Thursday, April 30, 2009
by Tony Dayoub
The good news is that X-Men Origins: Wolverine is a lot better than the last X-Men film was. The bad news is that this overstuffed entry in the comic book mutant saga is as unwieldy as its title. No, this movie is not as bad as I expected, which kind of precludes me from poking too much fun at it. Worse than that... it's mediocre; not good enough for one to celebrate its ingenuity; not bad enough to revel in its outlandish action blockbuster hallmarks. It commits the cardinal sin of the superhero sequel - to try to top the one that came before it. And this being a prequel more precisely, it makes the same mistake as others of its ilk - to try to explain away any of the mystery about its main character which attracted us in the first place.
Mystery is what has thus far defined Logan aka Wolverine (Hugh Jackman). In the previous three X-Men films, Logan, an angry mutant with remarkable healing powers, an adamantium-laced skeleton, and retractable claws, slowly started connecting the dots about his sketchy past. X-Men Origins elaborates on that, depicting a previously unknown familial relationship with Victor Creed (Liev Schreiber, played by Tyler Mane in the first film). And we get to fill in the blanks about his relationship with Stryker, played in the second film by Brian Cox, but here given a laid-back kind of menace by Danny Huston.
We learn a great deal about Logan's past, from early childhood in 1845 (no explanation given in the film, but Logan and Victor age slowly due to their healing powers) through about a decade or so before the first film. We learn the first time he discovered that he possessed his deadly claws, how he acquired the adamantium skeleton, and how he lost his memory. The problem is, where does one go from here with a character like Logan once all of his mysteries are explained? What once seemed like a character with complicated motivations, becomes two-dimensional after some of the reasons behind what drives him are dealt with in such a perfunctory and superficial manner. Wait till you find out how he gets the name Wolverine, and better yet, do you really care?
The movie never takes a moment to breathe, to allow some new revelation to sink in, because it is more concerned with getting to the next action setpiece or guest mutant. Why not just concentrate on Logan's story? Isn't this supposed to be a spinoff spotlighting one of the most beloved of the X-Men? Instead, they use it as a platform to launch additional mutant spinoff possibilities, like Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds). And Logan gets lost in the shuffle of inside jokes that are the supporting players. I call them inside jokes because you'd have to be well-versed in the X-Men comic book lore to know or even care who some of these characters are. It's okay to tease us with the couple of cameos by characters from the previous films, but piling on others like the Blob, John Wraith, Emma Frost, etc., gets to be a little much.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine is often reminiscent of those old films touted as having an all-star cast, like It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963) or Cannonball Run (1981). Sure, it's nice to sit next to your friend and play "who can spot more actors," or in this case, superheroes. But at that point, are you really watching the movie?