X-Men Origins: Wolverine Review

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Poor Hugh Jackman. You have to feel a bit sorry for him (or, at least, as sorry as you can for a massively wealthy, hugely successful, ruggedly handsome movie star.) In an industry as disingenuous as Hollywood, and working for a franchise whose ruthless strip mining of its assets is rapidly taking its toll on the end product, here's a guy who, you can't help feeling, really and truly cares what his audience thinks. Back in 1999, when he was first cast as X-Men poster boy Wolverine, he knew next to nothing about the worldwide, incredibly passionate fanbase centred around his new role, but over the past decade, not only has he come to appreciate the fervent following the character has but indeed has positively embraced it. This guy's done his research, read his comics, gone to Comic Con, mingled with the masses, and, above all, understands it and how important it is to a generation of comic book guys. It's easy to imagine him logging on to check out what people are saying and spending real time thinking through which Wolverine classic might best be suited for his next onscreen adventure, earnestly doing his best for them and wanting to live up to sky-high expectations. He says he cares, and you know what? I believe him. And now, finally he gets the big one, a film actually called Wolverine, and he has his say and makes his voice heard and works hard, and as shooting comes to an end is convinced that yep, that’s not a bad job all told. Should go down well. And then it leaks, and millions download it, and they all hate it, and are disappointed, and that’s two years’ of work, and a decade’s worth of expectation, down the drain in a few hours. Poor Hugh.

And you know what? Wolverine ain’t so bad. It’s not, as many contest, the abomination that X-Men: The Last Stand was, which managed to not only be rubbish on its own terms but also wasted one of the great comic book epics. Sure, X-Men Origins: Wolverine is formulaic and predictable and superficial, the Terminator: Salvation to Bryan Singer’s Terminators 1 & 2 , but as far as Friday night popcorn fodder goes it does its job perfectly well. There are some decent set pieces, and it moves along at a speedy pace, and while some of the casting doesn’t work as one might have hoped Jackman is never less than very watchable in the title role. It’s disappointing in so far as one considers the modern great Marvel movies, but it’s no Elektra either. It’s fine.

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Perhaps its main problem is that it went too far the wrong way, listened to fans too much, a problem cropping up more and more in recent times (*cough*Venom*cough*). Not so much a narrative as a series of fight scenes loosely pulled together, Gavin Hood’s film reminds me a bit of some of the poorer Bonds, in which the locations were picked first before some schmuck had to come up with some way of tying them together, only here it’s not locations so much as Marvel characters who been picked out of a hat. The first three films of the series, for all their faults, were not driven by the need to cram as many X-characters in as possible – the story came first and then little nods and winks were put in (admittedly a fair few of them) as and where they could go. Here the reverse is true, with a whole raft of Most Popular X-Characters Yet To Appear making their celluloid debut. There’s Gambit, inexplicably left out until now, and Deadpool , and the Blob, and a better Sabretooth and Wolverine battles each of them in turn until it’s time for the film to end. Not unlike the movie’s principal villain Stryker (Danny Huston replacing X2’s Brian Cox) it’s trying to assemble the ultimate X-Man entity, with not much thought how well or badly the individual elements will slot together.

There’s an interesting, somewhat telling, moment near the beginning. The movie’s prologue shows Logan and his brother, the youthful Sabretooth, running away from home after the former has killed his father. Normally, when a child kills his parent, we are not expected to sympathise with them, even given the circumstances, but it’s okay here, because when he grows up he’s going to be Wolverine, and we know that, so even though we’re given no other reason for being on his side than that we’re expected to go with it, and it’s never really alluded to again other than as a general reason why he’s a bit grumpy. This superficiality carries on right through. When the brothers have reached adulthood (no explanation, incidentally, as to why they grow so old but no further) they grow apart, until Logan walks away from the Special Ops group of fellow mutants, led by Stryker, which he and his sibling have joined, sick of the violence. Six years later and Sabretooth has apparently gone apeshit, bumping off fellow members of their group (mainly Dominic Monaghan, who looks somewhat lost as a dwarfish presence next to his beefed up former comrades) before killing Logan’s squeeze in his pursuit of his brother. Stryker offers Logan the chance to take part in an experimental weapons programme which will take part of his indestructibility and fuse his skeleton with adamantium, the hardest metal known to man. Logan agrees, only to discover that All Is Not As It Seems, and that Stryker had his own reasons for wanting to conduct the experiment, entirely unrelated to Sabretooth’s apparent vendetta...

