Thursday, April 30, 2009

Review: X-Men Origins: Wolverine

Another comic book movie has been released on the big screen, so it’s time for another review!

This time around, it’s the first of at least two planned prequels to the X-Men movie franchise: X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

Ever since Hugh Jackman graced the screens with his first major movie role as Wolverine in 1999’s X-Men, his star has kept on rising in Hollywood. Could it only have been a mere ten years since he made his big screen debut as arguably the most popular character in comic books today?

What a performance Hugh delivered. Not only did Jackman look exactly like what most fanboys thought Wolverine would look like (albeit an extremely taller version) in a movie version of the X-Men, he pulled off Wolverine’s angst, berserker rage and had a certain gravitas and gruff style about him: Jackman didn’t PLAY the role of Wolverine, he WAS Wolverine!

There was no doubting that Jackman was the star of X-Men the movie. Which is something considering the company he was in: Halle Berry, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan...but this unknown Aussie actor was THE breakout star of the movie?

X-Men Origins: Wolverine was certainly hyped up worldwide; with Jackman being the obvious star attraction from what were essentially three ensemble movies, surely he could do no wrong in a standalone movie!

The movie was hyped up more in Australia, what with Jackman being the hometown hero and most of the movie being shot in New South Wales; in fact, some of the actors appearing in the movie were Aussies who most people would find familiar, because they were recently on our TV screens in one of the most-watched productions of all time. But more on that later.

And there was even that whole thing where the movie was leaked onto the internet where people could download copies illegally and watch the movie weeks before it made its theatrical debut in cinemas. Yes, that certainly “stole” profits away from the creators of the movie, but more press, even the bad stuff, is good press, hey?

We’ve been treated to two other X movies since the first X-Men movie, with X2 being the best of the bunch and X3, while having heaps of cameos and some great battle scenes, best left forgotten from the X-franchise. X-Men Origins: Magneto will be out in the next year or so and who knows what other spin-off movies will emerge from the X-franchise. But first, the Wolverine standalone movie.

So, was the movie any good? Did it live up to all the hype? Let’s just say that, given the chance, I would have watched the version that was circulating on the internet, simply because I wouldn’t have needed to pay to watch this movie.

Once again, the obligatory spoiler warning.

I'll be revealing some plot points from the movie so if you haven't watched the movie or don't want to find out what happened, stop reading from here onwards!

It’s not that the movie was bad. It just wasn’t very good.

The script was not strong at all. Even if I could look at the movie from a non-fanboy’s perspective, the script was still pretty weak in places. There was quite a lot of action and some good action sequences, and quite a bit of dialogue that fleshed out the character and his supporting cast. But it seemed like the action and drama bits were just jammed together in a random mishmash and out came a script.

No doubting that this movie will do well at the box office regardless; it’s Wolverine, played by Hugh Jackman after all! But surely it will also be one of those forgettable comic book movies. Certainly not a classic like X2, Spider-man 2 or Batman Begins; more in the vein of The Punisher and Daredevil and, dare I say it, Ang Lee’s Hulk. Ok, not quite as bad as Ang Lee’s Hulk.

As usual, I’ll review the good and the bad parts of the movie, in my opinion. First, the good.

The casting of characters was exactly like the recent Watchmen movie: spot on!

In recent comic book movies, they have fantastic eclectic casts where the actors chosen seem to embody the very best of the character, from looks, to portrayal of that character to all the little fine nuances that one would come to expect of that character.

We’ve seen that in Watchmen, the two latest Batman movies, Iron Man, and now X-Men Origins: Wolverine. A lot of thought was put into choosing the perfect actors to play the characters. A pat on the back for the casting crew!

Which leads directly to:

My favourite part of the movie is seeing Ryan Reynolds bring my favourite Marvel character to life on the big screen. What an inspired choice in choosing Reynolds, who has a knack for playing smart-alecky characters in his movies, to play the merc-with-a-mouth!

Sure, we see Wade Wilson BEFORE he’s hideously scarred due to his cancer, but in the short five minutes where he’s running off his mouth, he steals the show. It’s unfortunate that Deadpool doesn’t break the fourth wall as he so usually does in his comics, but hey...this IS his first big screen outing after all.

Deadpool seems even more of a badass than Wolverine is in this movie. Reynolds shows there are two sides to this character: the lippy merc who lives a carefree life and shows no fear, and the stone-cold psychotic killer. Bravo!

