Biopics are kind of hard to put together. It’s hard enough trying to show the trials and tribulations of the life of an existing person in two hours while making sure it has enough meaning to define who they were. So to do it for a comic book character who, to date, has had more paper devoted to him than Katie Price’s boobs, is a complicated thing. Nevertheless, X-Men Origins: Wolverine tries this out, but it’s more accurately described as Wolverine & Friends.
Warning: spoilers to follow, true believers.
Legend has it (or at least the special features) that the filmmakers – particularly executive producer Hugh Jackman – originally wanted to make the legendary Frank Miller/Chris Claremont comic miniseries set in Japan, but Fox said they needed an introductory movie first before taking that on. So, as such ,Gavin Hood and Co. have put together Wolverine: The Story So Far, making it a prequel to the X-Men movies.
This takes us from his origins as a young child seeing his possible father (Neighbours’ Shane Ramsey, following Jim Robinson’s recent appearances in Star Trek Nemesis and Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull as the occupants of Melbourne’s most dramatic cul-de-sac seem determined to break into Hollywood) murdered, his subsequent kinship and journeys through the centuries with half-brother Victor Creed (aka Sabretooth), their inevitable fallout, and the tragedy that comes with that and Logan’s internal struggles. Oh, and a bunch of special forces mutants who pepper the film with the kind of incomprehensibly masturbatory action sequences that Michael Bay can only dream of.
The critical reaction to Wolverine was harsh, to say the least, and it’s not hard to figure out why. To casual moviegoers who aren’t that bothered, this is probably an acceptable film, but to anyone with half a brain and especially die hard X-Men/Wolvie fans, this movie sucks, mainly from a complete lack of understanding of what has made the character so appealing and interesting over the years.
I’ve always thought that Wolverine gets a bit too much flak from people for being a one note character, mainly because there are a lot of writers who take him on but don’t necessarily get the character, and just end up mixing some tough talk and puns with an occasional dose of snikt. But the lack of comprehension is only one of the things wrong with Wolverine.
First of all: there are too many mutants. For a film which is supposed to be a solo outing, there are a lot of other characters who waste screen time. The film combines many of the storylines from the comics, including the Team X plotline, where a group of mutants are recruited to run black ops missions.
In the comics this was for the CIA, but in the movie it’s down to William Stryker (last seen in the far superior X2) to pull this team together, which includes Sabretooth, Wraith, Agent Zero, Deadpool and a few others. This is fair game, but the team is approached just like every other special ops team in Hollywood, with the only real difference being the way that they do their missions, i.e. with mutant powers.
And this is where you remember you’re watching a movie, and a pretty bad one at that. Agent Zero does things with his guns that make you bang your head against the wall and wonder why these people are trusted with movie cameras, Deadpool twirls his swords like propeller blades to deflect bullets, and Bolt, um, turns lights on and off.
In a movie like this, suspension of disbelief is paramount, but time and again you’re reminded that this is a film because they seem to be going all out to make everything and everyone seem ultra-special, which doesn’t do a lot for Wolverine, who, with just his claws and healing ability, seems a bit pedestrian next to all these uber-mutants to the point where you wonder why they need a whole team. Why not just one person?
When Wolverine decides he’s had enough of the team, he moves to the Canadian Rockies to live with the spectacularly named Kayla Silverfox (originally Silver Fox in the comics), to live a romantic and picturesque life as a lumberjack.
This is where the movie goes hyper-romantic, but it’s one of the few parts of the film that really works, probably because it’s blatantly obvious, whether you’ve read the comics or not, that it’s all going to end in tears. And it does spectacularly when Kayla is murdered by Sabretooth, which prompts Logan to go and get his Adamantium on, courtesy of Stryker, who it turns out is really using him in order to make a super mutant, all of which follows Grant Morrison’s Weapon Plus storyline.
And this is where they cram a ton of other mutants in. After escaping, Logan goes to Stryker’s special facility after meeting Gambit and his light aircraft (!), and ends up having to rescue a bunch of trapped mutant kids, including Emma Frost and Scott Summers.
This, basically, just turns this into another X-Men rescue mission (especially when a similar sequence was already in X2), before putting Logan together with the end boss: Weapon XI (11).
It turns out Deadpool is the guinea pig for Stryker’s ultimate mutant, who takes all the powers from previous mutants to provide a significant obstacle for our hero. So we have Logan and Sabretooth on top of a cooling tower fighting this guy who can teleport, heal, and do all other kinds of crazy things that, in normal circumstances, would render both of them dead in less time that it takes for the average human to go to the bathroom.
By this point, you’re either laughing at the film (and its multiple ‘Noooooo!’ moments ) or entranced that every single one of your comic book fantasies has been put on the silver screen, but the only thing really missing is the joypad and a health bar.
Movies nowadays seem to be more and more like videogames in their structures, just as videogames try to be movies, and I’m sure this is very fun in the official videogame of the movie. But watching it as a passive experience is terminally dull, and takes away the last little bit of goodwill the movie had.
