01 May 2009
X-Men Origins: Wolverine
After the trilogy of X-Men films, I can't say I had any burning questions left regarding Wolverine, the mutton-chopped mutant who is a literal man of steel—er, adamantium—with razor-sharp claws that spring forth from his knuckles. In X2 (2003), he found not only the man responsible for fusing the metal to his skeleton and erasing his memory but also the place where it all went down.
Unless you're dying to find out exactly why he took the name "Wolverine" or how he got his stylish motorcycle jacket, you probably haven't thought too much about what had been left unsaid.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine then is really just an excuse to keep the big screen franchise rolling and introduce a few new mutants without the burden of explaining why some familiar faces have gone missing.
And you know what? I'm OK with that.
Wolverine is unapologetically nothing more than a big, loud, effects-driven summer action movie—and a whole lot of fun. Sure, it's light on plot, but unlike X-Men: The Last Stand (2006), it doesn't pretend to be about the serious, complex moral and social issues raised in the first two films.
Even in those earlier movies, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman)—alternately known here as "Logan," "James" and "Jimmy"—was never much of a thinker. He drinks, he fights, he snarls a few lines dripping with angry sarcasm and he gets the girl. So he is ideally suited for this X-Men-on-steroids adventure.
His origin story begins in 1845 in Canada (which actually was formed in 1867, but never mind), where, in a blind rage, he mistakenly murders his own father. Then we see him and his older half-brother, Victor Creed (a menacing Liev Schreiber), the mutant known as Sabretooth, who both somehow stop aging once they resemble movie stars, fight in the Civil War, both world wars and in Vietnam.
Next, they hook up with Major William Stryker (Danny Huston), who leads an elite, top-secret military unit with mutants including Black Eyed Peas rapper Will.i.am, comic actor Ryan Reynolds and Charlie from Lost (Dominic Monaghan). The feral Victor is a junkie for killing, so he has no qualms about following Stryker's unseemly orders without question. Wolverine, though, has no stomach for the atrocities, insists he is a man of peace and returns to Canada, where he shacks up with a pretty schoolteacher (Lynn Collins) and works as a lumberjack.
Six years later, Stryker comes calling again. So does Victor, and Wolverine's former comrades start dying.
Wolverine's mission becomes one of vengeance and Stryker offers to help by making him indestructible. But Stryker has a plan of his own, one that involves rounding up mutants and harnessing their powers.
Among the new faces, the biggest impact comes from Cajun cardshark Remy LeBeau (Taylor Kitsch), aka Gambit, a character X-Men fans have been clamoring to see on the big screen. There's also Fred Dukes (Kevin Durand), who packs on a few extra pounds after leaving the military and comes to be known as "The Blob."
We also get to see a young Scott Summers (Tim Pocock), aka Cyclops, the future X-Man whose eyes shoot lasers.
Naturally, though, the movie belongs to Wolverine. Jackman, returning to the role that made him a star, has a magnetic charisma and is a better actor than he's given credit for. Stop and think for a minute about his range—about two months ago, he was singing and dancing as the goofy Australian he is while hosting the Academy Awards. He has been remarkably consistent in his X-Men performance, which now has carried over through four films.
Of course, there is the problematic prequel issue. We know Wolverine will survive. (Even if we did not have that knowledge, he heals instantly, which makes killing him a tall order.) We know Stryker will live. We know Wolverine's memory will be erased. Director Gavin Hood (Tsotsi, the 2006 Oscar-winner for best foreign language film) and screenwriters David Benioff (25th Hour) and Skip Woods (Swordfish) fail to come up with a solution, making the ending a little anticlimactic. I think Wolverine choosing to have his memory erased after some horrific event would have added a new tragic layer to his story, but we get nothing so profound.
As we have already established, that is not what this movie is about. You go into the theater, probably with a large crowd over the first few weeks, you get to watch stuff blow up and see mutants fight each other using their cool superpowers. And at its core is an actor who knows his way around this kind of material.
In the movie superhero pantheon, I rank only Christian Bale's Batman and Tobey Maguire's Spider-Man ahead of Jackman's Wolverine.
(PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, and some partial nudity. 107 minutes.)