The major disappointment is that Deadpool is pretty much a bit player in the movie...well, the Deadpool at the start of the movie anyway, more on that later. I would have loved to see more of my favourite Marvel character in action on the big screen. Hell, just having him chat up a storm for half an hour without any other sort of action sequences and I would have been happy!

Finally we see Gambit in a movie! Where was he in the other three movies? Ok, sure, it wouldn’t make sense for him to be in the first movie. Perhaps it would have been premature for him to be in X2. But in X3 where there are so many cameos, they couldn’t squeeze Gambit in?

The wait for Gambit to finally appear on the big screen pays handsome dividends though. Taylor Kitsch is the perfect choice to play the raging Cajun. He certainly looks very much the part; suave, charming, but physically nimble and agile and ready to rumble at the drop of a hat.

Perhaps Kitsch’s southern Cajun drawl isn’t great, but he does try and he more than makes up for it by oozing “cool”. As expected, we first see Gambit at a poker table, showing off his card skills and tricks to the ladies (and other gamblers).

We see Gambit’s famed agility and fighting skills with his quarterstaff in a brief fight scene with Wolverine. And we also see his kinetic-charge powers in action, though his cards don’t explode like they do in the comics, but it makes perfect sense in the movie...the powers are kinetic based, not explosions anyway!

The one disappointment here, like Deadpool, is that Gambit doesn’t have a lot of screen time and you could just about get any other mutant-of-the-week and throw him in the plot in place of Gambit’s character. We also don’t see enough of Gambit’s kinetic-charge powers; the only things he throws during the movie are his playing cards, albeit a very cool sequence when we see him do that.

Liev Schreiber is great in anything he’s in, movie or TV program, and there’s no exception here. Just like Jackman is Wolverine, Schreiber IS Sabretooth! Though we never hear him being called that at all in the entire movie: he’s just known simply as Victor.

Schreiber bulked up for this role and he is an imposing and fearful figure. His Victor Creed has a fearsome snarl and he fights dirty. Victor has no compassion for human life at all and his relationship with his brother, Wolverine, is tenuous at best. Wolverine has to keep restraining Victor from giving into his blood lust and becoming the efficient killing machine that he is.

Thank goodness for Schreiber’s performance as he made me forget the atrocity that was Sabretooth in the first movie, played by the very stiff former pro wrestler Tyler Mane!

Great cameos
Such as the one from Professor Charles Xavier at the end of the movie, though he looks very feminine and looks like he’s wearing tons of make-up!

Professor X travels in his helicopter and he rescues the mutants captured by William Stryker at the end of the movie, thus heralding the birth of his X-Men with his first encounter with Cyclops. And what’s really awesome is that THIS Professor X still has the use of his legs and isn’t confined to a wheelchair!

Scott Summers and Emma Frost also make nice cameos in the movie. Scott has a “larger” role when he’s captured by Sabretooth and Stryker and we see him use his destructive optic blasts for the first time. We then see his qualities as the future X-Men leader when he guides his fellow captive mutants out of the Weapon Plus facility, though with a lot of help from Charles Xavier talking to him telepathically.

Emma Frost aka the White Queen also has a nice cameo where we see her changing her skin to diamond when the captive mutants are trying to escape. Wish they had chosen a more bimbo-blondish character to portray Emma Frost though as this one doesn’t look like her at all...perhaps my only gripe with the casting of the characters in this movie.

It was a really nice touch having Scott and Emma interact with each other as they try to escape. After all, these two form a relationship in the comics after Jean Grey dies for the umpteenth time. The two future leaders of the next generation of the X-Men, interacting with each other and then coming into contact with the X-Men’s founder, Professor X! Fanboy geekgasm all around.

Fred Dukes as the Blob...all I can say is HAHAHAHAHAHAHHA!

A nod to Wolverine’s comic book origins
In this case, I’m referring to the 2001 Origin mini-series by Paul Jenkins and Andy Kubert, and the Weapon X saga by Barry Windsor-Smith that was featured in Marvel Comics Presents back in 1991.

We get to see Wolvie pop his bone claws for the very first time! And we also see the adamantium bonding process that made Wolvie pretty much indestructible.

We also see Team X in action for the very first time, which is a nice nod to the comics once again. The comic version only consisted of Wolverine, Sabretooth and Maverick (who is actually Agent Zero in the movie), but it makes sense for more characters to be part of the movie team.

