Letter From The Editor - Issue 58 - August 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show
May 2009

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 subsequent explosion.

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 his revenge.

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


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