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May 6, 2009 > Movie Review: X-Men Origins: Wolverine

Movie Review: X-Men Origins: Wolverine

By Jeremy M. Inman

Directed by Gavin Hood
Rated PG-13

It's getting pretty tough to make a well-received comic book movie in the wake of The Dark Knight's critical success. The Batman franchise of today has shown moviegoers the serious side of comic book filmmaking; a world where men in masks and flashy costumes beating each other up on rooftops can be taken seriously and can say something worth hearing. Even though "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" shares several elements in common with the Batman reboots (retelling of a classic character's origin, tragedy ensues, love is lost, etc) it ultimately falls short of greatness, instead defaulting to the pre-Batman Begins method: blow a bunch of stuff up, ignore a cohesive story, keep your characters simple and, most importantly, do it for cheap.

Problems began for this film early when a heap of negative buzz resulting from a leaked early work print set expectations very low. Issues ranging from unfinished CGI to the butchered handling of some classic characters caused uproar among comic fans across the internet. Those of us who refused to watch the leaked print were banking on these issues being smoothed out before the film's eventual release. Unfortunately, many of them were not.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine retells the story of Marvel Comics' favorite mutant. For those readers who may not know, Wolverine is an on-again off-again member of the X-Men team of young mutants with exceptional skills. He is known for three six-inch retractable claws on each hand and his willingness to use them to lethal extent. He possesses a mutant "healing factor" which slows his aging process and allows recovery from physical damage. His skeleton is bonded with an indestructible alloy.

The film briefly chronicles his early childhood in pre-Civil War America, providing a glimpse into Wolverine's (AKA Logan, AKA James Howlett) history as he fights his way through every major American war leading up to Vietnam where he and his brother, Victor Creed, are "executed" by firing squad for assaulting a superior officer. The execution is not successful, as Victor also possesses a mutant healing factor.

They are soon recruited by a Special Forces team comprised of likewise-talented mutants who perform black ops missions for a man named William Stryker (the bad guy in Brian Singer's X2). The remainder of the film takes place in the early to mid 1980s. Wolverine has left the squad for a life of peace and love as a lumberjack in the Canadian Rockies, but this tranquility is soon shattered when his sadistic brother Victor starts killing former members of their unit. The rest of the details are unimportant, simply used to provide a superficial justification for action sequences in the film as Wolverine launches a one-man vendetta against all who have wronged him.

From here on in the movie is a rollercoaster of super fights and explosions which, to the film's credit, are handled well. For a summer blockbuster, this is to be expected and is therefore no big deal. However, as a post-Dark Knight comic book movie, the film is lacking the character development, clever plot, and meaningful motivation that fans of this genre have come to expect. Even the once-interesting and dramatic social underpinnings of the "mutant struggle" are glossed over in exchange for a revenge-driven plotline that fizzles in the third act leaving more questions rather than a fulfilling conclusion.

To its credit, the film is well-acted by most of its principle players, including the returning Hugh Jackman, still a seemingly perfect fit for Wolverine. In a surprising turn for the early complainers, Live Schreiber as Victor Creed turned in perhaps the best performance in the film despite having been declared a poor choice for the role by rabid bloggers and forums everywhere. Even some of the side characters (like LOST's Kevin Durand as Fred Dukes, AKA the Blob) were handled with much more attention to authenticity than in the previous X-Men films. Audiences also got some cool little Easter Eggs to set up possible future X films, none of which I'll give away here.

Unfortunately, convincing actors can only take an unconvincing script so far, and wherever X-Men Origins: Wolverine succeeds in cool characters and big action, it falters in story. A character with such a dark, long history as Wolverine deserves more than the standard blockbuster treatment; any opportunity to delve into his tortured past is squandered.

Marvel's been on a recent run of winners with the reboot of Hulk and the awesome Iron Man but they still haven't been able to deliver a film of the same caliber as DC's new Batman franchise. While Wolverine's not necessarily a step backward, it certainly doesn't do much to advance the genre or build a case for Marvel's upcoming catalogue of lower-profile superhero flicks. At the bottom line, X-Men Origins: Wolverine is exactly everything a summer blockbuster should be... fun.

But nothing else.

All action; no content.

Here's hoping that Captain America or Thor can raise the bar instead of just sitting comfortably on it and raking in the dough.

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