April 30, 2009

Written by Matt Goldberg

Before I begin, allow me a brief disclaimer because some may regard this review as my determination to hate “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” or some strange vendetta against 20th Century Fox. I went in wanting to like this movie. I would always prefer to see a good movie over a bad one. I also don’t really care about Fox one way or the other. I think they should look at their films and realize that something’s not clicking and fix the problem, but I don’t lay awake at night thinking, “How am I gonna fuck Fox today?”

In truth, I am dumbstruck by how awful I found “Wolverine” and think it is a landmark in not only in Fox’s track record of terrible movies, but in how bad superhero movies can get. “X-Men Origins” is worse than “Elektra”. It is worse than “Ghost Rider”. It is worse than the 2004 version of “The Punisher”. It is worse than the 1989 version of “The Punisher”. The only superhero movies worse than “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” may be “Batman & Robin” and “Superman III” and “IV”. To try to give you a vague idea of how bad this film is, my pen ran out of ink writing down all the terrible things in this movie. I have had this pen on my keychain for seven years and it ran out of ink because it couldn’t handle that amount of hate it had to transcribe and killed itself.

I would say that everything I’m about to tell you would “ruin” the movie for you but that would be working under the assumption that the film is not already ruined. That it is not a disfigured mess, blundering from one scene to the next, impatient for the next atrocious-looking set piece, and destroying all logic and common sense in its path. If you are hell-bent on seeing “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”, then you are literally bent on going to hell and there’s nothing I can do to save you.

Deceptively, the film opens with some promise. A sickly kid named James is lying in bed while an older boy, Victor, sharpens a knife in the corner and keeps Jimmy company. However, events quickly go sour as Jimmy’s father is murdered by Victor’s father who turns out to be James’ biological father (blame the soap opera that was Marvel’s “Origin” comic miniseries for this twist). Unfortunately for Victor’s dad, it turns out that sickly young James is actually young Wolverine and in a rage he skewers his bio-pops in a tidy bit of melodrama as his true father reveals their connection and then croaks. James and Victor run away (and although it’s a small part, the actor playing young Victor does a great job in quickly establishing the character) and then we’re treated to the opening credits which serve as a montage of Jimmy (Hugh Jackman) and Victor (Liev Schreiber) battling through war after war. It’s an effective opening sequence because it sets these men as fierce, predatory animals who can only thrive amongst violence. Furthermore, it makes sure that the audience members unfamiliar with the comics and the characters will understand that these two men are mutants who can heal and that’s why they’ve lived for so long. The film appeared to be heading in a promising direction in setting up the conflict between these brothers.

But then William Stryker (Danny Huston) enters the picture and it all begins to tumble downhill. You may remember that Stryker appeared in “X2” and was played rather well by Brian Cox. He was a sinister, bigoted man but Cox imbued the character with pain and loss and a spiteful-yet-almost-envious relationship with mutants that grew from his own feelings towards his son. Hopefully you remember that because Danny Huston certainly doesn’t. He has none of Cox’s mannerisms or even the southern dialect. I don’t care that the two men don’t resemble each other. I care because it’s lazy acting on Huston’s part.

Stryker recruits Jimmy and Victor for a special team but because the film chooses to define characters by big actions rather than subtlety, it’s up to each actor to do their best with what they’re given. The team consists of Bird (Dominic Monaghan) who can talk to machines and electronics; Wraith (, a teleporter; Fred Dukes (Kevin Durand) who can absorb any impact; Agent Zero (Daniel Henney) who can manipulate guns and bullets to hit any target; our boys Jimmy and Victor; and then there’s Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds), a smart-alecky and humorous fast-talker who is highly skilled with swords. It seems like a promising start to pile these actors together as a proto-X-Men and see how their relationships will develop.

But I guess relationships are for fags because the team breaks up within the span of fifteen minutes. It’s one big set-piece, all the mutants get to dazzle us with their abilities, we see that Stryker’s trying to obtain a special rock (which anyone who has half-an-idea of the backstory will understand is the indestructible mineral adamantium) and then once they start threatening some villagers for more, Jimmy goes and breaks up the band and goes to Canada for six years. That’s it. You will not see Ryan Reynolds and his highly entertaining character again until the end of the movie and that’s when he really gets ruined, but more on that later.

This is the first of the film’s key mistakes because it thinks that Wolverine’s cheesy love story with a woman named Kayla (Lynn Collins) is more interesting than his centuries long brotherhood with Victor. We then get even more melodrama as the film absolutely murders all subtlety and Harry Gregson-Williams awful score smothers every emotion with music that thinks you’re too stupid to know what to feel and it’s a crutch because you can’t feel anything since the film thinks you’re too stupid to comprehend characters with more than one dimension.

And that’s what “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” feels like: a stupid person calling you stupid for a hundred and seven minutes. The film thinks you’re too dumb to wonder why Kayla tells Jimmy a myth about a Wolverine without any prompting other than the film hates subtlety and wants you know why he chooses “Wolverine” as his name. The film thinks you’re too passive to wonder why characters stop calling him “Jimmy” and then start calling him “Logan” for no reason or why a film that has to be set in the late 70s/early 80s (the film makes it clear that the last war Wolverine and Victor fought in was Vietnam and even if you assume they were fighting until 1975, it can only be 1981 at the latest), everyone dresses in modern clothing. “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” hates you and never misses an opportunity to condescend to its audience.