There are some parts of the film that are pretty good. The more introspective parts are actually interesting, and you do get to feel for Logan, but they’re never in-depth to the point where he actually has any real conflict about who he is, and the one time he says his famous line (“I’m the best at what I do…”) is almost an offhand, flippant remark with no weight behind it.
It doesn’t help that the good character scenes are almost always prematurely interrupted by Michael Bay-esque action sequences, which makes the scenes seem to have come from different scripts. The film was originally written by David Benioff, writer of the brilliant Spike Lee film 25th Hour and the decent Troy, with a rewrite by Skip Woods, who, to this date, has written Swordfish, Hitman, and G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra, so maybe that explains it all.
The scene where Logan gets his Adamantium and subsequently goes nuts is really good, and one of the few really visceral action sequences, but it’s over far too quickly. And the cramming in of all the mutants means that there’s not much time for us to get to know Logan himself, coupled with the obsession the filmmakers have to explain everything about him.
We even get a kind of cool, but kind of silly explanation for why he calls himself Wolverine. And that damages the character, and again goes back to a misunderstanding of the character himself.
One big appeal of Wolverine has always been his mysterious past, with the soul of someone who’s been through centuries of pain trapped in the body of your average guy. But know we know he was James Howlett, his half-brother is Sabretooth, he got his claws because his girlfriend was murdered, he’s had associations with a boatload of mutants, he’s had bone claws all this time, and all his experiences have made him a bit grumpy. It’s like finding your favourite bounty hunter is really a Kiwi clone with an annoying voice who saw his dad decapitated by Jules Winfield. Oh wait…
On the plus side, the acting is mostly good, with Jackman still embodying the character absolutely perfectly, and Liev Schreiber being a suitably nasty Sabretooth to the point where you wish he was in the first X-Men as opposed to a shaved Chewbacca.
Danny Huston’s Stryker is suitably slimy, and Lynn Collins’ Kayla is pretty good (and pretty hot), although I wonder if the female audience was happy at her mutant power of ‘being able to persuade men to do things’, or outraged that it’s another show of Hollywood females as being manipulative witches.
Back to the Claremont/Miller miniseries, that series is a great dilution of who Wolverine is, and the struggles he faces, and would have made an amazing movie (and still might). One of the many secret endings to the film has Logan in a bar in Japan ‘drinking to remember’. Maybe this is all my fault, as I’m projecting what I want to see in a Wolverine movie and then being disappointed when it all goes to shit. Then again, it’s a poor, poor movie.
At the end of the film, Logan is shot in the head with an Adamantium bullet, causing him to forget everything that’s happened and put him in his amnesiac way in preparation for the X-Men movies. If only we could suffer the same fate.
Wolverine comes in a ‘triple play edition’, which is really kind of neat. Disc 1 is the film on Blu-ray, Disc 2 is the film on DVD, and Disc 3 is a digital copy, which means you can copy it to your iTunes or Windows Media Player and watch it on there, or on your chosen portable device. This is pretty neat, and whilst watching a movie framed at 2.40:1 widescreen on my iPod Mini isn’t the best thing in the world, it’s fun if you like the film (which is why I’ve been watching Star Trek on mine and not Wolverine). Hopefully this kind of thing will really kick off, as it’ll at least give me something to do in my lunch hour at work.
The film on Blu-ray looks great, as it should do. The picture is spectacular; there’s just enough grain to make it film-like but not to distract, and it lets the cinematography (one of the best things about the film) shine through.
The DTS 5.1 sound mix is very good, and very loud, and showcases the film’s audio well, although I occasionally had to turn it up during character scenes and down during the action scenes.
There’s a decent amount of extras on here, but nothing groundbreaking. There are commentaries by both director Gavin Hood and producers Lauren Shuler-Donner and Ralph Winter, the latter being typically self-congratulatory although still with some generous information about the making of the film, whereas Hood generally narrates what’s on screen. Shame they couldn’t get Jackman to do one.
There are also several picture-in-picture options while watching the film, with a pre-vis setting that shows the pre-visualisation scenes alongside the finished film, a view that has Gavin Hood talking about the making of the film, and your usual text commentary-esque fact track.
The featurettes are plentiful, but pretty shallow. The best, by far, is a conversation with Len Wein and Stan Lee about where Wolverine came from, which is a fun watch and includes Wein responding to the rumour that Wolverine was originally supposed to be a mutated wolverine cub (he wasn’t).
There’s a short featurette on the making of the film, one on the ludicrous helicopter chase in the film, and ten short vignettes on the mutants featured in the film. We also get a few deleted scenes, although nothing very interesting.
Rumour has it that Christopher McQuarrie is writing the sequel, and that it will take place in Japan. Whether that means Bryan Singer will be involved is anyone’s guess, but the fanboy in me hopes it’ll be much better. Just don’t give it to Brett Ratner again…
X-Men Origins: Wolverine is out now on Blu-ray.