While on hiatus from the X-Men series at large, 2009 saw the release of the ridiculously titled X-Men Origins: Wolverine, a spin-off and prequel (Spinquel? Prespin? Let’s coin a term for this, stat!). The film, as the title suggests, provides Wolverine’s backstory at length, dealing primarily with the events that led him to be the adamantium-claw wielding anti-hero film-goers have come to know and love.
While perhaps not the same kind of disaster that is X-Men: The Last Stand, Wolverine is still a far cry from the quality of the two Bryan Singer-directed X-Men films. Wolverine is lazily scripted, haphazardly put together, and suffers from many of the same shortcomings that plagued The Last Stand, while ignoring what made the first two films so good. For a film supposedly dedicated to comic’s most famous loner, it’s surprising to see an awful lot of characters here fighting for screen time. The casting of Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool and Taylor Kitsch as Gambit is pretty spot-on, but the inclusion of the two reek of misguided fan service and are almost completely unnecessary to the film. And really, the screenplay by David Benioff (who wrote the excellent 25th Hour) and Skip Woods (who wrote the far from excellent Swordfish) just pillages familiar themes and situations from the other films in the franchise. Yes, even this film ends with a bunch of mutants being rescued from a secret base. The film is crowded and convoluted; characters are undeveloped, motivations are arbitrary, and that’s not to mention the shockingly clumsy and sheer ridiculousness of some of the plot devices.
Jackman is does fine as Wolverine, as he’s played the character for nearly a decade; Danny Huston is makes for a serviceable William Stryker, and Reynolds is enjoyable in his superfluous role, but the rest are horribly miscast: Liev Schreiber is grating as Wolverine’s half-brother/nemesis Victor Creed/Sabretooth and Black Eyed Pea Will.i.am is pretty dreadful to watch as Wraith. Director Gavin Hood (Tsotsi) provides a couple of somewhat lively action sequences, but they’re marred by some really cheap-looking special effects (odd, especially considering this film cost more than X2).
Perhaps most egregiously, the film itself isn’t even necessary: In the first two X-Men films, Wolverine was so interesting because his past was shrouded in mystery, with only hints of his past as a top-secret government experiment. X2 then answered all audiences really needed to know about Wolverine’s past, while giving his search for identity a satisfying conclusion. This film’s characterization of Wolverine is actually no different than the other films – he is essentially the same cynical, world-weary loner before he loses his memory as he is after (and the nature of his amnesia is also a huge point of contention). But here, instead of being haunted by fragmented memories of the Mengele-like experiment performed on him (as he is in X-Men and X2), he’s haunted by post-traumatic stress-related flashbacks of the wars he’s fought in over the decades (say, why is Canadian fighting in all of America’s wars, anyway?). It’s really too bad because there is a lot of interesting source material out there that would make for a pretty great film. Wolverine‘s opening credits even bypasses what is potentially the most interesting aspects – living through several decades and wars – and falls into a rote (perhaps even bog standard) “every-time-I-think-I’m-out-they-pull-me-back-in!” story. Oddly enough, the film feels like an out-dated 1980s testosterone-fueled action film (like, say, Commando), with so many muscle-y, greased up men yelling and glowering at each other. It all adds up to a witless, third-rate superhero film riddled with clichés of the genre.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009, USA, 107 mins). Directed by Gavin Hood. Written by David Benioff and Skip Woods. Starring Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber, Danny Huston.