by Mel Valentin
After rumors of on-set conflicts (apparently true), reshoots (definitely true), a DVD-quality workprint leaked online (sadly, also true), and a ubiquitous multi-million dollar advertising and merchandizing campaign, "X-Men Origins: Wolverine," the prequel/spin-off to the highly profitable "X-Men" trilogy that ran from 2000-2006, launches the unofficial summer blockbuster season on May 1st ("Star Trek," "Angels & Demons," "Terminator: Salvation" a week later, and Pixar’s latest, "Up!" come out in successive weeks). With Gavin Hood ("Rendition," "Tsotsi") directing from a screenplay written by David Benioff ("The Kite Runner," "Stay," "Troy," "The 25th Hour") and Skip Woods ("Hitman," "Swordfish"), expectations where high for quality entertainment. Unfortunately, those expectations were either too high or wrong from the start.X-Men Origins: Wolverine fills in almost every important detail or milestone from Wolverine’s thirty-four year history as a Marvel Comics superhero. In the pre-credits sequence set in 1845, a sickly pre-teen Logan, living under his first, presumably real name, Jamie Howlett (Aaron Jeffery), responds with deadly force when a drunken man attacks his stepfather. Logan goes on the run with his biological brother, Victor Creed (Michael-James Olsen). X-Men Origins: Wolverine summarizes roughly the next hundred years in a war-focused montage that follows the adult Howlett (Hugh Jackman) and the adult Creed (Live Schreiber) through the American Civil War, World War I, World War II, and finally, the Vietnam War. As mutants, Howlett and Creed age slowly and heal faster, even from mortal wounds.
"Inauspicious start to the "Origins" sub-franchise. Less like this, please."
Victor and Howlett receive a visit from William Stryker (Danny Huston) after a battlefield incident reveals their healing ability. Stryker offers them their freedom in exchange for their participation in a mutants-only special ops unit. The unit includes Chris Bradley (Dominic Monaghan), who can control machinery, Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds), a.k.a. Deadpool, the “merc with a mouth” who shares Victor and Jamie’s healing factor and favors katanas as his weapons of choice, John Wraith (Will.i.Am), a teleporting mutant, David North (Daniel Henney), gifted with super-normal accuracy, and Frederick J. Dukes (Kevin Durand), super-strong and practically invulnerable.
Howlett walks away from the team after he disagrees with Stryker, settling in Canada under the name Logan, and entering into a relationship with Kayla Silverfox (Lynn Collins). Logan’s idyllic existence doesn’t last long, of course. Victor makes an appearance, as does Stryker, promising to make Logan almost indestructible by grafting adamantium, a rare, super-strong metal, to his skeleton, and making Logan “Weapon X” (he also acquires the “Wolverine” code name). X-Men Origins: Wolverine’s remaining running time turns on Logan seeking revenge for multiple betrayals, with reluctant help from Remy LeBeau (Taylor Kitsch), a.k.a. Gambit, an energy-controlling mutant. No X-Men movie would be complete without massive amounts of damage and carnage. At least in that respect, X-Men Origins: Wolverine delivers (albeit gore-free, bloodless, PG-13-rated carnage).
Wolverine was the point-of-view character in the X-Men trilogy. In X-Men, an amnesia-stricken Wolverine joined the X-Men, but not until he was given a tour of the X-Men’s facilities, overcame self-doubts, and began to trust Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and the other X-Men. In X-2: X-Men United, William Stryker (Brian Cox), a virulent anti-mutant crusader and Wolverine foe, returned to exact revenge on Wolverine and the X-Men. By the third film, X-Men: Last Stand, Wolverine’s romantic relationship with Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), became the focal point. Wolverine’s mysterious past threaded through all three films, but after X-Men Origins: Wolverine, that mystery’s gone for good. A mysterious past almost always makes a character fascinating, but it’s a double-edged sword: fans of the character want the character’s backstory revealed, but without mystery, the character becomes bland and uninteresting (i.e., the Wolverine that walks away from the camera at the end of film).
Benioff and Woods’ patchwork script underuse secondary characters (e.g., Deadpool, Gambit), barely giving them screen time and dispose of other characters unceremoniously or in ways that defy common sense and ordinary logic. The dialogue ranges from the barely functional to the laughably banal. Character motivations are either barely sketched out or, even worse, change because the screenplay required it. Benioff and Woods seemed to be motivated by fan service, including scenes, lines of dialogue, and supporting characters drawn directly from Wolverine’s thirty-four history as a Marvel Comics superhero, with little regard for the needs or demands of the undernourished storyline or to fit X-Men Origins: Wolverine into the i]X-Men continuity.Gavin Hood always seemed like an idiosyncratic choice to guide the effects- and action-heavy "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" from script to screen. Hood’s previous efforts, "Rendition," an earnest, if compromised, post-9-11 political drama, and "Tsotsi," a low-budget South African drama that won the Best Foreign Film Oscar three years ago, gave little direct indication of Hood’s ability to direct a superhero-action film with a reported $150 million dollar budget. If the evidence onscreen is any indication (we have nothing else to go on, unfortunately), then 20th-Century Fox’s gamble wasn’t a good one. Hood might have come cheap and with a polished pedigree in directing character-driven dramas, but he was obviously not up to the task of handling and editing complex, effects-driven sequences, or the pacing required for a superhero film.
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originally posted: 05/01/09 18:13:31