Sunday, May 3, 2009

X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE

Review: X-Men Origins: Wolverine
2 stars (out of 5)
By R. Kurt Osenlund

Poor Hugh Jackman. The muscular multi-tasker may be the reigning Sexiest Man Alive and a rousing Oscar emcee, but he just can't seem to land a decent movie these days. Last year, he endured back-to-back duds, starring in the the toothless erotic thriller “Deception” and “Australia,” Baz Luhrmann's overstuffed Down Under epic that tanked with critics and audiences. Now, as executive producer and star, he stands at the center of “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” a clunky spin-off/reboot of 20th Century Fox's blockbuster “X-Men” franchise. You don't need to be a super-geek to know that Wolverine, that metal-clawed mutant with a ferocious disposition, is both the veritable king of the uncannily gifted X-Men and one of the most popular characters in Stan Lee's entire Marvel Universe. He's also the character that, in 2000's “X-Men,” catapulted Jackman from relative obscurity to household name status. The 40-year-old Aussie wears the role of Wolverine like an impermeable (and very hairy) second skin, one he's donned for two progressively profitable sequels. This petty, built-to-make-a-buck backstory of the X-MVP makes the original trilogy's weakest chapter, Brett Ratner's “X-Men: The Last Stand,” look like a slam-dunk. Nothing more than a base-level actioner, it's a whopping disservice to the character, to the fans and, most and worst of all, to Jackman.


You can't really condemn the actor/producer for putting his name behind a project that recounts the roots of his signature screen counterpart. However, when watching this film, you also can't help but wonder: amidst all the gym visits and bulking regimens that turned him into a mean machine of rock-solid muscle, did Jackman even bother to read the script? “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” – an ultra-specific title that makes one long for the simple numbers of the “Spider-Man” installments – might as well be called “Wolverine for Dummies.” Attempting to explain the source(s) of Wolverine's world-famous rage, it begins with an awfully cheesy prologue set in 1845 Canada wherein two of the worst child actors you're likely to see this year portray young versions of James Howlett (aka Logan, aka Wolverine) and Victor Creed (aka Sabretooth), half brothers endowed with similar superhuman abilities (hyper-keen senses, rapid regenerative powers, long life, retractable fingernails). Bound by tragedy (Logan accidentally kills his father with his newly-discovered “bone claws”), the boys run away to join the Army and grow up to be Jackman and Liev Schreiber. After serving together in the Civil War, both World Wars and Vietnam, the unbreakable bros are recruited to a mutant special ops team by Col. William Stryker (Danny Huston), an older version of whom was played by Brian Cox in Brian Singer's far superior “X2.” When Stryker orders his men – who also include the samurai swordsman Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) and the teleporter Wraith (Will.I.Am. of The Black Eyed Peas) – to murder innocents, Victor obeys but Logan quits, solidifying the pair's long-brewing rivalry and the movie's major conflict.

“Wolverine” further examines a legendary bit of comic book lore that was teased at in both “X-Men” and “X2.” Following his departure from the military, Logan retreats to the Canadian Rockies where he finds seclusion, grunt work, and love in the arms of Kayla Silverfox (Lynn Collins), a pretty schoolteacher who helps him cope with his inner demons. But when his past comes back to bite him and Kayla is killed, Logan goes berserk and signs up for Weapon X, Stryker's cloak-and-dagger program that transforms mutants into mindless killers. Logan sticks around for all the killer amenities (indestructible metal skeleton, his trademark triple-butcher-blade talons), but escapes before the mindless part can take effect, thus making enemies with basically everyone. More armed and dangerous than ever, he begins seeking revenge on those enemies, and we watch as the dots connect to set up the events depicted in the first “X-Men” movie, a process that's about as scintillating as a child's paint-by-number exercise.


There are a few lines of dialogue that are so clich├ęd, even beyond parody, that they should be outlawed in Hollywood. One is “look what the cat dragged in,” another is “we didn't sign up for this” and the worst is “I'm so cold,” painfully uttered by a character about to kick the bucket. All three phrases pop up in “Wolverine,” and they're a good indicator of the rest of the bottom-rung screenplay by David Benioff (“Troy”) and Skip Woods (“Hitman”). The banter in this flick is easy, common and devoid of ingenuity, and no amount of actor gravitas could make it anything but. Not that there's whole a lot of gravitas to go around in the first place. Reynolds, who shows up early on and then factors into the climax, confirms once and for all that he's a single-note performer, whose buffed-up physique may have expanded his resume but whose dramatic range is still limited to dimwitted class clowns. Since acting isn't his chief vocation, I won't be too hard on rapper Will.I.Am., but let's just say the casting director's shot at being hip by hiring a musician backfired big time. Taylor Kitsch (NBC's “Friday Night Lights”), who portrays fan favorite Gambit in the film's second half, doesn't appear long enough to warrant many criticisms, but certainly doesn't make a strong impression. Schreiber, who also played a brutal brother type in last year's “Defiance,” and Huston, a dependable supporting thesp, seem to hover above the material, eagerly awaiting their paychecks. And Jackman, who's given very little to do other than scream, fight and break stuff, looks a bit like an alien in his own movie, leaping from one predestined scuffle to another. By the time the credits rolled, I, a self-professed X-fan, felt less familiar with the title character than I did going in.

About a month before the film's opening date, an unfinished cut of “Wolverine” was leaked online, causing Fox execs to rightfully panic about box office takes. I haven't seen the viral video version, but the final draft that made it to screen can't be much better. Routinely directed by Gavin Hood (the Oscar-winner “Tsotsi”), the movie boasts nothing special. Its action scenes, which are initiated at every possible opportunity, are far too ordinary and tedious to be put on such showy, “look what we can do” display. And in a movie like this, if even the action and effects are unimpressive, what's left to enjoy? Jackman currently has eight films in development. Let's hope at least one of them allows him to polish up his street cred. Meanwhile, the folks at Fox have announced a 2011 release date for “X-Men Origins: Magneto.” Let's hope the tale of the supervillain has more bite than that of the superhero.

1 comment:

Christopher said...

Agreed for the vast majority.

Small detail, not sure if you were implying Stan Lee created Wolverine. He created the original X-Men team, but his only creations to make this film are Cyclops, Blob and Professor X.

Either way, I enjoy reading your reviews, buddy!