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Gavin Hood’s film offers few surprises – anyone who doesn’t see the act three twist coming a mile away deserves to be locked in a dark room with only copies of Matt Salinger’s Captain America movie for company - but is professionally made and, in the main, looks good. The title sequence, in which we follow the two brothers through just about every US conflict since the Civil War, is effective, while the film’s rapid shift of locations, from mountain ranges to Las Vegas and, sigh, back into the bunker of Weapon X, mean that visual interest never flags. I would dare to suggest that the set pieces won’t get many hearts pumping, but they’re nevertheless well executed, and get better as the film goes on – the trick Wolverine has to get at Gambit by slashing the fire escape made me chuckle, while the final showdown on top of a cooling tower, while rather short, is quite striking. Very occasionally the CGI lets the side down – Wolverine’s claws have a curiously artificial sheen to them, and a certain person’s last minute cameo makes him look like he’s fallen into a vat of Botox – but other than that there’s enough bang for your buck, more so than certainly last year’s The Incredible Hulk offered.

And there’s no denying Jackman is good value. He doesn’t get much to work with here – regrettably, Wolverine doesn’t have any of the antihero nuance of the first three films, he’s always notably on the moral side of things, youthful patricide apart – but does his best with the thin material and shows the same ability to flit between lighter moments and the more serious ones that has served him well so far in the series. Schreiber makes a good foil for him, and it’s a bit of a shame after the opening the two don’t get screen time together – hopefully he’ll get an invite back. Unfortunately, the other cast members are not so successful. Huston brings none of the authority that Cox had to the role of the younger Stryker, and some moments comes across as either ineffectual or just plain impotent – he fades so quickly from the memory that I would venture to suggest that most people will struggle to remember just who the chief baddy was a week after they’ve seen it. Ryan Reynolds’ Deadpool is also a big letdown, although that’s not really his fault – one of Deadpool’s primary attributes is his motormouth, so the decision to literally seal the guy’s lips is very odd. The one new mutant who does work is Kevin Durand’s Blob (surely one of the least sensitively named comicbook characters of all times) – he might look like Fat Bastard’s obese brother who’s let himself go a bit, but as a translation from the comic book he’s spot on.

And it’s things like that that make Wolverine not a total loss. The film doesn’t outstay its welcome, or do anything egregiously terrible, and I don’t recall any out-and-out stinkers in the dialogue. I would rather sit through it again than the likes of Fantastic Four 1 or The Last Stand and although it falls short of its star’s hopes it didn’t quite deserve the ribbing it got on its release. Sure, if I was in a cynical mood, I could say that it was ultimately nothing more than a soulless extension to a franchise, as interested in road-testing potential new franchise offshoots as in telling its own story (both Deadpool and Gambit are rumoured to be heading for the screen), unwilling to take any sort of risks and totally unaware of its source material’s rich thematic tapestry which could have been harnessed, but I’m not. Besides, it wouldn’t do to tell Hugh that. Poor Hugh.

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X-Men Origins: Wolverine is available on both DVD and Blu-ray (Regions A and B), the version under review here. This comes with both a BD and SD disc, as well as a Digital Copy, so that, as the box says, you can see the film, like, everywhere! For some reason this is seen as a selling point. The DVD version is fairly sparse; in addition to the film there’s only the Japan-set deleted scene and The Complete Origins extra. In regards to the BD version, the film itself and all extras bar one are in HD and subtitled. The Main Menu is almost identical to those of the X-Men trilogy, a montage from the film over the various options.

The Video transfer is well up to scratch. The opening sequence is intentionally heavily layered with grain which the disc handles well with few problems, and the rest of the film, with a consistent but thinner patina, suffers from little problems in the encoding. Just occasionally the black levels are not quite as delineated as one might have expected, but the extensive location shoots come up beautifully. Indeed the look of the film is a little unforgiving at times – there are a couple of vaguely subpar CGI shots which the transfer rather mercilessly exposes through its clarity. The Audio, on the other hand, is not quite as bulky as maybe it should be. Less use is made of all five channels during the various action sequences than you would expect, somewhat to their detriment, and there were moments, such as when Gambit’s cards are flying around or any of the film’s finale in the cavernous Weapons X base, which are a bit of a lost opportunity.

