When bad movies happen to good mutants: “X-men Origins: Wolverine”

May 3, 2009

x_men_origins_wolverine_ver2Well, the summer movie season is upon us once again, and with its advance guard, the unfortunately titled (and written and directed and acted and…) X-Men Origins: Wolverine it doesn’t exactly burst out of the starting gate. It doesn’t even stumble. No, the starting pistol sounds, and it lurches, staggers a couple steps, then suffers an aneurysm and collapses in a heap that twitches feebly a couple times for 100 or so minutes. What Brett Ratner wasn’t finished screwing up with X-Men: The Last Stand, director Gavin Hood capably and thoroughly takes care of.

The movie begins on a note of such nonsensicalness (nonsensicality?) that the movie never recovers In 1845 Canada, young James Logan kills the father of his, er, roommate (?) Victor Creed in a moment of fury after the man has killed his father. Jimmy sprouts boney claws and proceeds to fillet the guy who, before he expires, delivers the line that surely will live a good long life in the annals of bad movie dialogue: “He wasn’t your father…son.” James flees and Victor goes after him, promising that, now that they’re brothers, he will always look out for him. Does this grab you? No? Don’t worry, the movie never references it again!

The movie then kicks off with a nifty and very stylized credits sequence that shows Victor and Logan—seemingly immortal now and played by Hugh Jackman and Liev Schreiber—fighting in a series of wars. Here they are fighting alongside  the Union soldiers where Logan takes a cannon blast at point-blank range. There they are storming Omaha beach, where Victor begins bounding like a jungle cat—or an interpretive dancer imitating a salmon swimming upstream. Finally we end in Vietnam (Korea gets forgotten again) where Victor is blithely gunning down civilians. When he kills a CO who tries to stop him from raping a Vietnamese woman, the two of them are shot by a firing squad (which I’m pretty sure they didn’t do in Vietnam otherwise William Calley would gotten the justice he so richly deserved). Rotting in jail after the firing squad didn’t work (really) they’re approached by Colonel William Stryker who recruits them to be a part of his all-mutant team.

The team consists of some ill-defined backup characters. There’s a guy who can fly a plane with his mind, and a guy who does a kind of baton-twirly thing with a pair of Samurai swords  and will.i.am, who plays a guy who can teleport and dresses like the cowboy from The Village People. They bust up a compound in Africa looking for a block of adamantium—the unbreakable metal that later gets put in Wolverine’s skeleton. When Stryker and Victor start massacring civilians, Logan says adios and retreats to the life of a lumberjack in the Pacific Northwest. There, he canoodles with his girlfriend Kayla Silverfox (a wooden Lynn Collins), who tells him story of the wolverine and the moon (and we have a super-hero name, folks!). Ah, but their idyll is short lived, as she is killed by Victor, an act which 1) gives the movie its second overhead-shot/”Nooooooooo!” moment, and 2) causes Logan to agree to let Stryker inject his bones with adamantium.

The process works, but no sooner has Stryker made Logan (now adopting the moniker Wolverine) indestructible than he tells his trusted lackey Agent Zero (a sneering Daniel Henney) to eliminate him. So basically Stryker blows a couple million bucks and the its “Yay! The experiment worked! Now kill him.”) Well, that goes about the way you’d expect, and the middle part of the movie is Logan being chased by Stryker’s forces. Once he dispatches them (in an action sequence, which is actually pretty good), Wolverine sets out to hunt down Stryker and Victor only to find that they’ve been—gasp!—working together. Okay, anyone not see that one coming? Anybody? [crickets chirping].

Then we get a series of long, boring fight scenes with other mutants in which no one seems to get hurt before Wolverine confronts Sryker at his secret lab on Three Mile Island. Seems Stryker has been rounding up mutants to extract their powers to create a Super-Dooper Mutant, which Wolverine must fight in a Battle Royale. But not before he finds out that 1) Kayla’s death was all a ruse, and 2) Victor still has fraternal feelings toward him and wants to be his ally. The movie ends with the bad guy defeated and Wolverine losing his memory.

Except we know that bad guys aren’t defeated since Victor comes back as Sabretooth (played by someone else) in the far-superior first X-Men movie and Stryker comes back (played by Brian Cox) in the far-far-can’t-even-see-it-from-here superior second X-Men movie. As the film ended, I couldn’t help but wonder what the fucking point of this movie was! It provided no closure and didn’t tell us anything substantive we didn’t already know. Honestly, a better movie could have been made from the credits sequence.

Ah, but then we wouldn’t have had all those mutants to get the fanboys all hot and bothered. And really, that’s what XMO:W is all about—it’s a pageant to please the comic fanboys. We get the Blob, who’s really, really fat and kind of a dick. We get a teenaged Cyclops. We get Gambit (Taylor Kitsch, giving the most half-assed Cajun accent probably ever committed to a soundtrack). I’m sure the comic book fans love it, but they bring nothing to the party.

For a movie about superheroes, XMO:W (Christ, you can’t even abbreviate the title easily) is surprisingly sloppy with the superpowers. Usually, those are the Ten Commandments of the comic book Universe. Like, “Thou shalt not give Cyclops super-strength, as he doth possess the power of Optic Blasts. Thus Spaketh Stan Lee.” Loyal comic book readers take this stuff as seriously as the IRS takes the Tax Code. Yet in this movie every mutant is seemingly indestructible and can jump or leap long distances and punch through rock. Even their designated powers seem murky. Gambit can, uh, throw cards real hard. And he has a cane that causes minor earthquakes or something. Victor’s nails grow real long (but only about seven inches or so…really? that’s it? What a rip.) He has pronounced canines and leaps like a jungle cat, but can also climb walls and cling to ceilings. Basically these guys can do whatever it takes to protract a fight scene.

And that makes the fight scenes increasingly tedious. Like The Matrix sequels, you basically have fights between guys that can’t be hurt, and about two minutes into them you’re thinking, “well, this is pointless.” It also drains any tension from the proceedings. Hmm…think Gambit’s magic deck of cards will hurt Wolverine? Well, nothing else has by this point, so, um, no. The filmmakers seem to realize this late in game when they hork up the idea that mutants must be decapitated to kill them. Sure worked in Highlander.

Most of all, the movie is a grim, joyless affair. No one onscreen ever seems to be having much fun, and neither does the audience. Jackman and Schrieber do some good work, but are given roles that don’t ask for them to do anything aside from look angry or, on occasion, tortured. The other actors pretty much get lost amid the special effects. And speaking of, the CGI used to create Wolverine’s claws looks especially fake this time around. Really? Ten years and three movies later, and they can’t improve on the effects? WTF?

Last summer’s opening movie, Iron Man, was fresh and fun and disposable—the perfect summer action movie. It presaged what turned out to be a good run of summer movies. Let’s hope this one is an anomaly, otherwise it’s gonna be a long season.


  1. That’s too bad. I really wanted this movie to be at least above average, but it hasn’t been received well as of yet. Perhaps Star Trek will be this summer’s big and decent blockbuster? I would say Harry Potter, but the movies have gotten increasingly worse as the franchise has progressed.

    There’s always the new Transformers movie…

    • On the basis of the trailer, Star Trek looks pretty good (in contrast to Wolverine in which not even the trailer looked engaging). The Harry Potter trailer is pretty good, too.

      New Transformers movie. I just physically felt my brain shudder.

  2. Yeah, the credits “fightin’ our way through time” thing was kinda spiffy. But I, too, was disappointed, and I’m amused by a guy with a bad haircut and two sporks taped to his hands.

    I’m hoping “Star Trek” and the new Terminator flick scratch the summer itch.

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