Sunday, 6 February 2011

Film Review: X-Men Origins: Wolverine [2009]

EDIT (2013): WARNING - I wrote these reviews aaaaages ago and possibly don't even agree with them any more.  I have since discovered that one sentence reviews are a lot more fun.  Please see One Sentence Film Reviews tab.

A story should start as late as possible, and while the writer might know the entire history of the characters, the audience doesn’t need to.  So there’s no worth in prequels.  But even so, who could have predicted just how boring this pointless prequel would be?

The opening scene is a horrible suggestion of what lameness we’re in for.  A toddler running and screaming as cocktail sticks come out of his knuckles immediately smacks of tackiness.  SPOILER ALERT.  But this is blown off the screen by far more embarrassing later sequences; Wolverine walking slowly away from an explosion he has caused or screaming into the sky with his dead girlfriend in his arms (said girlfriend is very dull, and it’s impossible to get involved because she’s obviously going to die, but the film makes the mistake of un-killing her just to make the last hour of Wolverine wanting revenge absolutely pointless, and then killing her again, as if anyone can be bothered with feeling anything again).

After the opening scene, time skips as if someone has sat on the fast forward button and now it’s jammed.  Just when you think it might settle into a plot, no, it leaps on again, giving that nasty sensation of desperately trying to prize the button out so the film will play at a normal speed.  But by the time it does, it’s too late, we haven’t grown to care about any of the plot, settings or characters, who’ve had no development, and we’re left cold and uninterested for the rest of the story.

The X-Men are a team, so it seems odd to make an X-Men film that isn’t about this team.  Surely the point of these characters is that they work in contrast with each other.  And if you must take one out of the mix and let them stand alone, why Wolverine?  He was already the main character in the last three X-Men films, and already had his back-story explained on screen.  And even if, as this film says, there’s loads more not yet told, Wolverine gets amnesia.  Anyone who has watched X-Men knows this.  So none of what happens in this film matters.  It can’t have any effect on who he becomes.

And for a film that specifically focuses on one character rather than an ensemble, there’s no depth of character.  The problem of the original trilogy was not having time to focus on everyone.  This film shows that alone, X-Men don’t work.  Wolverine’s asides are funny when he’s in a team.  When he’s on his own, they don’t make sense.

It also forgets to explain the background of the character, even though that’s the only reason to make a prequel.  There’re no scenes of Wolverine learning about his powers, such as living forever (or how he gets around people noticing this).  Wolverine and Victor are fugitives, wanted for murder and for being freaks, and are then in several wars, so surely the government must know who they are?  And where does the name Logan come from?  Wolverine is introduced as being called James and then later is called Logan.  Why?

Hugh Jackman isn’t exactly phoning it in, but there’s nothing new to the character, while Liev Schreiber is even worse as Victor, absolutely one note and so very dull, relentlessly turning up to make scenes that little bit more boring.

Who is Victor anyway?  There’re a lot of hints about things that happen in the other films, but none of it is explained or backed up.  Instead of adding new angles to already known facts or setting up events known to play out later, it just raises more and more questions until by the end of the film, it’s just one huge baffling question mark clubbing the audience to death.  At some point, Wolverine says the word ‘mutants’.  What?  Mutants exist?  That’s the official term?  People know about mutants already?  Huh?  What?  Isn’t this the most important part of the X-Men universe, the crux of the trilogy, and you’re just mentioning it off the cuff?  But possibly most damnable of all the questions is ‘who is Victor?’  This character appears throughout the story, as Wolverine’s brother-figure.  He apparently has the same powers as Wolverine but the film forgets to go into this.  Thanks to the comics, cartoons or computer games, most of the audience know Victor is Sabretooth, but this isn’t mentioned in the film.  And he’s not the Sabretooth from the first X-Men film.  So who is he?  Is he supposed to be the same guy or someone else?  They don’t bother to explain this, the one thing that we don’t already know from watching the other films. 

