X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) Movie Review

All he wanted to do was live a quiet, uneventful life with his sexy Indian live-in girlfriend, but they just wouldn’t leave him alone. They being pretty much everyone who isn’t him. Plus, he’s got a hairy brother who insists on roping him back into their reindeer games. Such is life for the feral midget mutant Canucklehead. Of course, Hugh Jackman is not a midget, which is something we’ve already come to accept ever since Bryan Singer’s “X-Men”, though comic book fans will no doubt bulk at a lot of “X-Men Origins: Wolverine’s”, well, origins. “Wolverine” is the first of a proposed franchise that would spotlight a different character from the X-Men universe. The viability of said franchise, of course, depends entirely on how “Wolverine” performs at the box office. Will we eventually see “X-Men Origins: Deadpool”? “X-Men Origins: Gambit”? Only the film’s weekend box office knows.

Up first for the would-be comic book franchise is Hugh Jackman in “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”. As the film opens, we learn that Logan was born with bone claws that protrude out of his knuckles when he’s angry. The first time Logan pops his claws, it’s to shank his father’s killer, a deed that forces brothers Logan and Victor (Liev Schreiber) to flee their home. Flash-forward through an excellent title sequence (ala “Watchmen”) that follows the duo, now adults, as they wade through the world’s historic wars, from the American Civil War to the two World Wars. For you see, the two are mutants, and were born with a “healing factor” that allow them to heal from almost any wound. The power also retards their aging, and as a result they don’t look a day over 35, give or take.

Things bog down for the boys in Vietnam, where an altercation leads to their arrest and “execution”. Of course, we know they can’t die, so instead of killing them again the Army sends William Stryker (Danny Huston) to offer them the opportunity to join his black ops squad of mutants. Victor jumps at the chance, but Logan isn’t quite so willing. Their first mission takes them to Nigeria, where a violent encounter with the locals convinces Logan this is not the profession for him. Alas, leaving is not so easy, and soon Victor is stalking his brother, eventually finding him living a quiet life with girlfriend Kayla (Lynn Collins). After Victor kills Kayla, Logan submits himself to Stryker’s experiments for the chance to get revenge on Victor. The experiment involves grafting the metal alloy Adamantium onto his bones, making him essentially unbreakable. Despite the odds, the experiment is a success, leading to a series of revelations and double crosses that will eventually lead Logan, now Wolverine, to his destiny.

As you can probably tell, there is a lot of plot exposition going on in the first half of director Gavin Hood’s movie. As a result, there are times where the film feels rushed, like it’s trying to fit in a full issue of comic book stories into every 5 minutes of screentime. While the script by David Benioff and Skip Woods has the potential to confuse your average, non-comic book reading moviegoer, even the most casual Wolverine fan should grasp the plotlines easily enough. And if you’ve seen Bryan Singer’s two “X-Men” movies, the second half of “Wolverine” will feel perfunctory, as it moves toward its inevitable conclusion, keeping you wondering the same question all the while: “Wait, if Wolverine doesn’t remember any of what’s happening now in ‘Wolverine’, how does he forget?” Well there is an answer to that, though for my money it’s very cheaply accomplished. Then again, I suppose it’s no sillier than a guy with bone claws, so there you go.

With “Wolverine”, Hugh Jackman seamlessly returns to the character that made him an international superstar in 2000 with Bryan Singer’s “X-Men”. It makes you wonder how Jackman ends up in romantic comedies and Broadway plays doing jazz hands when he’s so good in such macho, testosterone-heavy roles. I guess that’s why they call it talent. Unfortunately what the film gains in putting Jackman back in his most famous role, it also diminishes a lot of what makes the character so good in the first place, namely the mystery surrounding Wolverine’s origin. Obviously it’s impossible to make a movie called “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” and, well, not explore the man’s origins. Now that the mystery is gone, one can’t help but feel a bit … underwhelmed. Even though I knew most of the story going in, there was still a feeling of disappointment now that it’s been brought into the light.

Since “Wolverine” is first and foremost a condensed telling of Logan’s past and the how’s and why’s of his eventual confrontation with Stryker and Sabretooth, we’re left to wait for events to play out as we have come to know them via the “X-Men” films. Of course, and this may be a minor spoiler, but the Sabretooth that appears in “Wolverine” seems like an entirely different person than the one that appears in the “X-Men” films, and I’m not just referring to the different actors portraying them. It’s hard to believe that Liev Schreiber’s dangerous and sociopathic character would somehow end up as a fur-wearing supervillain who growls his lines in Bryan Singer’s two films. I suppose we’ll have to wait for “X-Men Origins: Sabretooth” to find out what happens to him between the ending of “Wolverine” and when we first saw him onscreen in the first “X-Men” to fill in the blanks.

