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Non-Review Review: X-Men Origins – Wolverine

Well, at least it’s an action movie that acknowledges its pointlessness. It isn’t a spoiler to point out that – since Wolverine doesn’t remember his origin in X-Men and has to reminded in X-Men II – none of the events here have any real importance to the character development of the Canadian superhero. The audience knows buying a ticket that anything he learns will be erased and lost and that the film itself is just an explosion-filled flashback which, even if had something worth saying, would be pointless anyway. That said, it does deliver somewhat convincing action sequences and two very good leading performances.

The other man of steel...

The other man of steel...

Those looking for the moral complexity that bryan Singer brought with him to the franchise and Brett Ratner attempted to clumsily emulate will be sorely disappointed. Though the film is set in the late seventies and the early eighties and serves as a prequel of sorts to the trilogy, it doesn’t offer a window into that world in its formative years. One would imagine that this new species of human is only emerging at this time, and – with the civil rights movement still in full swing – it would seem the perfect moment for the filmmakers to explore the ‘integration’ angle of proceedings. Instead the film is not interested in such loft questions. In fact, it seems that there have always been as many mutants as we saw in the initial films (at least based on the abundance of super-powered supporting players), so I don’t see why the US government is suddenly so concerned in the twenty-years-down-the-line future of the earlier films. If anything the mutant population has decreased.

But to make such observations is cynical. It’s as cynical as picking apart the dozens upon dozens of plotholes, for example, or the lazy storytelling which the script employs to connect all the dots as they need to be connected for the other films in the franchise (including the myriad of spin-offs) to work. There is nothing inspired in the writing here, no fun, no joie de vivre. It isn’t deep enough to warrant being taken seriously, but it is too self-conscious to be out-and-out fun. There’s nothing deep here about the charater of Wolverine – what made him what he is was already explored in the best movie in the earlier franchise, the retread seems redundant. It might be excusable if the film had some new observations to add, but it doesn’t.

The CGI is ridiculously bad. Particularly with Wolvie’s claws, which you think that they would have perfected over three movies already. It looks like somebody painted them on, and is a marked difference from the films released almost a decade ago now. In a film which requires such a ridiculous amount suspension of disbelief for even the basic plot to work, it needs the effects to convince us that they could park a helicopter among some trees or that Wolverine is diving into the water.

Still, for all its many faults, it has its charms. Two of them, at least. The first item in favour of the movie is the rather fantastic leading performances from Hugh Jackman and Liev Schreiber. Both are thespians far beyond the material they are handed here, but they never take the material too seriously. Jackman’s Wolverine is great at delivering quips and putdowns, which are all you need in the film’s outlandishly increasing action sequences, and he has a raw animal charisma which does make you believe he may be a tamed beast. Schreiber himself is obviously having a ball playing a larger-than-life rather crude but effective sociopath. He has bulked up to give himself fantastic physical presence. He doesn’t really have much to work with (in fact it seems the script just includes the direction to ‘look evil’) but he nails it and seems to enjoy doing it. The two work well together. the rest of the supporting cast are a mixed back. Danny Hueston is a pale patch on Brian Cox as the manipulative General Stryker, who is stripped of his complexity by both actor and script here. Will.i.am, Kevin Durand, Dominic Monaghan and Ryan Reynolds fare slightly better as the crack mutant squad Stryker has put together for dirty beind-the-lines missions (it might help that their parts are smaller).

The other strength of the movie is Gavin Hood’s direction. He can’t weave magic. He can’t make the script a masterpiece. He obviously doesn’t know good CGI work (or he just doesn’t care). What he can do – which surprises me – is direct an action sequence, when it doesn’t involve special effects, and he can establish mood well. His fight sequences are kenetic and raw. They don’t redefine superhero battles, but they inject some energy into the movie. He is very good at establishing moods throughout the film, which helps us buy into certain ridiculous plot developments and cuts down on unnecessary time spent at various stages of the title character’s life.

The film flies through Wolverine’s existence. It really does. it’s as if the script knows what Wolverine must endure to become a hero, there’s a set of checkboxes that must be ticked (find his place, lose his place, find peace, have peace taken from him) in order to make a superhero origin. But instead of doing anything in  novel or exciting way, the movie decides to cram all that into twenty minutes so we can see explosions quickly. It’s a mixed blessing. There are interesting ways to tell that story, but I’m glad the movie didn’t make me sit through a pretentious and “oh so original and insightful” hero’s journey where I already knew all the stops.

What we end up with is a reasonably mediocre action movie that is really only saved by the fact that it doesn’t aspire – nor pretend – to be more than what it is. While that mediocrity isn’t to be valued, maybe the honesty is. There are odd moments of charm, mainly provided by the two leads who seem to be enjoying playinga round, but nothing to get too excited about.

As I insist on looking on the bright side – and a sequel has already been greenlit – I still remain faithful that Hugh Jackman may yet pull a good story from his most popular character. This rather dull movie has told everything that is needed to be told (in the context of the other X-Men films), which means that the next story can be told on its own merits. I wish it were that simple, but I still remain cynical.

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