So Wolverine and his random friend Victor are recruited to a special team and in the very next scene Wolverine quits.  This suggests that this is first mission, but surely, from the way everyone reacts, it isn’t.  So why not show any of this or spend even a second to explain what’s going on?  Also, apparently Wolverine doesn’t like killing.  So, he doesn’t actually develop at all when he becomes the Wolverine in the X-Men films.  There goes all the tension from the first film when Rogue was picked up by a mysterious stranger who didn’t even trust himself.

Still, Wolverine is specifically a prequel to X2, the most boring of the X-Men films.  Problems in X2 involve the basic and yet convoluted plot, lack of set-up, lack of pace, character development that doesn’t follow on from the first film, clunky dialogue and general confusion.  While these problems take root in X2, guess where they bloom?  Everything that doesn’t work about X2 is apparent here, everything that does, missing.  And even though this is the prequel to X2, I know if I watch X2 again, none of this will tie up or make sense. 

This film shows the part of Wolverine’s back-story already told in the X-Men films, when he gets his adamantium skeleton and his memory is wiped.  It even has the characters saying they will now wipe his memory (and I check my watch and say, “there’s still half the film to go, I really don’t think so,”).  But then the film says, ‘yeah, you think this is what happened?  Well it didn’t.  Turns out more happened afterwards, ha ha ha,’ as if that’s clever, and not smug.

And there’s no tension.  Wolverine states he wants to kill two characters, but both these characters turn up in the other films, so they, and he, obviously survive.  Thus all fight scenes are suddenly irrelevant.  And Wolverine is practically invincible; that’s his mutant power.  And during the film, he is made indestructible with the adamantium.  So not only does the audience know he will survive, but he knows he will survive.  So he has no fear.  There is nothing more damning to tension than a lack of fear. 

The only remotely interesting scene in the film is that in which schoolboy Cyclops is running from Victor.  Because young Scott is terrified.  But it may also be because Cyclops as a student reminds me of X-Men Evolution.  I love that cartoon.  Make that into a film. 

And just in case you thought this review would get away without mentioning it, why do Wolverine’s claws appear to be drawn on?  If they’re not moving, why not just glue something on his hand?  Make a glove.  How are the effects worse than they were nine years ago?  And the overuse of special effects, as walls and doors are painted in with a computer, is baffling.  Surely a real wall would be cheaper than adding it in later?  Is the entire finale performed in front of a green screen?

There’s nothing enjoyable or feel-good about this film.  There are lots of plot holes, general stupidity and clichés, but mainly it’s boring and po-faced.  I’m talking head on hand, able to think about this while film is still on boring, which, despite flaws, is something that never came up during the other films.  When the occasional funny line popped up, the audience was just too tired to laugh. 

X-Men Origins: Wolverine is not an X-Men film, failing to have any of the elements that made the first film so wonderful (wit, excitement, intelligence, emotions or foreboding).  It’s not even a superhero film; it’s an action film.  Superhero films are impressive and funny.  This is tedious and serious.  It has probably killed any chance of more X-Men films, and even if not, who wants to see Wolverine again?  How did they make everyone’s favourite this unwelcome?  I wish I had not seen this film, and I hope it has not killed a franchise that still had potential left in its embers.

Phew, I got through the whole review without mentioning Gambit. 




  1. I'd go further than this, and submit that, of the X-Men, Wolverine is the worst one to follow on his own. It's all about context with him: He's the rough, hard member of the team, and reacts with slight discomfort to the potential dorkiness of the other X-Men - their costumes, their codenames etc. He is the audience stand-in, getting rid of any lingering feelings of "Phew, this is all a bit nerdy" so we can get on the action.

    Cut him out, place him on his own, and then what? You've got a bloke with nothing to quip about.

    And, yeah, the fact that his entire history is irrelevant to his present - a decision he makes in X2, in one of the few decisively good moments - renders any prequel movies totally worthless. And oh my, boring too. I spent portions of X-Men: Origins - Wolverine (which is a title so convoluted, it belongs in the Mission: Impossible series) actually staring at the ceiling. So much for superheroics.

    1. He's definitely a 'support' character. Adding him into the Days Of Future Past prequel made it infinitely more bearable than the First Class prequel.


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