Given the $87 million opening weekend take for X-Men Origins: Wolverine, there can’t be too much worry over in the offices of 20th Century Fox about the future of the X-Men franchise. It remains to be seen whether the same can be said by actual fans of all things Marvelous and mutant-related. After all, if the most popular, most interesting, most storied of the X-Men characters can headline a film that is so ... average, what hope is there for future spin-offs? How exciting would a Cyclops movie be? Can Iceman really hold up an entire movie on his own? Is the world screaming for 90 minutes’ worth of Kitty Pryde walking through walls? Would the Hollywood economy collapse if audiences were subjected to a Dazzler movie? The mind reels.
First off, let’s establish the fact that X-Men Origins: Wolverine isn’t an awful movie. It’s just completely mediocre in every way. Initially, this origin story of everybody’s favorite mutated Canadian gets a lot of things right (or at least “technically accurate”). The film starts out with flashbacks taken directly from the 2001 Marvel miniseries Origin, written by Bill Jemas, Joe Quesada and Paul Jenkins. After ditching their dead parents in mid-1800s Canada, animalistic, mutant-gened half-siblings Logan and Victor form a duo dedicated to ass-kicking and self-preservation. Through the opening credits, we see Logan (Hugh Jackman, reprising his role for the fourth time) and Victor (Liev Schreiber, The Daytrippers) spending the next hundred or so years insinuating themselves in every blood-spilling conflict they can find—from the American Civil War to Vietnam. By the 1980s (or thereabouts), Logan and Victor are working on a team of secret mutant-powered government operatives under the control of smiling authoritarian Col. William Stryker (Danny Huston). Victor still relishes every opportunity to kill with his bare hands, but Logan is growing weary of this militant life. Ditching his violent compatriots, Logan goes off to the Canadian wilderness, shacks up with a cute schoolteacher and becomes a lumberjack.
Of course, the past eventually catches up with him. Seems Victor (now more or less known as Sabretooth) is busy offing members of Stryker’s old military cabal. In an effort to level the playing field, Stryker offers Logan the opportunity to enter the “Weapon X” program, an experimental project that will give our boy Logan metal bones and make him the indestructible supermutant we all know and love today.
Though it touches on most of the highlights of Wolverine’s multiple (and occasionally slightly contradictory) origin stories, X-Men Origins: Wolverine boasts few highlights itself. It ambles from one scene to the next, playing out less like a movie about Wolverine’s origin and more like a movie about a bunch of stuff that happened to Wolverine at various points in time. Along the way we get cameos by all sorts of random comic book characters. (Look, kids, it’s Deadpool! It’s The Blob! It’s Cyclops! It’s Gambit! It’s Professor X! It’s Emma Frost! ... Um, sorta, anyway.) In the end, this only contributes to the feel that this is less Wolverine’s movie and more just another, junkier X-Men outing.
Jackman, looking buffer than ever, still seems to be having a decent time with the character. Liev Schreiber doesn’t really seem to match the comic book image of the savage, hulking killer Sabretooth; but he’s a good enough actor that the character comes alive even in this thinly written version. The chase/fight/explode scenes arrive at regular enough intervals and have a certain flying, leaping, claw-popping energy—even if the CGI effects look markedly chintzier in this outing and the PG-13 rating keeps things entirely bloodless. The film’s real letdown comes in the ending, which finds Wolvie locking claws with an unimaginative mutant who’s conveniently stolen everybody else’s powers (shades of Sylar on “Heroes”). Longtime comic fans will also hate that this ending completely wrecks the character of Wade Wilson/Deadpool. The fact that he’s played by two completely different actors (Ryan Reynolds in the beginning, Scott Adkins at the end) leaves the uncomfortable impression that much of this storyline was simply fabricated in the editing room.
According to comic book lore, Wolverine is the best at what he does. But you wouldn’t know it from watching this watered-down origin story.
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