Sunday, November 28, 2010

X Men Origins: Wolverine

So here's more of the older stuff I've written.

Movie Review                                                                                                                                 18/5/09


Starring: Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber, Danny Huston
Directed by: Gavin Hood
Released by: 20th Century Fox

            The X-Men film series began in 2000, paving the way for almost all of the superhero films this past decade. Now, the franchise is expanding with “origin” movies that endeavour to explore the individuals among the myriad of X-Men out there. After Brett Ratner’s noisy, empty and pointlessly-violent X Men: The Last Stand, I’m afraid to say that this half-baked prequel/spinoff does not fare so much better.

            As the title suggests, the focus of the film is the angsty, fan-favourite anti-hero Wolverine (Jackman). The film opens in 1845, where the sickly James Howlett (Troye Sivan) experiences a family tragedy and escapes with his half-brother Victor (Michael-James Olson). It is quickly revealed that both possess unusual powers, especially the sickly and weak James who actually has retractable claws made of bone. Also, both are practically immortal, as the opening credits sequence of the brothers charging in battle through five different major wars establishes.

            In the aftermath of an incident in which Victor goes violently overboard and James (now Logan) defends him, they are approached by Major William Stryker (Huston) who recruits them into a “special” team. The mutants who make up Team X include wise-cracking assassin Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds), teleporting John Wraith ( lethal marksman Agent Zero (Daniel Henney), electricity-controlling technopath Bradley (Dominic Monaghan) and the indestructible Fred Dukes (Kevin Durand). Led by Stryker, they go on their first mission together in Nigeria and Logan splits when things go awry.

            Years later, Logan appears to be enjoying an idyllic new life as a lumberjack in the Canadian Rockies, living with his girlfriend Kayla Silverfox (Lynn Collins). Victor, now going by the moniker Sabretooth, abruptly re-enters Logan’s life when he apparently kills Kayla, driving Logan to take revenge. He agrees to cooperate with Stryker, who is serving his own evil agenda, and has his skeleton bonded with the super-alloy Adamantium (as all self-respecting comic book fans would remember). Post-op Logan (who now calls himself Wolverine) escapes Stryker’s Alkali Lake facility and Agent Zero is sent to track him down. Meanwhile, Logan is dedicated to tracking down Victor which leads to several brutal encounters between the two. Their former teammates also get caught up in the conflict.

            Logan slowly uncovers Stryker’s plan to capture and conduct military experiments on mutants, and seeks the help of the telekinetic Remy LeBeau /Gambit (Taylor Kitsch) to take him to Stryker’s base of operations, where the climatic showdown between Wolverine, Sabretooth and a surprise villain Stryker has been working on takes place, as the captured mutants flee and are rescued by a familiar face.

            Now, despite much hype and circumstance, Wolverine is almost a complete letdown. The movie seems dutiful but almost reluctant to tell the Origin story, and too many superficial attempts are made to appeal to the fans – even a surprising cameo at the film’s conclusion does little to help this predicament. It seems to be perpetually stuck in a no-man’s-land sort of quality level, being almost the definition of average in parts. After a while, the film stops struggling to reach high ground and slumps towards a climax that is only moderately enjoyable.
            In terms of story, the Oedipal conflict between Wolverine and his half-brother Sabretooth seems more rote than epic and despite being played out with enough gravitas by the two leads, is weak and severely under-developed. Wolverine’s personal vendetta against his half-brother seems to be the poorly-made adhesive struggling desperately to bond too many other subplots.

            The screenplay by David Benioff and Skip Woods is clunky at best, and it seems that the apple has fallen far from the tree in that the first two X-Men films directed by Bryan Singer dealt with big themes while delivering the action goods, while this movie only somewhat achieves the latter. Writers such as David Hayter and Tom DeSanto were able to do far more in those movies than this prequel ever will achieve. Academy-Award winning director Gavin Hood, who got his Oscar for the South-African 2005 film Tsotsi, is also not the right director for this film. His direction brings to mind Marc Forster’s work for the recent Bond outing Quantum of Solace. Both directors have more of a dramatic background and struggled significantly with their big-budget blockbuster-type films. Hood tries but fails miserably to insert pathos into the action proceedings; the romantic scenes between Logan and Kayla are painful to watch, for one. Ultimately, Hood seems to be no more than Hugh Jackman’s errand boy, doling out a generic actioner for the star.

            This leads us on to the undeniable point that X-Men Origins: Wolverine is a Hugh Jackman vehicle. He is okay, but only okay, as the titular character. We’ve all come to accept him as the definitive screen Wolverine since the first X-Men picture, but he does little more than in the three main films that went before, which is a big part of why this flick disappoints. Soon enough into the film, a slight odour of the “vanity project” kind wafts unpleasantly from the screen – it seems as if Jackman desperately wants to be the centre of attention, even at the expense of the movie’s overall quality.

            Liev Schreiber is very good as Sabretooth, definitely a notch or so up from former-pro-wrestler Tyler Mane’s barely articulate beast in the first X-Men film. The Shakespeare-trained actor excels in sparring, both physically and verbally, with his half-brother, and these battles make for the best moments of the film. However, Schreiber is given fairly little wiggle room by the restricting screenplay. He tries to make the most of it, but even that barely suffices. Even the usually-great Danny Huston struggles to step up to the plate as William Stryker. Granted, Brian Cox left a tough act to follow as the older Stryker is X2: X Men United, in which he emanated quiet menace very effortlessly and could stand up to Patrick Stewart and even Ian McKellen when he shared the screen with them. Here however, Huston appears to simply go through the motions, like most everyone else.

            As for the rest of the cast, the filmmakers have a host of great characters at their disposal, many surefire fan-favourites straight from the comics, but do little with any of them. These incarnations are relatively faithful to the comic book source material and it is evident that most of the actors are having fun with this movie. However, this ensemble is a truly very mixed bag – first time actor (more famous as the frontman of the Black-Eyed Peas) is painfully stiff as John Wraith but Taylor Kitsch is suave and even a tad dangerous as Gambit. Unfortunately, without giving too much away, the filmmakers end up doing the unforgivable to a promising character and just about ruin the last act of the movie.

            X-Men Origins: Wolverine is far from this year’s The Dark Knight; in fact it is not even the equivalent of The Incredible Hulk, which was at least a little engaging. Not once does one get sucked into or immersed in the world that this movie tries to create. To be fair, there are many action sequences and whatnot that are plenty of fun, but they stop at being just that. “Plot twists” seem predictable and inconsequential and even the computer-generated effects of this film look barely as convincing as those of its predecessor X-Men films. After a while, it seems that mutants are being pulled out of a sack and flung onto the screen in the hope of placating restless moviegoers, which is a prime example of how not to go about an X-Men film. One would think that the Wolverine character’s mythos would make for ripe material and a most excellent film – apparently, not so. X-Men Origins: Wolverine is a mediocre effort that is watchable only at its best.


Jedd Jong



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