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X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)

Rating: ** out of 4

"I promise you two things: You will suffer more pain than any other man can endure. But you will have your revenge.” - William Stryker

“We’re going to make you indestructible - but first, we’re gonna have to destroy you.” – William Stryker

Cast: Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber, Danny Huston,, and Lynn Collins.

Writers: David Bennioff and Skip Woods (with James Vanderbilt and Scott Silver uncredited)

Director: Gavin Hood

X-Men: The Last Stand was marketed as the final X-Men movie-proper and what was to follow would be a string of titles that would focus on a single character. With Wolverine being the series biggest star, it was only natural that the first film to be released under the X-Men Origins banner would be a Wolverine driven title. It was also logical in that his character had no memory of his past so it would answer a lot of questions that went unanswered in the original X-Men series. This move made sense, but there were two damning flaws with it: 1) the previous three films followed Wolverine as the main character as well, so this didn’t seem as novel of a move as it should have and 2) Wolverine is a pretty bland character when all is said and done. Nevertheless, the movie had more to offer than originally thought; it was but the first entry in a trilogy of Wolverine films that would explore the question of Who am I?

This film delves into the deep past of the 1840’s where two mutant brothers flee from persecution by people who fear and hate them. We are then given a quick montage of all the wars Wolverine and Sabretooth fought in bringing the audience up to the late 1970’s. While glossing over the first 100+ years of his life may have been the first misstep, it certainly wouldn’t be the last. The story really picks up when Wolverine separates himself from a team of mutant mercenaries led by Major Stryker. Four years after his departure, Wolverine is living a normal life in Canada. He is in a loving relationship, has a sturdy job, and, ok, sure mild PTSD from years of lifetimes of war, but it doesn’t bother him too much. But when his love is stolen from him, he pairs up once more with Stryker to get a procedure done so he can enact revenge on her killer: Sabretooth.

A major problem with this film is that it lacks depth. It is by all accounts a by the numbers origin story which suffers in the way most do in what I like to call The Last Crusade dilemma. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is an undeniably great movie, but its opening scene (which serves as a lecture to the audience as to how Indy became Indy) was very problematic. It presupposes that all the important things that define you all happen in unison over a simple, yet significant event and that isn’t life. This film connects the dots to how Logan got his nickname, his prime coat, his metal-bound body, his loss of memory and, yet never explores who he is.

Part of the problem of making a movie that asks Who am I? is that Wolverine was nothing more than a blank slate; he was a tool/prop device to frame a movie around in the first film and it never got expanded upon really. Well, here they delve into what happened to get him to the open of the first X-Men but we never get a deeper understanding of the man himself. I know nothing more about Logan or what makes him tick than I did in any of the previous films and that is because he lacks character and he works on the level of being the unknown table rasa. He is designed as a side character who aids the team, not guides them and certainly aught not drive a movie…at least not the way this is handled. (My thoughts on Wolverine’s screen relevancy will change with later movies, but as of this film they are cement).

The film also suffers from the same lessons not learned with the previous films in that it is overloaded with mutants and none of them are given character or any kind of definition. Some, like Gambit and Deadpool, are damn well bastardized to the point of mockery. Also, for the first time in the series, it loses sight of the allegory and fails to even deliver with a guided meaning. At least the previous film offered a morality play that worked on some level with the mutant cure sub-plot, but this film avoids anything that could add depth.

And, while I condemn this film for all these reasons, I still think it gets a somewhat bad rep. It is not all bad. Hugh Jackman is really in top form here. I also really quite loved Liev Schreiber’s visceral performance as Sabretooth and Lynn Collins did fine work with what she had. The casting of Ryan Reynolds was amazing and would pay off nearly a decade later when he got his own movie. I also think this movie has a fantastic look and aesthetic. Ok, so the special effects are admittedly poor, but this is the first film in the series that offers some really, truly fine camera work and depth of scope. The film also had an energy that really keeps the movie trucking along. It never leaves you checking your watch—scratching your head…sure—but not checking the watch.

That said, it was a film that underwhelmed critics and audiences alike. Hugh Jackman was so disappointed with the outcome, he almost didn’t return to his iconic character and thus ended…for a time…further plans for solo titles. If Wolverine couldn’t make his own film float, no one could. What resulted was that the second character who was to get his origin told (Magneto) would get his film reworked into a new start for the franchise as a whole. Up next was X-Men: First Class.

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