Saturday, May 23, 2009
Back in my comic reading days, Wolverine was considered the coolest of the cool. He was the opposite of what was a super hero was supposed to be: short, feral and out for blood. Superman he was not. His main power were retractable metal claws that protruded from the top of his hands. These were weapons primed to kill, not subdue. Add a general cigar chomping rebel-without-a-cause attitude and you had one of the greatest comic book heroes of all time.
When the character made the jump to cartoons the guy was expectedly neutered. Wolverine cared more about others and used his claws on inanimate objects only. After the movies started rolling, Wolfie was given a little more latitude - he could use his claws on people just no kill shots for the most part. It's understandable why Wolverine can't hack and slash people like he does in the comics, it would mean at least an R rating resulting in less box office or accusations of drawing kids with unnecessary violence. For the character, it results in a retaining just enough of what's considered cool about the character while making him someone who talks a slightly better game than he delivers.
So going in to X-Men Origins: Wolverine I wasn't expecting a lot. In addition to the mainstreaming of the snarling wonder, a friend at work said it was all action no story and my wife said Rotten Tomatoes gave it a 38% rating. And the advertisements kept stressing a battle with a helicopter. But I'm a fan, so I was going to check it out anyway.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine turned out to be a pleasant surprise. It wasn't fantastic or brilliant, just a well executed comic book story. The story and emotions of the characters is what drives the film. You see Wolverine as a boy discovering his powers for the first time and then going on the run with his mutant brother, Sabretooth. Born in the 19th Century, the brothers make a pledge to stick together and fight in every major war in Western culture up to about Vietnam or so. They are recruited by Stryker (I didn't catch his rank) to join a government mutant squad to carry out missions. The squad includes fan favorite mutants like Deadpool and Blob. Eventually Stryker leads the team to kill indiscriminately which offends Logan (Wolverine) and turns on Sabretooth (Victor). Logan quits to live the quiet life as a lumberjack in Canada. Until a turn of events causes Logan to seek revenge against Victor. See, already there's more story than X3. All of this happens early on in the movie so I'll try to leave out the rest of what happens storyline-wise.
Hugh Jackman owns the celluloid version of Wolverine and now in his fourth film he settles in comfortably. As the title character now, Jackman easily carries the weight of the movie. The different feelings of moral outrage, white hot anger, and the inner fight for civility comes through. Intellect versus instinct, a classic comic book theme (like the Hulk movie I recently saw) is the name of the game. Jackman is surrounded by strong supporting performances. There isn't a weak performance in the bunch and Liev Shreiber makes for a good foil as Wolverine's brother Sabretooth / Victor. He plays Sabretooth with slightly sophisticated menace.
Director Gavin Hood has an eye for comic book action, the fight sequences capture the power moves, acrobatic choreography and heavy duty impact of the form. Some of the special effects came off fake looking and probably won't age well. I don't know if Hood is a fan, but he directs with a sure handed understanding of what folks want to see. Comic fans want to see the badass, while female fans just want to see the ass (Jackman's that is). Hood makes sure you get both, the latter as much as possible (Jackman has almost as many shirtless scenes as William Shatner in Star Trek). The action is motivated by the story which was also nice, it wasn't plotless random explosions or anything like that. Bits of humor are thrown in to keep it from being a pure revenge story. Disappointingly, not much is done that's special with the dialogue scenes, it's done competently which is why there is a negative about the movie.
My only negative point is that X-Men Origins: Wolverine never surpasses its mandate. I felt like I learned more about the Wolverine character (I stopped reading comics by the time his origin was revealed) and was slightly moved by his saga. But it never goes past that, the film doesn't have a mythic feeling of earth shattering events for Wolverine. Maybe it's because seeing Wolverine battle a helicopter from a motorcycle is just plain silly (Even the physics was mind boggling. Wolverine claws armored vehicles speeding in an opposite direction from his motorcycle and somehow doesn't get yanked off his bike by the drag?) . Maybe it's because the basis of his story isn't very original, where the walking killing machine doesn't want to live that life until circumstances force them to (isn't that every Steven Seagal movie?). Like The Incredible Hulk movie, X-Men Origins: Wolverine plays it a little too safe, self conscious of what people want to see.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine gives exactly what people think other people would want from a Wolverine movie. That's not bad. On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the highest, I give XMO: Wolverine a 6. Something you can sink your claws into though you don't get a lot of meat. It is fun and much better than I was led to expect. A well executed movie with a slightly generic story at it's heart. And yes I did Mark Out when he says his classic tag line, "I'm the best there is at what I do." Ever since I read Wolverine issue #1, I've always liked when his character grumbles that out.