Wolverine has consistently been one of Marvel’s most popular characters for the past three decades, yet his origins have remained a mystery for most of that time. Little bits and pieces have come to light though the revelations that his memories were tampered with placed many of those stories suspect. He’d been given adamantium as part of a secret military experiment. He was part of black ops team with other mutants. He fought Nazis during World War II alongside Captain America. It wasn’t until 2001 that Marvel published Origin, a six-issue mini-series that definitively depicted Wolverine’s childhood. That series provided the genesis for the long-awaited spin-off film.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine begins with a brief prologue built around a tragic event in Wolverine’s childhood in the mid-1800’s. His father is murdered and a young James Howlette (later Logan) pops his bone claws for the very first time. He and half-brother, Victor Creed (who will eventually grow up to be Sabretooth), flee and promise to watch each others’ backs from then on. From there, we watch an opening credits sequence of Logan and Victor battling side-by-side in the Civil War, World Wars I & II, and finally Vietnam. Creed goes berserk in ‘Nam leading them to face down a firing squad. Both survive because of their mutant healing factors and are recruited by William Stryker (Danny Huston) for an elite squad of mutants. The group includes Agent Zero (Daniel Henney), Fred J. Dukes AKA the Blob (Kevin Durand), Chris Bradley AKA Bolt (Dominic Monaghan), the teleporter John Wraith (will.i.am), and Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds). After viewing the atrocities committed by his teammates, Logan chooses to walk away and lives a quiet life as a lumberjack with his schoolteacher girlfriend Kayla (Lynn Collins). When Creed begins hunting for him, Logan volunteers for the adamantium bonding process in order to get revenge on the man he called ‘brother.’ During the course of the film, we’re also introduced to fan-favorite characters like Gambit (Taylor Kitsch), Emma Frost (Tahyna Tozzi), and a young Cyclops. Also, look out for cameos from Toad, Banshee, and Quicksilver.
If you thought X-Men: The Last Stand was a slapdash, disappointing effort in the franchise, then you’ll be similarly disappointed with Wolverine. The story attempts to rush through over a hundred years of Wolverine’s life in about an hour and forty minutes. The script by David Benioff (25th Hour, The Kite Runner) and Skip Woods (Swordfish) lacks any substance whatsoever. The opening prologue crams six issues of plot into a matter of minutes. The rest of the film is just a series of action set pieces with a few obligatory emotional sequences in between and wrapped around several predictable plot twists. The resolution is nothing more than a series of pathetic contrivances that are forced in so the prequel can loosely be tied into the other films.
Though the film is supposed to center around Wolverine, filmmakers made sure to stuff their production with as many characters as possible. None of whom get enough screen time to have any resonance and are only around so they can sell spin-offs and toys. It’s the same problem that plagued the third X-film as well as Spider-Man 3. Comic book fans will probably be disappointed that some of these characters weren’t faithful to the source material. For example, the Hudsons, the superhero couple that founded Canadian super-team Alpha Flight, are re-imagined as Ma and Pa Kent.
South African director Gavin Hood first caught producers’ eyes with the Oscar-nominated film,Tsotsi. Hood followed that up with the politically heavy-handed Rendition. This is Hood’s first attempt at a big-budget action spectacle and he seems completely overwhelmed. Hood chooses to go for the most melodramatic shots whenever possible. Characters leap through the air, land in a crouching position, and turn to the camera with a menacing look on their face. Half the film seems to be slow motion close-ups of people standing in action figure poses. On top of that, Wolverine suffers from awful and unconvincing CGI. Quite shocking for a film with a budget of $150 million. A simple scene of Logan scraping his adamantium claws together looks like a cheap cartoon.
On the positive side, much of the acting is well-done. Hugh Jackman has mastered the gruff charm of the Ol’ Canucklehead and he’s able sprinkle in a few light moments in the film. Both Danny Huston and Liev Schreiber are excellent in their roles. I almost wish there was a way to George Lucas X-Men and put him in as Sabretooth. Despite his prominence in the film’s ad campaign, Ryan Reynolds has only a tiny role in the film. Comic fans know Reynolds’ character as Deadpool the Merc with a Mouth, and he manages to accurately portray Wade Wilson’s gift of gab. It’s a shame he was so criminally underused and it’s doubly shameful that Deadpool was so massively mishandled.
X-Men: The Last Stand suffered much critical drubbing from reviewers and comic fans, but it received the biggest box office open of all three X-Men films. It seems Fox decided to use the same hackneyed formula for Wolverine. While it garnered a wealth of poor reviews, an opening weekend take of over $80 million won’t change Fox’s mind in regards to its handling of Marvel properties. Iron Man helped Marvel kick off last summer’s blockbuster season to rousing success, but Wolverine is a mediocre beginning for 2009.