X-Men Origins: Wolverine

Movie Information

The Story: The story of how -- more or less -- Wolverine came to be, with a glimpse of the beginnings of the X-Men. The Lowdown: Hampered by a script that's constrained by predestination, X-Men Origins: Wolverine is nonetheless entertaining nonsense that's nice to look at.
Score:

Genre: Sci-Fi Comic-Book Action
Director: Gavin Hood (Rendition)
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber, Danny Huston, Will i Am, Lynn Collins, Taylor Kitsch
Rated: PG-13

It would appear—according to both fans of the comic book and film critics—that I’m supposed to have hated this movie. I’m not surprised by the hate business when it comes to fans of the comic book, since their agenda is often driven by something other than the movie itself, and is grounded in how much the movie departs from its source. Never having read an X-Men comic in my life, I’ve no clue how true to the source X-Men Origins: Wolverine is, and as a mere moviegoer, it’s not high on my list of concerns. That’s probably true of the majority of moviegoers in a case like this, because blockbusters are not made by comic-book fans coming out, but by a broader public. That said, I do not believe that the numerous bad reviews are coming from X-Men specialists. The image of Roger Ebert with scads of comic books in protective plastic bags is not easily conjured.

Nevertheless, I don’t hate X-Men Origins: Wolverine. It’s not a great movie (though it’s certainly better made than the third X-Men outing), and I doubt I’ll ever feel compelled to see it again, but I enjoyed it well enough while it was on-screen. Is it profound? No. That, I suspect, is why I enjoyed it. It doesn’t pretend to be weighty, which means—as far as I’m concerned—that it isn’t pompous like Watchmen (2009) or The Dark Knight (2008). To me, that’s a plus. I find it interesting and more than a little disheartening that the idea of quality in a comic-book movie has become synonymous with “depressing.”

The charge that the story isn’t realistic strikes me as peculiar to say the least. Uh, guys, we’re talking about a main character who, for all intents and purposes, is indestructible and who sprouts blades out of his hands that would warm the heart of a cook in a Japanese steak house. Where is the gritty realism in that? If the film wants me to believe that he and his half-brother, Victor, stop aging at the time of the Civil War, and that that happens to coincide with the current ages of stars Hugh Jackman and Liev Schreiber, I’m cool with that. It seems an easy enough leap to make, considering the basic premise of the entire enterprise.

The film is an origins story, which is probably its biggest problem. Personally, I’m not that entranced by Wolverine (and I don’t think the hairdo or the “Elvis plays Vegas” sideburns are a good look for Jackman), so I don’t much care about his origins. He’s just not that interesting of a character. Worse, though, is the fact that his origins are so hemmed in by where and how he has to end up that there’s not much room for expansiveness. Most of what we learn is either inessential—like the fighting in the Civil War, WWI and WWII etc. (the filmmakers missed the Spanish-American War)—or trivial—like when he took to wearing the leather jacket. The important things—like where all this is leading—are a given.

That leaves us with an action movie that rests mostly on how well the set pieces are accomplished and how well it’s acted. The set pieces—apart from the occasional redundant clashes between Wolverine and Victor—are surprisingly good, and the action is blessedly coherent (within the realm of comic-book panels anyway). The set pieces are also often on the ridiculous side, but since they’re consciously so, that’s not necessarily a downside. (Hint: I’d wager that the preposterous manner in which the old nuclear reactor meets its fate is supposed to be amusing.) I find it interesting that a lot of criticism centers on the lack of realism of the effects, when it’s not the effects that look unrealistic so much as it’s the deliberately unreal lighting of the scenes. This makes the film look for all the world like a beautiful studio fabrication from another era. If you can’t go with that, then the movie won’t work for you.

Director Gavin Hood approaches the material with sufficient gravity that it doesn’t feel condescending. Still, he never takes it to the level of humorless faux noir, nor does he mistake it for anything very deep. Thankfully, Jackman seems in tune with the approach; he’s respectful of the character, but remembers the pulp-level fun, apparently realizing that the deeper thematic implications of the overall concept came to fruition a couple movies back. Yes, the movie is more style than substance, but it’s still several notches above X-Men: The Last Stand (2006), which had little of either. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, and some partial nudity.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

13 thoughts on “X-Men Origins: Wolverine

  1. ncain

    There are a whole lot of things wrong with this film (how did they get that jungle with that waterfall from New Zealand to Canada or wherever it was. That left me really confused. I was expecting the old couple to have accents, and when they didn’t I realized that the director was just assuming his audience was stuipd), but what I really want to know is if that was actually Patrick Stewart at the end, or if they just used a computer to impose Stewart’s face on some stand-in because he looked like a wax dummy.

  2. Chad Nesbitt

    ncain,

    That was the real Patrick Stewart. He was playing a younger Dr. Xzavier. Xzaviers eyes are slanted. Almost oriental. Notice he was also standing.
    Post the wheelchair. Stewart’s name shows up in the credits at the end of the movie.

