May 20, 2015

Review: X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)


Even though X-Men: The Last Stand was supposed to be the final X-Men movie, was anyone surprised that Fox absolutely wanted to keep the franchise going? You always to keep a good thing going. Even with the mixed critical reception that The Last Stand got, clearly there was money to be made in X-Men. So why not a prequel going into Wolverine's past? Logan had always been a fan favourite and there were many other mutant characters with no shortage of actors to play them that could be thrown in for good measure.

Hugh Jackman himself was very much on board as well. He was involved as a producer through his film production company Seed Productions that in the end netted him $25 million. Not a bad chunk of change at all. Filming was a very messy affair unfortunately and despite a pretty decent worldwide box office take (less than The Last Stand), critical reaction was far from positive. I actually remember liking the film the first time I watched it, but opinions can sour as we all know.

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At a Glance


Genre: action, adventure, sci-fi
Directed by: Gavin Hood
Produced by: Hugh Jackman, John Palermo, Lauren Shuler Donner, etc.
Written by: David Benioff, Skip Woods
Music by: Harry Gregson-Williams
Running time: 107 minutes
Production company: Donners' Company, Seed Productions, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, etc.
Distributed by: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, 20th Century Fox, Twentieth Century Fox C.I.S., etc.
Country: United States, United Kingdom
Language: English
Budget: $150,000,000
Box office: $373,062,864 (Worldwide)

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber, Danny Huston, Will.i.am, Lynn Collins, Kevin Durand, Dominic Monaghan, Taylor Kitsch, Daniel Henney, Ryan Reynolds, Tim Pocock, Julia Blake, Max Cullen, Troye Sivan, Michael-James Olsen, Peter O'Brien, Aaron Jeffery, Alice Parkinson

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Synopsis


Following the traumatic death of his father, James Howlett (Troye Sivan) and his half-brother Victor Creed (Michael-James Olsen) flee their home in the Northwest Territories. They decide to become soldiers and consequently take part in many major conflicts from the American Civil War to the Vietnam War. As mutants, their regenerative powers come in pretty handy, as do their extendable claws. That's why Major William Stryker (Danny Huston) takes interest in them and recruits them to be part of a special team composed completely of mutants.


Review


The way I see it, X-Men Origins: Wolverine is an attempt at directing the franchise to a more realistic and gritty style. Sure seems like everyone in Hollywood was obsessed with "gritty storytelling" at this time doesn't it? Some story elements area little on the dark side anyway and mutant characters seem a little more grounded in reality appearance-wise. Does it work? Well, not really. The main reason for that are the over-blown and mostly ridiculous-looking action sequences that also suffer from some really poor CGI. Trust me though, we're just scratching the surface of what goes wrong with X-MO:W.

Let's start with the good though. First of all, Hugh Jackman proves once again that he is very much the right guy for Wolverine. He captures his character's surly and angry nature and compared to past X-Men movies, he's in the best shape that he's ever been in. Jackman has the chops required to be taken seriously, but I will say that the script calls for him yelling in rage a few too many times. Jackman can howl with the best of them, but screenwriters Benioff and Woods are a little too heavy-handed with trying to show how much pain Logan is in.

Liev Schreiber is another success in my books. He's totally up to the task in making sure that Victor Creed aka Sabretooth is menacing and dangerous. While it's too bad that Schreiber's Sabretooth doesn't line up with Tyler Mane's Sabretooth from X-Men, I think it's a positive evolution, or de-evolution since X-Men Origins: Wolverine is a prequel. Mane's Sabretooth was never meant to be more than a throwaway henchmen while Schreiber's is a much more deeper-rooted adversary. It's the kind of thing that happens I guess when you make multiple films and re-cast roles. 

We got the same situation with Danny Huston as William Stryker. Brian Cox played the role in X2 and he did a pretty good job. That's why it's pretty unfortunate that we're deprived of Cox reprising Stryker. Still, Huston does pretty well. He's a very capable actor, but it just gets weird when you watch all the X-Men movies close to one another as I've been doing. At the end of the day though, Huston and Schreiber aren't at fault for the failings of X-MO:W.

Where X-Men Origins: Wolverine fails big time is in its action scenes which is a major problem as a superhero movie. The end of the 2000's is a period rife with action movies following the "quick cut" style and Wolverine is no exception. Many of the fights that Wolverine takes part in are ruined by very the obvious cuts that are meant to give the illusion of fast-paced. That's not what ends up happening though and the CGI that's used isn't very impressive looking either.

I'm also not really big on how overblown a lot of the action scenes end up being. For a movie that tries to be down to earth and gritty, there's a lot of ridiculous-looking action such as the sequence where Team X enters a militarized compound. This includes some crazy acrobatics from Agent Zero (Daniel Henney) and some fancy sword moves from Wade Wilson/Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds). It's the kind of stuff that's cool for a thirteen year-old, but it goes against what the movie sets out to do in the first place.

There's also a particularly bad-looking motorcycle/helicopter chase that's really painful to look at for too long. You might think it couldn't get worse than CGI bullets raining down all around Logan, but it does once the HUMVEEs roll in. It gets particularly loud at this point and those quick cuts are still very much there. There's even a scene of Logan slow motion walking away from an explosion! The hits just kept piling on. The only fight scene that is pretty good for portions of it is the climactic battle near the end. By then it's too late to salvage much of a movie.


I suppose one of the biggest problems with X-Men Origins: Wolverine is that it seems to fall into cliché quite often. There's nothing new or surprising here and the action doesn't make up for it in the least. Despite having good actors like Jackman, Schreiber and Huston, the writing is a major let-down. Jackman in particular deserves better. After the failings of The Last Stand followed by this stand-alone Wolverine movie, it's still nice to know that there are some more good X-Men movies to come. With such a promising start with X-Men and X2, the franchise doesn't deserve to end with a whimper like X-MO:W.

Rating


5/10

Related Reviews:


X-Men (2000)
X2 [X-Men 2: X-Men United] (2003)
X-Men: The Last Stand [X-Men 3: The Last Stand] (2006)
X-Men: First Class (2011) 
The Wolverine (2013)