And that’s ridiculous because the film is so unbelievably stupid. Logan falls for the world’s most obvious manipulation as Stryker secretly has Victor pick off old teammates and then “kill” Kayla so that Logan will join the “Weapon X” program and allow his skeleton to be coated in adamantium so he can be strong enough to take his revenge on Victor. Of course, what Stryker really wants is to steal Logan’s mutant ability and use Logan as a test subject for another, even dumber program. After getting his shiny skeleton, Logan hears (underwater, no less) that Stryker plans to erase his memory so he busts out and goes on the run where he meets up with…Ma and Pa Kent (credit to Russ Fischer for noting the similarity of these unnamed characters to Superman’s adoptive parents).

I shit you not. He meets an old couple around farm land (because that’s near the facility even though “X2” establishes that the base was in the tundra of Alkali Lake) and you wonder if we’re about to get a Superman-Wolverine crossover movie. Instead, we get what may be the worst and most pointless effects shot in a film that has nothing but atrocious and pointless effects shots. Wolverine is up in the bathroom examining his claws. His claws are CG. Astoundingly bad CG.

Now I understand using CG for the claws some of the time. If it’s a quick fight scene or you don’t want someone to get hurt or if you’re in a long shot, there can be good reason digitally rendering those claws. But he’s in a bathroom. Just lookin’ at his claws. And instead of using a practical effect, we get CG that is embarrassing. This effect and almost all of the special effects in the film are worse than anything in the original “X-Men” movie and that came out almost ten years ago. How does that film look better than this one?

It doesn’t help that the staging of the action scenes is laughable. The film keeps heaping them on, even when they’re totally unnecessary. For instance, as Wolverine hunts down his old teammates in order to find and kill Victor, he meets up with Fred again and in order for Fred to give him information, they have to box. They take the time to set up a pointless fight scene rather than move the story along or better use that time for developing character. In “X2”, the debate was over which action scene was the best. Was it Nightcrawler bamfing through the White House? Wolverine’s mansion rampage? Magneto’s escape from prison? But with “X-Men Origins”, the question becomes which was the worst? My vote goes to Wolverine’s fight with Gambit (Taylor Kitsch) where Wolverine slashes at a fire escape that Gambit’s climbing to get away and not even the 90s “X-Men” cartoon would have attempted something that cartoony.

The film fluctuates from laughably bad to creating slack-jawed amazement that anyone could take such a beloved character and ruin his movie so thoroughly. There have been other summer blockbuster disasters, but rarely with a character as well-established and popular as Wolverine and not with an Oscar-winning director (Gavin Hood) supposedly behind the helm. I say “supposedly” because it’s hard to know who to blame here. Is it Fox CEO Tom Rothman? Is it credited screenwriters David Benioff and Skip Woods or some un-credited hack at the sidelines (this is presuming a script even exists)? Is it the fault of the producers? I honestly cannot say but whoever gets scapegoated (and I’m betting it’s going to be Hood) will receive credit not only for this film, but for killing the “X-Men” franchise for at least the next half-decade.

So back to Ma and Pa Kent. They’re looking out for our boy Wolvie and even give him their dead son’s jacket. But then Agent Zero takes out the old couple and Wolverine charges out on a motorcycle for yet another big dumb action scene, this time with the emphasis on explosions on the background. Zero attempts to chase Wolverine down by shooting at him from a helicopter. There’s just one problem with all of this: in the previous sequence, when Wolverine got his adamantium skeleton, Zero shoots Wolverine in the head and of course, Wolverine just shakes it off. So why is Zero still using bullets against a man who is essentially indestructible? It doesn’t really matter because Wolverine brings down the chopper but Agent Zero, who doesn’t have a healing ability, survives the explosive crash. Zero then makes some dickish comments and Wolverine makes sure that Zero gets blown up real good since he apparently did have the very specific genetic mutation to not die from helicopter crashes but his one weakness was fiery explosions.

But then my favorite moment of the film happens and by “favorite” I mean I screamed at the screen and almost walked out of the theatre. Immediately following Zero’s death, we cut back to Stryker talking with his superior officer and the officer mentions, “Zero could have only used adamantium bullets to stop Wolverine,” to which I shouted, “THEN WHY DIDN’T YOU FUCKING GIVE THEM TO HIM?”

This is a film that refuses to play by its own rules. I don’t mind minor changes. If Scott Summers’ aka “Cyclops” optic blasts are now heat blasts, fine. If Emma Frost only has her diamond-skin ability and not her psychic powers, so be it. But you can’t tell me that adamantium can destroy adamantium when we’ve already seen Logan slashing his claws together. Also, Ma and Pa Kent’s jacket must have come from Krypton because like Wolverine, it is also indestructible. The film doesn’t just throw out its own logic; it throws out common sense.