  3. Vince Lugo

    I’ve been a big X-Men fan since I was a kid (in fact, the first comic book I ever bought was an issue of X-Men) and personally, I loved this movie. Hugh Jackman IS Wolverine. He understands what makes the character tick and brings that across on screen very well. I also greatly enjoyed Gambit and wish he’d been in the film more (perhaps they’ll bring him back in a future X movie). Get ready folks, cause according to Variety there are no less than four X-Men related films currently in development: Deadpool (with Ryan Reynolds repriesing the role), a Wolverine sequel covering his time in Japan (a story that Hugh Jackman says is his favorite Wolverine tale), X-Men Origins: Magneto and X-Men: First Class (which is following the young mutants from where Wolverine’s ending left off). This makes me very happy because the X-Men universe is so deep and so broad that the films they’ve done so far have barely scratched the surface. Properly handled, this franchise could easily stretch to twenty films or more (the superhero equivilant of the James Bond series). Here’s hoping.

  4. Sean Williams

    I find it interesting and more than a little disheartening that the idea of quality in a comic-book movie has become synonymous with “depressing.”

    See, this is why I’m looking forward to the film adaptation of Paul Chadwick’s Concrete: Concrete is probably the most emotionally stable superhero in the medium. He’s an overweight writer whose brain is transplanted into a virtually indestructible body. Instead of moping about his condition, he sets out to do everything he couldn’t do in his previous life, like scale Everest in the nude.

    The film is an origins story, which is probably its biggest problem.

    Considering the character was originally supposed to be an actual wolverine who had mutated into a human being, it could have been much worse!

    Deadpool

    As long as they adapt the scene in which Deadpool strangles Santa Clause with barbed wire in the cab of a moving semi-truck, I’m cool with that.

  5. Ken Hanke

    Considering the character was originally supposed to be an actual wolverine who had mutated into a human being, it could have been much worse!

    Dear God.

    As long as they adapt the scene in which Deadpool strangles Santa Clause with barbed wire in the cab of a moving semi-truck, I’m cool with that.

    Well, it hasn’t happened yet. And here I thought Silent Hill was the last word in barbed wire carnage!

  6. jasondelaney

    I can’t say that I’ve read all that many X-men comics, but I’m pretty sure the animals mutating into people only happens in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I’ve read a few different wolverine back stories and none of them had that nonsense.

    I also had a problem with the accents. (or lack thereof) How come Gambit doesn’t display any creole charm?

    As to the effects, is it possible that they rushed post production because of the big internet leak?

  7. Ken Hanke

    I can’t say that I’ve read all that many X-men comics, but I’m pretty sure the animals mutating into people only happens in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I’ve read a few different wolverine back stories and none of them had that nonsense.

    I have no idea, Jason, but Sean is not someone I’d ever attempt to go head-to-head with on comic books.

    As to the effects, is it possible that they rushed post production because of the big internet leak?

    Doubtful. The release date was set before that. I still don’t think it’s the effects that give the film its odd look, but rather a conscious choice with the way it’s lit.

  8. David Harper

    Chad:

    It’s spelled Xavier. Perhaps Limbaugh or Buckley should have put out a phonics class for their disciples.

  9. David Harper

    Actually Sean is wrong. This is from (Wolverine creator) Len Wein’s blog:

    “While I readily admit that my original idea was for Wolvie’s claws to extend from the backs of his gloves (I figured that since Adamantium is indestructible, telescoping claws no more than a molecule thick could fit into those casings in the backs of Adamantium gloves, which had then been covered in cloth. Dave and Chris definitely improved on that idea), I absolutely DID NOT ever intend to make Logan a mutated wolverine. I write stories about human beings, not evolved animals (with apologies for any story I may have written that involved the High Evolutionary). The mutated wolverine thing came about long after I was no longer involved with the book. I’m not certain if the idea was first suggested by Chris Claremont, the late much-missed Dave Cockrum, or John Byrne when he came aboard as artist, but it most certainly DID NOT start with me.”

  10. Ken Hanke

    The mutated wolverine thing came about long after I was no longer involved with the book. I’m not certain if the idea was first suggested by Chris Claremont, the late much-missed Dave Cockrum, or John Byrne when he came aboard as artist, but it most certainly DID NOT start with me.”

    Actually, since Sean never claimed that the idea originated with Wein and it appears that it did indeed come about, he’s not exactly wrong.

  11. Sean Williams

    I’ve read a few different wolverine back stories and none of them had that nonsense.

    Yes, but that’s because Stan Lee nixed the idea before it ever saw print. Some of the characters drop hints, but they’re never resolved.

    Actually Sean is wrong.

    Not really. In that blog, Wein denies that the idea began with him; he does acknowledge that it was an idea that subsequent writers considered: [b]“The mutated wolverine thing came about long after I was no longer involved with the book”[/b] — but it did come about, see?

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