Saturday, 9 May 2009

X-Men Origins: Wolverine


Directed by: Gavin Hood
Screenplay: David Benioff & Skip Woods
Starring: High Jackman, Liev Schreiber, Danny Huston, Lynn Collins and Ryan Reynolds

After three X-Men films, Marvel comic book character Wolverine gets his own movie with the star, Hugh Jackman, who made the character come alive returning once again. However, despite a great cast, a huge Hollywood budget and a star on full mega watt capacity, Wolverine is a distinctly lacklustre and in certain parts, shoddy affair. The original X-Men movie trilogy ended on a somewhat damp squib, as Brett Ratner’s rushed and by-the-numbers threequel failed to impress like Bryan Singer’s classy first two instalments. So Hollywood, wanting to keep the X-Men cash cow going, returns to that old get-people-back-to-watch-the-same-thing-again approach by producing a spin off movie that also acts as a prequel to all the films gone before. Wolverine is certainly packed full of comic book characters and big action but ultimately fails to engage with a very run-of-the-mill story.

Set well before the X-Men films, Wolverine sees brothers Logan (Jackman) and Victor (Schreiber) as two ferocious, feral mutants who are recruited to be part of William Stryker’s (Huston) special covert ops team of mutant soldiers. Adapting to the life and role of a soldier/killing machine with ease, the two brothers soon clash and divide when Stryker wants to use his team to go above and beyond the call of duty. Logan flees the team and attempts to settle into a normal life. However, and such is the mechanics of such a formulaic plot, his past comes racing back with Creed now on a one man mission to eradicate all the members of the mutant team and destroy the life Logan has built. In turn, Logan returns to his fighting roots and sets out on a quest for vengeance which takes in his transformation into Wolverine, appearances by some of Marvel’s favourites and a whole heap of dodgy CGI.

On a certain level, Gavin Hood’s (Rendition) film provides requisite entertainment and in certain scenes and sections he handles his first big budget film well. Jackman knows this role inside and out and has excellent back up from Schreiber as the continually snarling Creed. Likewise, it’s cool spotting fan favourite Marvel characters such as Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) and Gambit (Taylor Kitsch). Hood also manages to inject proceedings with some extra bite, certain scenes of violence pushing the 12A/PG-13 rating to the max. But these same factors are also the films undoing. Despite featuring heavily in the first half of the flick and Schreiber succulently chewing into the role, Creed ends up being wasted. The big grudge match between him and Logan that is always promised never really appears, despite a few teases, and all but evaporates as their hatred to one another conveiently gets sidetracked to shoe horn in a silly and clumsy ending. Most of the new characters are blink and you’ll miss them roles and while Kitsch certainly makes an impression as Gambit, the filmmakers seem to have diluted the character so much that he is nothing more than just some other long haired good guy. He only uses his trade mark cards once and very briefly. In addition, the brutal impact of some of the earlier scenes and fight sequences is all but eradicated by the time the ridiculous twist driven, CGI overloaded finale comes along.

Danny Huston (30 Days of Night) is a good actor, no doubt, but again is wasted with a role that sees him spitting out cliché after cliché (“You will have your revenge”) and inhabiting a dull and often lifeless Stryker compared to Brian Cox’s menacing and memorable turn as the character in X-Men 2. Unfortunately it is the script that lets a good chunk of the film down. The story of Logan taking vengeance on those he once trusted is hardly original and made even worse by cringe inducing dialogue and a tone that is one minute fierce and full on (the old couple being assassinated) the next over-the-top silly (Wolverine doing a wheelie on a motorcycle as he escapes an exploding building). Then there is the huge amount of dodgy CGI. For a big budget film, certain scenes seem awfully rushed and the effects just don’t gel. On top of this the action doesn’t always deliver either. By no means is it awful and at certain times is bang on (a brutal fight between Logan and Creed in a lumber yard; the helicopter/jeep bit) but other times over-edited and over CGI’d. A cool sequence in New Orleans starts of well with characters thrown through walls, explosions going off and characters flying through the air in slow-mo before ending abruptly with Wolverine slashing up a metal ladder with the most unconvincing and unintentionally funny CGI. Likewise, the final battle. This should have let action man Scott Adkins (Undisputed 2) cut loose (as bad dude, Weapon XI) but is instead buried under terrible teleporting CGI and unnecessary spectacle. What is wrong with just letting characters duke it out, fist-on-fist, now and again?

Wolverine is not a complete disaster. As mentioned, Hood does pretty well for his first big budget film infusing some scenes with grit and substantial emotion but loses grip with a screenplay buckling under character and predictability fatigue, and no doubt a fair amount of studio pressure. But Wolverine is overall disappointing and could have been so much more. If the story had focused on the Logan/Creed grudge match and jettisoned a lot of the extraneous characters (though mention should got to Kevin Durand who has a memorable scene as the Blob) and not overdone the shoddy CGI, then Wolverine could have been the lean, mean beast it was supposed to be.

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