in a movie in general. Since then, comic book films have tried to emulate this type of storyline - WATCHMEN is a good example of this - making comic book films not just popcorn entertainment, but thought-provoking features that people will watch again and again, finding something new each time.
20th Century Fox, in the meantime, just wanted to get out a film they had been planning for years that based itself around the mysterious origin of the X-Men's most popular [and probably overrated] character, Wolverine. The problem was that Hugh Jackman was seriously considering backing out of the project, due to feeling that X-MEN: THE LAST STAND was a big disappointment in terms of story and his character losing his edge. However, Fox gave Jackman Executive Producer credit for the film to keep him on board. Jackman, having his contract indicate who he wants to direct his films, had many picks to choose from. Brett Ratner wanted to return, but stink of THE LAST STAND destroyed his chances. Alexandre Aja and Len Wiseman were also considered. Zack Snyder was a top pick, but he was more interested in making WATCHMEN. Jackman settled on Gavin Hood, whose work on TSOTSI impressed Jackman.
Hood, wanting to focus more on Wolverine's struggle between his human side and his animal side, hoped to create a more cerebral, darker film compared to the other X-MEN films. David Benioff, who was hired to write the script in 2004, was inspired by Wolverine's origin stories in the comic books - Weapon X, the Wolverine limited series from 1982 that was written by Frank Miller, and 2001's Origin limited series which finally explained everything that fans had long wondered by Wolverine. The script was very dark and more brutal than anything the other X-MEN films had done, almost on the level of Christopher Nolan's BATMAN films. However, Jackman and Skip Woods rewrote the script feeling that the tone would lead to an R-rating, which Jackman and Fox didn't want.
Fox also wanted to put in characters fans had been wanting to see for years now. Gambit was added in, which Jackman was in favor of due to his love of the character, as well as Deadpool, whose own film was in post-production hell. Sabretooth was brought back as the villain, along with X2's main enemy, William Stryker, to give continuity to what was explained in that sequel. Hood wasn't a big fan of these suggestions that the studio had placed on him, which led to many debates - so many in fact, that Fox brought back Bryan Singer to the fold for his input along with SUPERMAN director Richard Donner, who is said to have directed many of the film's scenes during the reshoots. Even with all this drama, X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE was released as the first major summer blockbuster of 2009 and did well at the box office [although it couldn't beat X2's or X-MEN: THE LAST STAND grosses].
Like X-MEN: THE LAST STAND, this film takes liberties with the comic book origins and contains many of the flaws its predecessor has. But unlike THE LAST STAND, X-MOW at least has an easier to follow storyline, even if the ideas presented aren't as executed as well as they should have been. Still, it's not as bad as many claim it to be. But it's not great either. Let's see why X-MOW is not worth getting your skeleton laced with Adamantium over.
In 1845 Canada, Jimmy Howlett (Troye Sivan) inadvertently murders his biological father with his bone claws. His older half-brother Victor (Michael James Olsen), who sports cat-like features, runs away with Jimmy to embrace who they are. All grown up, Jimmy (Hugh Jackman) and Victor (Liev Schreiber) fight through five different wars. The difference is that Jimmy is not pleased by the violence, while Victor is addicted to it, becoming savagely reckless to the point of psychopathic tendencies. Imprisoned during Vietnam after Victor attempts to rape a local woman, they're confronted by Major William Stryker (Danny Huston). Striker offers them an opportunity to join a special ops unit run by him which would contain mutants, such as sharpshooter Agent Zero (Daniel Henney), blabbermouth swordsman Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds), teleporting John Wraith (will.i.am.), indestructible Fred Dukes (Kevin Durand), and energetic Chris Bradley (Dominic Monaghan). The group invades an African compound for Stryker, who is taking advantage of his Government position to locate the source of a new metal called Adamantium. Feeling used, Jimmy walks away from the project to live a normal life to the dismay of Victor and Stryker.
