Sometimes movies like X-Men Origins: Wolverine make me sad, because they give me time to reflect on how all the money going into these huge-budget movies could have been spent on important things like medical research, or wildlife conservation, or food for the needy.
Let me back up:
X-Men Origins: Wolverine (which I am now going to refer to only as Wolverine, in order to keep my word count down), is the supposed origin story of the previously-mysterious, eternally-popular mutton-chopped mutant from the Marvel comic books and the three previous X-Men feature films. It’s meant as a prequel to that trio of movies, explaining how Wolverine got to the point in which we initially meet him at the beginning of 2000’s X-Men. As usual, Wolverine is played by Hugh Jackman, in a performance that has very little to do with the source material, but with an Eastwood-esque charisma that, for a while at least, had effectively anchored this increasingly unwieldy film series.
I had some hopes going into this movie because its initial screenplay credit goes to David Benioff, the novelist who wrote the books The 25th Hour and City of
Look, I’m not by nature a negative guy; I know from first-hand experience how much effort goes into making any movie, no matter how it turns out, and I have no interest in denigrating the hard work of anyone involved. However, in the interest of honesty, and in the hopes that something can be learned from the experience, here are some quick bullet points to explain why X-Men Origins: Wolverine is – an understatement here – no classic:
* Shockingly clichéd dialogue. If the humor was intentional, they would have called it Airplane. “You look like a man fixin’ to do a bad thing.” “Colonel, this is turning into a disaster.” “All of their strengths, none of their weaknesses.” (Actually, I know exactly where they took that last line from – an earlier Marvel movie called Blade!)
* Incoherent action geography and by-the-numbers plotting.
* A charismatic performance from Ryan Reynolds, who owns every early scene and naturally is punished for it by being removed from the movie for an hour, only to return at the end with his mouth sewn shut.
* Dominick Monaghan and Kevin Durand, both so good on Lost, also tragically wasted.
* An atrocious debut performance from Will.I.Am, who also has an atrocious number-one hit right now. He’s a double-threat!
* A complete lack of continuity with the X-Men movies goes without saying, but I was still hoping that they’d at least TRY to explain how the great actor Liev Schreiber became a pro-wrestler.
* Unintentional laughter abounds. I listed the times when I laughed out loud:
1. Opening credits freeze-frame on Liev Schrieber as Sabretooth, bounding like a bunny rabbit though a Saving Private Ryan homage/ D-Day flashback.
2. Naked CGI Wolverine jumping into a waterfall.
3. Aunt May and Uncle Ben, from the Spider-Man movies, cameo as the kindly old couple who take Wolverine into their home.
4. Adamantium bullets, Wolverine’s only weakness. He’s a werewolf now.
5. The Blob gets his name from mis-hearing Wolverine when he addresses him as “Bub.” (So how come Wolverine calls Gambit “Blob”?)
6. Ryan Reynolds’ sad eyes when he reappears as Deadpool with his mouth sewn shut.
7. Patrick Stewart cameos as a weird old guy who invites a group of kids into his helicopter.
Again, apologies for the spoilers, but if you’re an emotionally mature adult and you haven’t yet seen this movie, I’m actually helping you.
I recognize that this movie wasn’t made for me. Clearly. It was made to swallow up the allowances of thirteen-year-old boys and to sell overseas to foreign audiences that will hopefully get better dialogue on their subtitles. A movie like Wolverine only has to be just good enough to meet those standards, and not any better than that – that’s just how business works. It also should be acknowledged that the movie isn’t made for girls either (let alone women) – the only female character in the entire movie exists solely to get killed (twice!) so that the title character has his excuse to wreak bloody vengeance all over the place (but not too bloody, since it has to come in under a PG-13 rating so all the kids can get in.) The movie’s not sophisticated.
Still, it could’ve been. I’m a comic book guy. At least, I was, for my formative years. I appreciate the artistry and energy of superhero comics, and for some time I was wrapped up in the compulsive appeal of them also. I read all the X-Men comics throughout the 1990s, although that wasn’t necessarily a golden era for comic books. That decade was dominated by flashy yet hollow characters such as Gambit and Deadpool, who coincidentally have been crammed into this Wolverine movie. Comic book fans know what I mean when I say that X-Men Origins: Wolverine is like a shoddily-drawn issue of a spinoff X-Men comic – it has some of the characters you like in it, and it’s got explosions, so you’re gonna get your fix. But you will not remember it as fondly as you do the better issues.
It would be a copout, though, to suggest that this is the best we can expect. Look at Spider-Man 2. Look at The Dark Knight. Look at the Lord Of The Rings movies. There is a precedent for huge-budget movies of this sort that still manage to engage a large audience emotionally and tell a coherent story cinematically. It takes a monumental amount of hard work and good luck, but it can be done.
In fact, one just opened.
Given the choice, absolutely go see the new Star Trek movie. You don’t need to be a fan of the series from before. I’m not, never was. Although I guess I am now! JJ Abrams’ Star Trek is that good. I have a minor conflict of interest here, in that I know and very much like some people behind the scenes, but that will only keep me from writing a full-length rave review. I admit that I want to see this movie storm the box office, but if I didn’t think it was good enough to recommend, I wouldn’t. It’s a really fun time at the movies, and a much better way to forget your troubles than an amnesia bullet.