William Stryker is a badass!

While I would have loved seeing Brian Cox reprise his role from X2, Danny Huston does a great job portraying a younger Stryker. This Stryker is a master manipulator, playing both sides and also playing his former Team X members against each other.

His evil machinations nearly come to fruition and it's revealed why he hates the mutant population so much, but is not above actually using them for his own sinister purposes. Not many people would come face to face with Wolvie and Sabretooth and just stare them down without blinking.

The opening sequence
After the origin, we see Victor and Logan fight together in the major American wars: the Civil War, World Wars I and II and the Vietnam war. These two have built a bond since they escaped from the Howlett household together in the 19th century and we see how their camaraderie changes oh-so-slightly, with Sabretooth slowly giving into his bloodlust and Wolvie trying to pull his brother away from the dark side.

Australian actor “cameos”
Two that I noticed: Asher Keddie, who plays a doctor assisting William Stryker with his Weapon Plus experiments, and Peter O’Brien who plays John Howlett, Wolverine’s supposed father.

Both actors were familiar to me because they are both in the Underbelly: A Tale of Two Cities TV series that is currently showing on Australian free-to-air TV. Keddie plays the role of Victorian police officer Liz Cruickshank while O’Brien plays Sydney underworld figure, George Freeman.

I’m sure there were more Aussie actors in the movie since the movie was filmed in NSW!

Unfortunately, there was also a whole heap of bad. As mentioned earlier in this review, the script wasn't very strong and it wasn't a good mix of action sequences and character-building sequences at all. But I won't critique the plot too much, except for when it really gets my goat.

The main villain, Weapon XI

The "X" for Weapon X is the roman numeral for the number ten, as William Stryker so eloquently puts (a nice nod to Grant Morrison's "Weapon Plus" storyline from the New X-Men comics in the 00s) and so Weapon XI is actually Weapon 11.

Since the adamantium bonding experiment on Wolverine was a success, Stryker decides to experiment once more with the next incarnation of the Weapon Plus program and creates Weapon XI, who has a fusion of powers from some of the mutants that was captured by Stryker. Paper thin plot here!

Anyway, what really annoys me is the fact that Deadpool is Weapon XI! What the?!

There's a really nice scene where Stryker explains how Deadpool got his name, but it goes downhill from there. Basically Weapon XI/Deadpool has the teleporting powers of Wraith, the optic blasts of Cyclops, the healing powers of Sabretooth, and his twin katanas, now coated with adamantium, have been embedded into his arms a la Wolverine's claws. Weapon XI is a monster who has his lips sewn shut so we don't get the traditional Deadpool banter.

I don't like this final protagonist at all. Surely we didn't need a villain like this Frankenstein creature! Plus, it sort of kills off any hope of a Deadpool standalone movie. Now that Deadpool has all these extra powers and is seemingly killed at the end of the movie, even if he's brought back, how does one "remove" these powers? Boooooo...what were you thinking, scriptwriters!

Sabretooth wussing out

I think Sabretooth should have been Wolvie's final adversary. But he acts too much like a big brother for the entire movie; he's looking out for Logan, then he has this intense hatred for him (sibling rivalry perhaps!), then he wusses out and refuses to deliver the killing blow. And right at the end, he walks away (or rather, jumps away) without engaging Wolvie in a final fight!

These two are eternal enemies. While I don't like the fact that they are blood brothers in the movie (I think they are half brothers in the comics), it's certainly something that works for the movie. But this Sabretooth is a wuss when it comes to fighting Wolvie! Sure, he gets in a few good licks, but then becomes all chummy and acts like a proper big brother should; protecting his little brother. Yuck.

Maverick/Agent Zero

The David North character in the movie, Agent Zero, is nothing like the character in the comics. Which is alright...but surely you would have thought that they would at the very least pay some homage to the original character, who was a hero, not a villain.

Agent Zero is a sharpshooting mercernary in the movie and his powers seem to be deadeye-dick accuracy a la Bullseye from the Daredevil comics and movie and increased speed and agility. So not like the Maverick from the comics who has the power to absorb kinetic energy generated by impact without any harm to himself.
Sure, this is a power that's kinda hard to "show off" in the movie without it coming off as him being some sort of invulnerable mutant. But really, if they wanted a character to be an evil protagonist who's loyal to Styker, surely they could have chosen other mutants from Marvel's pantheon of characters.

