As I write this, The Wolverine, Hugh Jackman’s sixth outing as the X-Men character, is hitting theatres. I’m a little bit behind. I missed X-Men Origins: Wolverine when it came out, and until now have neglected to remedy the situation. This was largely due to the utter thrashing it received from critics and comic book fans alike. But it would be hard for any fan of superhero films to have such an obvious omission in their viewing, and I felt the film deserved an open and honest look.
As it turns out, I’m in full agreement with the thrashing, so here’s a little more flogging for the record.
The film’s most memorable line: “Raaaaargh!”
When a film is of poor quality, it is often the director who bears the bulk of the blame. And certainly Gavin Hood has his share of the responsibility here, but his biggest crime might be that he was too accepting of the screenplay he was given. If a restaurant chef sends out a steak that is bloody rare when the customer ordered one that was well-done, it is the chef who is to blame for the error, but the customer is also culpable if they accept the error without voicing their complaints. The screenplay for Origins is undercooked; Hood should have sent it back to cook longer.
The core problem is coherence of purpose. This movie has none. It has no idea what it is doing, and neither does the audience. It purports to tell Wolverine’s origins, and on that note it succeeds. We learn who he is, where he came from, and how he came to have a metal skeleton. We do not, however, get an entertaining story to go with this. What we are given is an incoherent mess, devoid of any greater sense of purpose beyond hitting the bullet points of making Wolverine who he is. Usually a villain’s plot makes at least a modicum of sense, even in the necessarily abridged form that origin stories generally have. In this case, the villain’s inept logic is even called out in script: “Don’t worry, we’ll stop him.” “Really? You’ve just spent half a billion dollars making him indestructible.” In Major Stryker (John Huston) we have a villain who hates mutants, yet whose grand plans for controlling them involve repeatedly making mutants vastly more powerful. It’s a lot like watching someone try to treat burns by pouring battery acid on them.
The film also suffers from a dearth of interesting and worthwhile characters, despite having a large ensemble cast. Liev Schreiber plays Victor Creed, and is probably the most interesting of the lot; certainly the closest the film ever comes to having a reason to exist is when it’s exploring the relationship between the two. It’s much less successful with Lynn Collins, who portrays an ersatz love interest for Wolverine, and the impetus for the main segment of what passes for a plot. There are a few scenes of their life together, a sense of tranquility, and then she is predictably murdered. We see it coming. We don’t particularly care. The romance is tepid and trite, the revenge angle is strictly by rote.
There is an abundance of mutants, of course, as the film fulfills its X-Men film franchise requirement of throwing in a number of new mutants with different powers. They appear to be scraping the bottom of the barrel this time around. The only secondary characters of any note are Gambit and Deadpool, and both are wasted. Gambit is played by Taylor Kitsch, who does a passably charming job with the Cajun gambler; it’s not terrific, but it’s good enough to think that if he had been in one of the better X-Men films that it could have been a popular depiction. Meanwhile Deadpool is played by Ryan Reynolds, who many fans still want to see portray the character in his own feature film. He gets a few minutes of screen time and some witty remarks, but he’s barely used and when he is, he’s used in a way that is antithetical to the purpose of even having the character in the film. After that, it’s strictly characters who are poorly written and who are poor choices for the film to begin with. There’s Agent Zero, whose superpower is apparently shooting guns; he might work in a standard action film, but he’s utterly uninteresting in a superhero film. Will i Am, of all people, plays Wraith, who can teleport but isn’t as interesting as Nightcrawler. He does better as an actor than I would have expected, but he doesn’t have much to work with. And then there’s Kevin Durand as Fred Dukes, easily the poorest choice of the film. Not that there’s anything wrong with Durand’s performance; it’s just that while there are characters who can make a good transition to film, Blob is not one of them. Besides being rather disgusting to look at, it’s utterly impossible to take the film seriously when Wolverine is engaged in a boxing match with a character who could serve as comic relief in an Austin Powers movie.
I have suffered, so you must suffer.
The film has precisely two positive qualities to it. The first, of course, is Jackman himself. Even in a bad Wolverine movie, he’s still a great Wolverine. I remember when the casting for the first X-Men film was announced, many fans were unsure of Jackman. Now I suspect most will agree when I state that Jackman is welcome to keep playing the part as long as he’s able and willing to do so. He has great line delivery and great expressions, which are important for a character who is sometimes more feral than vocal. There are several scenes where you can see his thoughts play out on his face without a single word being spoken.
The other positive attribute to the film is the action. This film is easily at its best when it abandons any pretense of a plot and simply sets Wolverine after one foe after another. Action sequences alone do not make a great film, or even a good one, but during those sequences it manages to at least be entertaining for a few moments. If a “Rampage Only” edition of the movie were released, cutting out all the plot and just sticking to the fight clips, it would be worth spending a little time on. But this is the only circumstance under which I would recommend watching X-Men Origins: Wolverine.