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There’s a very good collection of Extras though, headed by two Commentaries, both of which are worth a listen. Although he occasionally strays into describing onscreen action, Gavin Hood’s is the pick of the two, the director keeping up his chat for the full length of the movie with few pauses, in which he offers plenty of insight into his thinking about the film and the characters. He occasionally strays into describing what’s going on in the story, but other than that he makes for an engaging enough companion. There’s more dead air in the second, featuring producers Lauren Shuler Donner and Ralph Winters, but they too provide enough on-set anecdotes and behind-the-scenes tidbits to make the track worth your time, should you be that interested in the minutiae of the movie.

Wolverine Unleashed: The Complete Origins (12:05) is rather oversold on the box, being described as “The most in-depth documentary of Wolverine to date!” Playing it, I was thus expecting a similar documentary to those that have been on many other Marvel releases documenting the character’s history down the years - even when the film itself is rubbish those are usually pretty reliable, and I was looking forward to seeing one all about Wolverine. But no. Instead, we get a short EPK Making Of, complete with phrases like “What Hugh and I wanted to do with this...” “He’s a tragic hero...” “He’s a little deeper and darker than in the other films...” and so on, blah blah blah. Very disappointing – although, to give it its credit, there’s one good bit which compares the Weapon X set from the earlier films to this one which is a nice touch. Instead, the historical angle is covered by The Roots of Wolverine: A Conversation with Stan Lee and Len Wein (16:18), a bit of jolly chat between Mr Marvel himself and Wolverine’s creator They exchange stories and banter about their work on the comic (although, by its end you’ll be thinking – whisper it – that ol’ Stan doesn’t actually seem to know a lot about the character) in an exchange that ‘s fun, but probably would have been even more so in front of a room full of appreciative fan boys.

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The meat, such as it is, of the extras comes from Weapon X Mutant Files (53:57) which profiles most of the main characters in turn while also acting as the disc’s main Making Of. Each segment features both the character and their major scenes, and while it’s all much as you’d expect it’s a pretty enjoyable example of its type and does its film good service. As an addendum to this, The Thrill of the Chase: The Helicopter Chase (5:53) is your standard Big Stunt featurette, complete with men talking into megaphones as explosions are primed, before-and-after CGI comparisons and people saying things like “It’s one of the biggest things I’ve ever done!” There are four Deleted and Alternative Scenes (9:33), only one, in which Stryker offers to wipe Wolverine’s memories and he almost goes for it, of any substance. The others include the original ending which saw Wolverine, post-credits, sitting in a bar in Japan, setting up the sequel, and a cameo for a young Storm (it’s she who causes the thunder and lightning as our hero walks away from his teammates at the film’s beginning.) These come with an optional commentary from Hood – someone should have told him he didn’t need to reintroduce himself at the beginning of each one.

There are four excitingly named Ultimate X Modes Those who know their Marvel might think these are some alternative universe versions of the films, but no, they are in fact four Picture-in-Picture “interactive tracks” to accompany the film, namely The Director’s Chair with Hood (in which surprisingly he doesn’t just repeat his thoughts from the regular commentary track,) Pre-visualising Wolverine (storyboards and the like), X-Connect, which will draw your attention to the fact some of these characters have appeared in other films before, and a trivia track, X-Facts. Not so x-citing (sorry, couldn’t not do at least one) is Fox Movie Channel Presents: World Premiere (6:23) (not in HD), the sort of promo piece I make a note of to avoid whenever they’re on E4. “I can’t believe I’m going to see Hugh Jackman in a few minutes, oh my God!” shrieks some fan in the audience as the star drives up to the premiere in Tempe. Stop it woman, pull yourself together and have some dignity. Presented by the appropriately named Tava Smiley (almost certainly no relation to Carol.) Finally, Fox on Blu-ray (3:24) are trailers for The X-Men Trilogy and Night at the Museum 2. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any better.
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