Six years pass and Jimmy, now calling himself Logan, is a lumberjack with a super hot girlfriend named Kayla Silverfox (Lynn Collins), who has the power to seduce people with a single touch. Unfortunately, Striker locates him to convince Logan to rejoin his mission. Logan refuses until he learns that Victor has murdered Kayla. Wanting revenge, Logan accepts Stryker's offer to lace his skeleton with the Adamantium, a metal that can't be destroyed once it's in solid form. After being laced, Logan realizes that Stryker is using him for his own personal gain. Logan escapes the Weapon X compound, searching for Victor who is now murdering the other members of Stryker's special ops team and kidnapping other mutants to steal their powers for Stryker's Weapon XI project, which involves Wade. Logan seeks the help of Gambit (Taylor Kitsch), who has the power to turn potential energy into kinetic energy, as well as having unlimited agility. Both men travel to Three Mile Island, Stryker's secret laboratory, to stop him and Victor - not realizing that what they believed to be true may have been lies all along.
X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE is a prequel that doesn't necessarily need to exist. But at least it gives perfect reason for Wolverine to actually be in the spotlight of a film that doesn't cost the other X-Men their spotlight in the same film. It explains the ideas presented in X2: X-MEN UNITED while establishing the relationship between Logan and Stryker, as well as Logan and Sabretooth. It also brings in fan favorites from the X-Universe, for better or worse.
The major problem with X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE, just like with X-MEN: THE LAST STAND, is the narrative. While it's not as big of a mess as the one in THE LAST STAND, the plot does have it flaws. It's pretty sad too since the first half of the film is pretty strong. The opening with Jimmy and Victor running away as children establishes their relationship right away and sets up the different paths they end up taking in life. I do think their brotherly bond should have been pushed and established more because it's more of a grain-of-salt deal rather than actually watching them form a close bond until Victor turns his back on Jimmy, which would have truly created an effectively emotion dynamic between the two characters. Sure, we watch them through five different major wars [in probably one of the best opening credit sequences in any comic book film], but it never really goes deeper than that. Instead of Logan feeling betrayed by Victor for murdering his girlfriend because family doesn't do that, it ends up feeling like Logan has to stop Victor only because he's doing bad things and that goes against what Logan believes in. There's no sense of family between the two, which I feel hurts the film a lot.
This problem is also extended between Logan and the other characters in the film. His relationship with Stryker should be more interesting since it's one of the stronger elements in X2: X-MEN UNITED. But here, it feels like a disgruntled employee who has a corrupt boss he wants to stop because he's tried of being used a pawn. I personally feel that if I'm going to let a man perform an experiment on me that's never been tried before and could possibly kill me, even if I'm motivated enough by revenge to agree to it, I really need to trust this dude. There's nothing in this film that gives any hint that Logan trusts Stryker enough to risk his own life just to kill Victor. It makes Logan look like a naive fool in a way. If there was a point in the film where Logan saw Stryker as a father figure and felt that the man had good intentions for him without a shadow of doubt, the Weapon X experiment would be a more dramatic moment. But it's obvious from the beginning that the two don't really like each other or respect the other. It's obvious that Stryker only sees Logan as a thing rather than a person. So why would Logan agree to this willingly without question? The only reason it happens is because it HAS to happen rather than it naturally happening in a logical way. I won't even get to the memory loss deal with Adamantium bullets to the skull. That's just stupid for multiple reasons.
We also have Logan's relationship with Kayla Silverfox that ends up being shortchanged. The two characters do share a nice chemistry with each other, but we needed to see more of their relationship to make her death [and eventually her resurrection] more effective. Do I buy that they loved each other? Absolutely. He didn't hide his powers from her and she seemed unaffected by it. There was obviously trust there. But I think this could have created a more emotional connection for the audience if we were allowed to witness their relationship blossom naturally. Instead, it ends up feeling like a cliche. The hero's girlfriend dies and he ends up tracking down her killer. It's been done before, and better as well.
As for the other characters in the film, it's great to see them brought out of the comics to a live-action arena. Wade Wilson, who eventually becomes Deadpool, looks and sounds exactly what you'd expect the character to be. John Wraith is cool. Seeing The Blob is nice. Agent Zero, Asian here instead of German, is great. And even Gambit, who really deserved to be in the franchise from the beginning and hopefully gets a spinoff of some sort, rocks in every scene he's in. The problem is that these characters aren't in the film long enough to develop [X-MEN: THE LAST STAND, anyone?] and don't really effect the outcome of the film much at all. They're all extended cameos to please fans, which is great, but it's obvious you can do much more with them. Also taking away Wade's greatest asset, his big mouth, away in his transformation to Weapon XI, is a huge mistake because he ends up being generic because of it. And putting Emma Frost and Cyclops in the film is cool, but didn't do much for me really in terms of narrative. Great characters but shoddy execution for all of them.
