At The Picture Show
X-traneous X-ample of X-Men X-cretion
Wolverine exemplifies not the worst, but the most forgettable of big-budget filmmaking
X-Men Origins: Wolverine
20th Century Fox
Director: Gavin Hood
Screenplay: David Benioff and Skip Woods
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber, Danny Huston, Lynn Collins, Taylor
Kitsch, Daniel Henney and Ryan Reynolds
Rated PG-13 / 1 hour, 47 minutes
Opened May 1, 2009
(out of four)
It may seem counterintuitive, but a mediocre movie can be worse than an outright
bad one. If a movie is just a complete mess, it might at least be an interesting
mess. If it's a colossal disaster, it might be fascinating anyway, if only for the
wrong reasons. If it's laughably bad, then at least you can, well, laugh at it.
But if it sits there, uninterested in itself, hardly trying - or not knowing what to try
or how to try it - it can't inspire anything beyond apathy and boredom. The least
X-Men Origins: Wolverine could have done is try something - especially when it's
competing with so many recent superhero origin stories.
But it doesn't. It contentedly goes through the
motions and hopes, just hopes, that if it's loud enough, colorful enough and fast
enough, no one will notice that it has nothing interesting to give us. Plot point, plot
point, montage, explosion, flashback, plot point, explosion. Rinse, repeat.
That might be forgivable if director Gavin Hood and his writers didn't treat every
plot point as just that - instead of as an experience important to the characters, or
as a reflection of the thematic continuum. Oh, I know - "revenge" and "destiny"
are the themes, but that's no trick; we can all write that in our sleep.
In fact, that's exactly how this film was made - this is cinematic sleepwalking.
How many times must we see two virtually indestructible people run full-speed at
each other like rams and beat each other up without consequence? How many
times must we see Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) sauntering toward the camera while
something blows up behind him?
There's a stunning lack of creativity in every
scene, in every frame - so much so that you can practically see the filmmakers
trying to overcompensate for it. Consider one important action centerpiece - it
starts with gunfire, then there's an explosion, then a motorcycle chase, then a game
of chicken with a couple of armored cars, then another explosion, then Wolverine
flying through the air and landing on a helicopter, followed by a crash and
And it all happens bam-bam-bam - no rhythm, no momentum, no interesting
choreography to speak of. Just a bunch of noises, really. As if the film is saying,
"LOOK! LOTS OF STUFF IS HAPPENING! LOOK!" When for all intents and
purposes, it's all benign.
The film tracks the backstory of James Logan/Wolverine, beginning in 1845 as he
discovers his mutant side and forms a bond with his brother Victor, who we will
eventually know as Sabretooth (Liev Schreiber). Logan and Victor are two sides
of the same animal - all-powerful, vengeful, brash, driven by ambiguous internal
struggle. They fight side by side in countless wars and eventually begin to splinter
- Logan moving toward good and Victor toward narcissistic self-interest.
This becomes a particular sticking point when they are joined together on Team X,
a special team of mutants organized by Col. William Stryker (Danny Huston).
There is an incident. Logan leaves - and finds true love, of course! And in classic
movie convention, he finds true love for the sole purpose of losing it and seeking
Revenge, once again, comes in the form of
Stryker - who finds Logan and offers to put him through a procedure that will
infuse his body with an indestructible metal called adamantium. Hence the genesis
of the metal-clawed version of Wolverine we saw in the first three X-Men movies.
I couldn't quite put my finger on what was wrong with him this time around - it
wasn't Jackman's performance, which is fine. What it boiled down to, I realized,
was that this simply wasn't a very strong protagonist. He is a skeletal character
endowed with certain traits and motivations that serve the special-effects artists
more than they do the character. He's certainly not interesting enough to follow
for two hours.
This is Hood's first big-budget feature after gaining attention with the Oscar-winning Tsotsi and that dreadfully cheap political drama Rendition. To his credit,
he hasn't made the worst of the X-Men series - because, unlike X-Men: The Last
Stand, at least this movie makes sense. It just happens that Wolverine is mediocrity
at its most relentless.
Like the third of the X-Men trilogy, Wolverine
runs into the trap of artificially introducing too many new faces to know what to do
with. Characters come along, show off their special power, curtsy and then go
away. Every now and then they come back for an encore if their power is called
upon by the plot.
The most important of the peripheral characters this time around is Gambit (Taylor
Kitsch), who is written to personify a cocky, brash antihero with a bit of a sinister
streak, but is performed by Kitsch with no edge whatsoever. The rumor for a long
time was that Josh Holloway (Sawyer on Lost) was in line to play the role - and
boy, how perfectly he would have done so.
But Gambit is the least of the film's problems. The biggest problem of all, of course, being that it's barely there at all.
Read more by Chris Bellamy