At the outskirts of the film is Victor, menacing and feral but with Liev Schreiber doing his damndest to make it a real performance and he almost pulls it off. He has nowhere near enough screentime (it all goes to the overwrought romance between Logan and Kayla) but he oozes cruelty and turns the character primal without making him merely a brute. Unfortunately, someone spotted Schreiber trying to make part of this movie good and made sure that every time he attacks, his effects not only look terrible, but his facial expressions are laughable.

There are other faint glimmers of quality in this clusterfuck of a movie. Taylor Kitsch, despite his mess of a Cajun accent, is immensely charming as Gambit and if this film hadn’t killed the franchise, he would have fans ecstatic over the idea of a Gambit spin-off film. Most of the other actors do their best with what they can. Monaghan is soft and inoffensive but it’s to the point where you know he’s not long for the film. Durand deploys charisma despite having maybe twenty lines in the entire film. And as for our man Jackman, the role fits him like a glove in spite of the melodrama and vast stupidity of project. Hugh Jackman is to Wolverine as Christopher Reeve was to Superman—the cinematic definition of the role against which all others who may one day play it will be judged.

But these valiant performances are nowhere near enough. There’s simply too much working against the film. Eventually we discover that Stryker (who kills his boss and thinks he’ll get away it for some reason) is harvesting powers to make “Weapon XI” aka “Deadpool” aka “Wade Wilson”. After removing Ryan Reynolds from the majority of the film, he’s now the film’s big boss fight and he, like Cartman’s Balrog, has lots and lots of powers. Oh, but he can’t talk because his mouth was sewn shut. The most appealing aspect of the character, both in the comics and the opening of this film, is removed. Why? Because they need UFC fighter Scott Adkins to do the martial arts at the end of the film. They literally put the fight scene ahead of the character. Fuck Ryan Reynolds acting ability and charm. Fuck making Deadpool an appealing character. Let’s just have the film’s one millionth fight scene. “Oh, and don’t worry about why Wilson becomes Deadpool,” the film says, “and how this underutilizes Reynolds—we’ll get a spinoff for that!” No, no you won’t.

And it gets dumber still! Here are some more of my favorite moments: as all the captured mutants that Stryker wanted for their abilities are escaping from the Weapon XI facility (which apparently only had five guards), Charles Xavier comes out of nowhere to rescue them in his chopper. Now I can buy Xavier showing up. He designed Cerebro, he can sense mutants, and he’s a protector of mutantkind. It’s a bit of a forced cameo but wouldn’t wreck the film provided this was a good movie. But then, instead of just showing us the back of his bald head and hearing Patrick Stewart’s voice, the film turns the camera around to show us his digitally de-aged face and I have seen RealDolls that look more human. Again, you have your pick when choosing the film’s worst effect, and again, the film thinks you’re dumber than a sack of hammers because you won’t know who that character is unless we see his horrific CG visage. Oh, and he can also walk which means he must have been confined to his wheelchair by contracting polio in the 1980s. As an adult.

Wait, more dumb: So after destroying Weapon XI (temporarily because if you stay through the credits, you’ll see the decapitated Deadpool start putting himself together like the goddamned Iron Giant, unless you get one of the other post-credit endings they shot in an attempt to bring people back to the theatre to see this atrocity), Stryker hunts down Wolverine and because he can’t bring himself to kill Logan and just wants to erase his memory (even though there’s no clear benefit to leaving Wolverine alive) he uses the magic adamantium bullets to shoot Logan in the head. Since the film has never even heard of a “brain”, let alone having one, no one understood that firing a gun at a moving target’s head isn’t the most precise way to hit the brain’s memory center.

Even more nonsensical is that we see Stryker’s son, Jason aka Mastermind who, as we learned from “X2”, has the ability to fuck with people’s minds. Granted, it’s just to create illusions, but I would happily accept the liberty of him or any other mutant, being able to take away Logan’s memories as opposed to “My magic bullets will reset your memory box.”

But I could actually really go for one of those right now: just a memory-erasing bullet right to my mind-grapes because this film gave me PTSD. I know it seems odd spending so many words just to tear apart a film when I didn’t give this much space to acclaim films I loved. But I didn’t want to spoil those films. I wanted to raise people’s awareness and point them in the right direction, but I can only do so much raving before I ruin the joy of discovery in those films. “You just spent over 3,000 words trashing this movie,” you might say. “How did you NOT have it in for this movie?” I didn’t have it in for “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”. “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” had it in for me and everyone else who doesn’t have a railroad spike through their heads. If I’ve gone on and on about the film’s flaws, it’s only because I’m astonished at how many there are.

“X-Men Origins: Wolverine” is the greatest waste of potential in recent memory. It is an embarrassment to everyone involved and is the worst summer debut since “Van Helsing”. It’s a crushing disappointment because the “X-Men” universe is rich with interesting characters and stories and now that’s probably all gone on hold until people forget this mess. And that’s a shame because we could probably get Ian McKellan in the “Magneto” movie since we totally have the technology to make him look younger.

Rating —– F

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