This brings me to the origin portion of the film itself. This had to have been a huge and tough task for the screenwriters, since Wolverine's origin is so large [35 years worth of stories here], that you had to know things would be changed and taken out to condense the story for a 107 minute film. While there are things I wish could have been expanded on and told better, at least the convoluted storyline here manages to make sense on a surface level. But it feels more like moments in time rather than a natural progression of scenes flawlessly floating into each other to create an organic story. While the moments are great and necessary for the story to progress towards its conclusion, they could have been put together better. That's why you shouldn't rush through things. Wolverine has a huge following and I'm sure having his story told through multiple films wouldn't disappoint his fans one bit. I wish studios would realize this.
The special effects and make up in X-MOW are a mixed bag. Alec Gillis, Tom Woodruff, and their Amalgamated Dynamics team usually do great work. But Wolverine's Adamantium claws still look terrible at times, as both CGI and hand made pieces. The island destruction scene looks SyFy Channel quality at times. Even Victor chasing people on all fours looks a bit fake, but it's better than nothing I guess. And what was up with Professor Xavier's CGI? I think that was the scariest moment of the film for me. Other than that, I'm pleased with the visual effects. The Blob looks pretty cool in the fat suit. Most of the explosions look fantastic. The mutant powers look very cool. It just feels like a step down from the previous X-MEN films, maybe because the budget is $60 million less than the budget in THE LAST STAND. Still, it's no real excuse. But for the most part, the special effects are pretty good.
The direction by Gavin Hood is solid. He shot all the locations well, with some nice framing and composition leading the way. He handled the more dramatic moments well - a whole lot better than Brett Ratner did in the last film. The action sequences and the fight choreography is very well done, which Hood follows with stylish direction. Some of the editing choices were questionable and the pacing was off at times, but I read that was the studio's hand and not Hood's. But I think Hood did a commendable job taking a weak script and turning it into something watchable, even if it wasn't all that memorable.
The acting is definitely the reason why X-MOW works better than it ought to. Hugh Jackman can play Wolverine in his sleep at this point and brings his A-game here as well. The man tackled every emotion the character had to go through, bringing an intensity and credibility that was lacking in his performance in X-MEN: THE LAST STAND. Even better is Liev Schreiber as the second actor playing Victor Creed/Sabretooth. He steals every scene he's in, chewing it up and spitting it out with glee. Definitely a worthy villain that deserved more screentime. Plus he bulked up for the role and looked great as the character. Great casting choice. Danny Huston was cool as a younger William Stryker. I still think Brian Cox was better in the role, but Huston did what he could with the material given to him and I can't complain too much about that. Lynn Collins looked hot as Kayla Silverfox and does what she needs to in the film. Ryan Reynolds is awesome in his short appearance as Wade Wilson. If he's still going to play Deadpool in that planned spinoff, count me there. Taylor Kitsch was pretty good as Gambit, even though the Cajun accent went in and out more times than I could count. But he's definitely photogetic and game for the role. Everyone else, from will.i.am, to Kevin Durand, to Daniel Henney, and to Dominic Monaghan, do a good job. Too bad the script wasn't better.
THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE SLICING MYSELF OPEN WHILE SCRATCHING MY ASS
- Jimmy murdered his adopted dad's killer with his bone claws, not realizing that the killer was actually his biological dad. You know, less blood could have been spilled if they had just gone on Maury for a paternity test.
- Wade used his incredible sword skills to kill a group of gun-toting soldiers. Too bad his sword skills weren't satisfying enough to keep Scarlett Johansson away from Sean Penn! Oooh BURN!!
- If you're an elderly couple living on a farm, don't take in a superhero. You'll either get killed or forced to star in bad SUPERMAN sequels. None of these options are covered by life insurance.
- Victor killed John Wraith in mid-teleport. Looks like he gave him some of that "Boom Boom Pow"! Now "Where's the Love?"
THE FINAL HOWL
Wolverine deserves a great film, which X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE isn't. Still at least the action, special effects [most of them], and the acting keep the film afloat enough to make it at least a one-time watch and/or rental. Too bad the narrative was flawed from the start, which could have put this film on the level of X-MEN at least. I hope THE WOLVERINE proves to be a better vehicle for the character. A flawed, yet still somewhat entertaining super hero film that should been better than it was.
2.5 Howls Outta 4