X-Men Origins: Wolverine

Certificate: 12A
Running Time: 107 mins
Director: Gavin Hood
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Liev Schrieber, Ryan Reynolds
Genre: Comic book, Superhero, Action
Country: USA

With X-Men: The Last Stand receiving sweeping lukewarm reviews one of Marvel’s strongest franchises was looking as tired as the only man at an orgy.  X-Men Origins was a cunningly simple idea to breath new life into established characters and guarantee a further decade of output from Charles Xavier and co.

First up is ol’ iron mitts himself, Wolverine, as we leap back into his days pre-adamantium graft to his time under Stryker’s command as part of Team X alongside Victor Creed and Wade Wilson.

Jackman has a deeply committed love for this character and it shows.  The older he gets the most physically ripped he gets himself and with the aide of a little cinematic trickery to mask the fact that Logan is significantly older in the prequel than his first outing[1], disbelief is suspended.  The feel of the film is a lot different to previous X-Men titles.  The Nam storyarc plays on audiences’ encounters with films like Platoon and Casualties of War while at the same time tying in the callus use of these individuals’ unique traits wonderfully.  It’s a lot more wild and emotional and in being so gives you an interesting look into the man behind the blades.  The use of Victor as a narrative anchor across themes[2] is a nice device and ignoring a few holes in the logic, it’s perfectly understandable that a unit like Team X would move from Counter Insurgency in the Vietnam war to Wet Ops in an era that also brought forward Watergate, the Cold War and a world of paranoia about reds under the bed.

You get the impression that Jackman could Wolverine-up a performance in his sleep as he looks so comfortable in the mutton chops and white vest that you almost take him for granted.  He’s got a lot of work to do in this film, and he doesn’t have the ensemble of the rest of the X-Men to fall back on.  Whether Cyclops, Storm, Rogue or Professor X could carry an entire movie themselves will remain a hypothetical argument and one for a later date.  He does some good work, some strong emotional work for the audience to really invest in the unpolished version of Logan pre-X-Men and for the most part it pays off.  There are one or two moments were disbelief slips but these are largely on the page.

Liev Schrieber (as Victor) turns in the rawest, most brutally animalistic antagonist that you’re likely to see.  He has a fierceness to his performance that is as magnetic as it is terrifying and if anyone from this film deserves to brought back into the new run of X stories it’s Schrieber.  His on-screen chemistry with Jackman is undeniable.  Clearly, these two men enjoyed the challenges that came from dominating one-another on screen through the course of nearly two hours and, I’m guessing, forty years.  Ryan Reynolds’ Wade Wilson (aka Deadpool) is an area of problem for me… and this will probably cause Marvel fans to have problems with me.  Though he gives a solid performance, Reynolds is far too easily associated with Wilson.  All too often he comes across as little more than a dangerous Van Wilder and it’s seriously off-putting.  Couple that with the final chapter of the movie and for Deadpool to be worked back into the fabric of the current Marvel continuity this entire movie needs to be retconned; which is a shame as there has been some good work done.

Gavin Hood (Tsotsi, Rendition) is a good choice behind the camera.  His sensibilities and political understanding allows for deeper lines to be drawn between the fictional world, its covert military machine and the real geo-political environment (not just of the era but of the now).  He also knows how to chop together an action sequence and there are loads of them in this movie.  Yet, surprisingly, they never feel tired or contrived and many of them inject a genuine degree of suspense –which for a prequel is something let alone a prequel starring Wolverine.

It’s not all roses and chocolates unfortunately.  There’s issues over structure as the film feels as though it’s trying to squeeze five acts into a three act design.  There are moments through the years in which you’re not entirely sure what date it’s meant to be and though this is not a deal breaker it does distract you enough to tear you from the fabric of the film.  At one point a boxing poster appears, you’ll be tempted to Google the fighters to see if you can narrow it down to a decade… don’t bother.  There’s also some unnecessary exposition.  Everything with Gambit could pretty much go and you’d be left with a smoother film and the final “showdown” is nothing short of a mess.  A problematic mess, and yes –ultimately needs retconned in order to stop your head from hurting when Phrase Three of Marvel’s masterplan is done.[3]

In the end, X-Men Origins: Wolverine was just a little too messy and bloated to deliver a firm-footing, the plans for multiple origins movies were scrapped, audiences hesitated which left X-Men: Wolverine as an awkward and difficult to reconcile stand-alone film.  Ultimately, the franchise would go down a more traditional understanding of the “origins tale” telling the collective back story rather than the ambitious individual narratives previously proposed but credit should be given for attempting to create something that’s so commonplace in the comics/graphic novel universe.

[1] X-Men (2000), X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2008)
[2] As War movie becomes Thriller/Espionage.
[3] Though the X-Men franchise, like Spider-Man, is outside the realm (and control) of the Marvel/Disney continuity machine it would be silly to simply discount them; especially as several core themes from the Bryan Singer X-Men movies play directly into the arena of what will become Captain America: Civil War.


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