Friday, May 8, 2009

REVIEW: X-men Origins: Wolverine (...& Friends)

Above: Hugh Jackman busting up a small piece of Otago.

Starring Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber, Danny Huston, Taylor Kitsch and Ryan Reynolds
Screenplay by David Benioff and Skip Woods
Directed by Gavin Hood

There's a good reason why some mysteries are best left to the imagination; the eventual reveal is almost always a disappointment.

Wolverine's comicbook origin was till recently, left purposely vague. He was Marvel's answer to The Man With No Name: he let's his actions speak for him; where he comes from isn't as important as why he's here and what he's going to do with those claws next (and that's just the way the fans liked it). When the first X-men movie became a surprise hit in 2000, much like the comic Wolverine stole the show (and was placed front and centre for the rest of the series). Soon afterwards Marvel gave in to temptation and put out the 'Origin' mini-series to tell his backstory themselves before Hollywood bet them to the punch.

They shouldn't have worried if this effort is anything to go by.
It's more an advert for shameless merchandising than any kind of character exploration. In fact the character's origin is rudely shoved aside in the first five minutes to make way for endless action sequences and every other mutant who didn't make it into the previous films. It appears FOX learnt nothing from the missed opportunity of X-3 and have even perfected their formula for pandering to their target audience (brain dead teens?). It's everything that scores highly with test audiences combined into one convoluted film: more characters, more action sequences and fan hints and references. What little 'story' is left is either fortune cookie dialogue (used as clumsily foreshadowing) or watered down exposition which would be ropey in a comic book.

Hugh Jackman is an appealing enough lead, but here he has little to build on that we haven't seen before and probably spent most of the time watching his stunt double. Liev Schreiber is the only actor here who leaves an impression. As the blood thirsty Victor Creed it's a nice change of pace for him from the mild-mannered nice guy roles he usually inhabits and he clearly enjoys himself. Most of the supporting characters/action figures barely register with so little screen time between them. Taylor Kitsch is a perfect fit for Gambit and does a good job, it's just a pity there's no burning reason for him to be involved here at all. Much has been made of Ryan Reynolds been cast as Deadpool, but the character has so little in common with his comic counterpart you wonder why they bothered. Reynolds doesn't make much of an effort either and delivers an uninspired line reading in his ten minutes of screen time (but since he's just here to pitch a spin-off, mission accomplished).

The sheer amount of action scenes is almost tiring; at one point they even interrupt one action sequence to give way to another!(Wolvey VS Sabretooth VS Gambit VS logic). This reaches literally crazy heights by the movie's climax as Wolvey and Sabretooh take on Deadpool in a sequence clearly designed with a tie-in videogame in mind.

For everything they blow up (including a farm house in Otago, in one of the film more engaging action set-pieces) it's difficult to care when there's nothing to be gained from all the chaos. You don't really learn anything you didn't already know about the character and he certainly doesn't evolve in any noticeable way. He gets beaten about by external forces who have nothing to do with shaping his back-story or personality in any meaningful way, which renders the whole movie a giant waste of time and potential.

A final scene after the end credits teases a sequel based on the Claremont/Miller Japanese Samurai storyline, but as long as FOX can make money hand over fist on merchandising don't expect them to take the muzzle off this beast anytime soon.


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