Wolverine's more "human" moments

Ugh. I wanted to see Wolvie unleashing his berserker rage (which we don't really get to see at all in the movie), not his tender, touching side!

I understand that they needed to build up between Logan and Silver Fox so that when she is "killed", he will seek his revenge on Sabretooth. But there was no necessity for that whole "moon" story in that intimate scene between the two. Lynn Collins as Silver Fox though...roooowr! What a hottie.

And who really wants to see Wolvie working as a lumberjack? Yeah, that builds up the backstory, but the lumberjack job scenes took too long. I don't really want to see or know about Wolvie interacting with his job buddies making fun of him for kissing Silver Fox in full view of them!

There's also a nice tender "Ma and Pa Kent" moment when Wolvie, freshly escaped from the Weapon Plus facility, comes across this elderly couple who helps him get back on his feet. Yeah, if I wanted to watch Wolvie being mollycoddled by two old folks, I'd go watch old episodes of Smallville. Thankfully, "Ma and Pa Kent" are killed after taking up about 15 minutes of screen time.

While the boxing match between Logan and the Blob was extremely funny, it made no sense whatsoever. Why would Logan even willingly take part in a boxing match against the Blob so that he can win and extract information from Fred Dukes? Wouldn't he just pop his claws and threaten the hell out of the Blob until he reveals that secret information?

So so out of character. Speaking of which...

Wolverine acting out of character

Logan goes to fight Stryker and Sabretooth and after a simple conversation where they discuss Silver Fox's staged death and how everything was just meant to get Wolvie to volunteer for the adamantium process, Wolvie decides to walk away without a fight?

What the?! Sure, he comes back after he hears Silver Fox's screams where Sabretooth is about to gut her, but the fact that he walks away in the first place just left a really bad taste in my mouth.

The fact that they would just stand around to have a conversation is just plain silly as well. Oh, I've come here to kill you for ruining my life but I'll just stand here and listen to you reveal your evil master plan first and then decide not to kill you anyway because I've changed my mind. Ugh.

No Magneto!

Just a small nitpick, but I think they've missed out on a great opportunity to introduce the next X-Men Origins flick based on Magneto.

It would have been so apt and perfect if there was a Magneto cameo, notable in the scene where Professor X shows up to rescue the other mutants. Magneto and Professor X were friends after all, and since Professor X still has the use of his legs in this movie, that means that they haven't had their falling out yet and Magnus hasn't yet crippled Charles intentionally.

Ah well.

The two extra scenes during and after the end credits

I wish they had done more with these extra scenes. I remembering watching an interview with Hugh Jackman where he urges the audience to stay until the credits have ended because fans would be treated to more footage. So here I thought it was going to be GOOD footage.

Not long after the credits have started rolling, we see the Army picking up William Stryker, wanted for murder. Pfah, how boring. Why didn't you show perhaps the first generation of mutants taught by Professor X instead? Or what happens to Gambit or Sabretooth after the movie? Or even Wolvie making the trek up to Canada up to the point where we first see him in the first X-Men movie fighting in a cage match?

The last scene showed Wolvie in Japan, drinking to try and remember his life as his memories were scrambled after being shot in the head twice with adamantium bullets by Stryker.

I would certainly have preferred to see that same scene in a bar where Wolvie is drinking, but not in Japan, rather, when he's in the Canadian bar and Rogue approaches him for the first time. It would have been a perfect lead-in to the X-Men movie.

But they showed this instead. Wolvie has a huge backstory in the comics based in Japan...maybe this is a lead-in to a possible Origins sequel for him? Here's hoping!

All in all, a good movie, but not great. Certainly not one of my favourites, though I'd be happy to keep watching footage of Deadpool!

Not quite sure if they'll do a Deadpool movie now, with the events of this movie transpiring the way it has. I'll be happy if they still do it though, and I'll settle for a Gambit standalone movie as well.

And a Liev Schreiber standalone Sabretooth movie would be the icing on the cake.


Nomad said...

some parts were OK (like anything with Liev Schreiber or Ryan Reynolds)... but almost everything else was oozing with cheese

Blankie said...

I couldn't agree more. Yes, the movie made megabucks at the box office, but that was always going to be the case regardless of how brilliant or how poo the movie was going to be!