Other than Captain Canuck Wolverine is the best known superhero to hail from the Great White North. According to his comic book backstory he was born in 19th century Canada—Northern Alberta to be exact—and served in the First Canadian Parachute Battalion before being recruited by Team X, a CIA black ops group. When movie fans first encountered the character, however, little was known about him. At the beginning of the original X-Men movie he was suffering from memory loss and couldn’t remember how he became a superhero with retractable bone claws, the near indestructible metal alloy adamantium bonded to his skeleton and claws and a healing ability that allows him to quickly recover from virtually any wound, disease or toxin. The new movie, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, aims to clear up any questions about the hirsute hero’s lineage in a 107 minute CGI-fest that tells us everything we ever wanted to know about Wolverine, but were afraid to ask.
It’s quite a story. When X-Men Origins: Wolverine—written by David Benioff (The Kite Runner, Troy)—begins it’s 1845 and James Howlett (that’s the young, pre-superhero Wolverine) has just discovered his superhuman abilities. As an adult he (Hugh Jackman in his fourth turn as the character) and half brother Victor ‘Sabretooth’ Creed (Liev Schreiber) become elaborately facially coiffed soldiers, using their mutant powers in every conflict from the Civil War to Vietnam. In Nam the brothers get thrown into the brig but are rescued by General William Stryker (Danny Huston), a warmonger who recognizes their special set of skills and recruits them for his team of mercenaries. And that’s all in the first five minutes. Later when James Howlett, now called Logan leaves the group he is branded a traitor and Victor is sent to retrieve him. On Stryker’s orders Victor kills Logan’s girlfriend setting Logan on a path of revenge. Meanwhile Stryker hatches a plan to create a super mutant and persuades Logan to undergo an operation to make him virtually indestructible.
Since this film, in its unfinished form, was leaked on the internet the world wide web has been ablaze with fanboy opinion. Judgments on the film’s merits have ranged from “a lesson in mediocrity” to “It’s a movie that should be judged against such greats as The Godfather and Citizen Kane.” I fall somewhere between the two.
This may be my own bias, but I don’t go see movies based on comic books expecting air tight stories. I know that in comic book land the best books have well developed narratives but, rightly or wrongly, I give movies like The Hulk and Wolverine a pass in the complex story department. I go for the fun stuff—explosions, incredible fights, cool characters and wild CGI. With that in mind X-Men Origins: Wolverine earns a passing grade from me. It has plot holes you could drive a Brink’s adamantium truck through, but boy, they blow up stuff real good!
Richard Donner, the veteran director of 1978’s Superman was brought in to assist official director Gavin Hood in creating an audience-friendly back story based on Wolverine’s thirst for blood and revenge and his fingerprints are all overt the film. The mix of action, character and comedy feels very much like the first Superman.
Nothing here will come as much of a surprise to anyone familiar with the story or the endless blogging that’s been all over the web. X-Men Origins: Wolverine has the obligatory shots of Jackman walking away in slo mo from a giant explosion; some good acting from good actors like Danny Huston, Liev Schreiber and Jackman; some attempts at humor—a morbidly obese man wears a “Save the Whales” t-shirt and some camp moments—how many times can Wolverine howl at the sky?—that add some over-the-top energy to the picture.
On the downside the script is riddled with clichéd dialogue—“Whose side are you on anyway?”—and doesn’t come close to the elegant perfection of the first two Bryan Singer X-Men movies, but as an early summer popcorn flick it’s good fun.
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