While “Wolverine” is mostly a Wolverine and Sabretooth show, they aren’t the only superpowered freaks running around. The film’s full roster of mutants include the popular Gambit (Friday Night Lights’ Taylor Kitsch), a Cajun gambler who has the ability to supercharge anything he touches into a weapon. One minor nitpick about the character is that, for a guy who is supposed to be hiding out from Stryker and Sabretooth, he sure was easy to find. The saga of Ryan Reynolds’ Wade Wilson (aka Deadpool) has been furiously followed by fanboys on the Internet, and yes, he makes quite the entrance. As well, his disappearance from the movie leaves a major void, and you kept wondering where that funny guy with the swords went off to. We find out later, of course, and the disappointment is great, indeed. What are the chances of a Deadpool movie? Considering the outrage over his lack of screentime, I hope the producers are paying attention.

Other mutants in the movie include Kevin Durand, playing a more sympathetic version of The Blob than we’re used to, while rapper Will I Am is John Wraith, a teleporter who doesn’t have all that much to do, which is a good thing because the less I’m forced to type his ridiculous moniker, the better. Lost’s Dominic Monaghan shows up just long enough to show off his power (he can control electricity, I believe), only to run off to join the circus. No, really, he shows up for about five minutes before disappearing to join the circus. Fans of the “X-Men” films will also recognize a younger, teenage version of Cyclops (played by James Marsden in the “X-Men” films), while here he’s a high school teen who becomes another victim of Stryker’s paranoid attempts to control the mutant population. Other guest appearances include a young Emma Frost, while an old favorite from Singer’s “X-Men” films show up to lead the way.

“Wolverine” is directed by Gavin Hood, who isn’t exactly known for big summer blockbusters. The South African Hood’s last two high-profile films were the political drama “Rendition” and before that, the critically lauded “Tsotsi”. But it’s not as if Hood has never wandered onto the set of a genre movie before. Get this, sci-fi fans: Hood is also an actor, and one of his roles was as Anubis on the long-running TV series Stargate: SG1. And before that, he was in some truly B-level action movies like “American Kickboxer”, “Project Shadowchaser II”, and of course, who could forget “Operation Delta Force 2: Mayday”. Who knew he would one day go on to direct Award-winning films and eventually helm a huge summer blockbuster with the fate of an entire franchise on his shoulders? Certainly we saw sparks of genius in the man when he assayed the pivotal role of “The German Champion” in “Kickboxer 5: Redemption”.

“Wolverine”, as you would expect from a comic book movie of its high visibility, is loud, expensive, and CGI-heavy. Most of the film’s big action set pieces take place in the second half, after Logan has undergone his Adamantium experiment and become Wolverine. The film culminates in one of those expected superpowered battles between Wolverine, Sabretooth, and an uber mutant called Weapon XI on top of a defunct nuclear reactor. Through it all, Hood proves to be a serviceable director of big-budget action movies, though I’m not sure if he’s not, at times, clearly over his head. There are moments during the film when the action is unwieldy and the wireworks stinks, and makes you wonder how these scenes survived production. There are also some vary jarring continuity issues that should have been ironed out in post, but for some reason were not.

But I’m being overly negative. For what it is – a big-budget summer event film – “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” is good, solid popcorn fodder. Hugh Jackman continues to show that he’s an actor capable of more than just silly romantic comedies and Oscar hosting duties, as he so fully embodies the Wolverine character that it’s quite impressive to behold. The supporting cast do good work, with Liev Schreiber fully embracing the film’s sociopathic Sabretooth with a smile and a wink. I would have liked to see more of Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool, but beggars can’t be choosers, I suppose. In the end, “Wolverine” does what it promises – explore its main character’s origins. I suppose you can’t fault the film for delivering on its own premise, though as mentioned, one can’t help but wish it hadn’t told us everything. A little mystery, as they say, goes a long way.

Industry noise has “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” bringing solid numbers despite the whole fiasco with the leaked workprint. The film is reportedly tracking well in online ticket sales, and has huge buzz chasing it into theaters. Of course, we’ve all heard about positive tracking before, first with Louis Leterrier’s “The Incredible Hulk” and then with “Watchmen”, and we know how both of those films turn out. For the sake of every fanboy who wants to see an “X-Men Origins: Deadpool” movie, here’s hoping “Wolverine” slices his way to the top of the box office this weekend and stays there. If not – eh, there’s a good 5-10 minutes of Wade Wilson in “Wolverine”. It’s not much, but it’s something.

Gavin Hood (director) / David Benioff, Skip Woods (screenplay)
CAST: Hugh Jackman … Logan / Wolverine
Liev Schreiber … Victor Creed / Sabretooth
Danny Huston … William Stryker
Will i Am … John Wraith
Lynn Collins … Kayla Silverfox
Kevin Durand … Frederick J. Dukes / The Blob
Dominic Monaghan … Chris Bradley / Bolt
Taylor Kitsch … Remy LeBeau / Gambit
Daniel Henney … David North / Agent Zero
Ryan Reynolds … Wade Wilson / Deadpool
Scott Adkins … Weapon XI

Buy X-Men Origins: Wolverine on DVD