Tuesday, 5 May 2009

X-Men Origins: Wolverine Indepth Review

With a blog title of Tales From the Weapon X Lab, it's a certainty that I'm a Wolverine fan, from the comic books to the movies, so...

The character of Wolverine/Logan/Patch/James Howlett whatever he’s called this week, is one closest to my heart as I think of it as a definitive modern take on mythological heroes of old. Instead of having the world on his shoulders or a woman divesting him of his powers through the cutting of his hair, he finds a constant battle between his nature and that which he aspires to. It’s a struggle that many of us come up against at some point, in some way. This article is not meant as an attack on the film because it changed elements from the comic books. That would be ignorant and stupid. What works on the page does not necessarily translate to the screen unless you're adapting Sin City , of course.

When X-men came out, it wasn’t perfect but Hugh Jackman made a superb effort at bringing the character to the screen. The first time he popped those adamantium claws was a cool moment despite the dodgy effect. He nailed the character's attitude in that bar .So, from then on, I was waiting, hoping for a Wolverine solo film. Now, we have one, but what a mess it is.

No-one seems to have learnt anything from recent events. The Dark Knight and what made that an award winning blockbuster seems to have escaped the makers of (the mouthful); X-Men Origins: Wolverine. It’s not quite Batman and Robin bad but it’s not far off. Think Elektra and you’ve got a closer reference. Decades of Wolverine based stories appears to have also bypassed the Wolverine scribes, too. I mean the stories are already written, it’s not as if anyone had to go far to look for a compelling story to adapt.

Hugh Jackman was a “producer” on this effort, too, so sadly gets the mud thrown his direction too. He’s a nice guy but doesn’t seem to understand the character as much as he thinks he does. Don’t get me wrong, though, I think he’s good in the role, he just needed a better screenplay, then i think he would have been great in the role. One thing he has embarrassed himself over is this insistence on saying that Wolverine will flow into X-men number one. Yeah, that’d be great if they’d kept the same bike jacket that Logan ’s wearing and Canadian tags. Yes, they’ve changed the Canadian tags to US tags. This is just one sloppy reference gone wrong in a movie where no-one seems to know one bit of the story from another – a pot pourri of discarded elements from other X-films. It’s as if the film was written by a Committee instead of a couple of people. Neither David Denioff or Skipp Woods have illustrious careers so far; Denioff with Troy (a vapid but entertaining movie) and Skipp with Hitman and Swordfish. Swordfish was a good thriller enhanced by the stars and some cool explosions, Hitman another movie wide of its mark. What makes Wolverine one of the most loved comic book characters totally escapes the screenwriters. Hugh Jackman, in interview, states that characters have to have conflict. But, totally misses the point in this film. What makes Wolverine such a popular character is the conflict within himself. Kayla says at one point "You're not an animal Logan ". That's about the only reference to this conflict. That said, I went to see the movie with someone who felt that a lot of what I complained about is in fact addressed.

The movie begins with a short, well adapted version of the story "Origin" in which we see the sickly James Howlett discover his mutation. I had no problem with the writers making Victor Creed, Logan 's half-brother as there are plenty of hints to suggest it in the comics. (although I suspect that "Dog" is in fact Romulus in the current Wolverine Origins comic book).

We then get a montage of the brothers fighting through various wars. The reason is never explained. The "clawless" action, presumably to get the PG-13 rating, has the brothers killing a superior without the audience being properly aware until they're put under a firing squad. Just before this, Logan's baring his claws. Strange, i can't see your average G.I. think this was ok.

Stryker offers them a chance to be on a "special team". This team - Team X - consists of Wade Wilson, Fred Dukes, David North, Chris Bradley and John Wraith. All play their roles with conviction. Ryan Reynolds, (like Hugh Jackman for Wolverine) seems born to play Wilson and adds a little comic relief to the proceedings. But as is typical with this screenplay, the humour is half-cocked and cheesy. We get to meet Team X in a Predator or Aliens inspired scene on a transport plane. Ryan Reynolds gets to deliver a couple of mildly funny lines and establish Logan 's hate of flying. This is kind of hinted at in X-Men 1, where Logan looks uncomfortable at the X-Jet landing.

A fairly pointless action scene, involving some seriously obvious wire work (as much as the effect on Storm's lightning attack on Sabretooth in X-Men), is set up just to take a ball of raw adamantium from a drug dealer. Wraith could have stolen it and interrogated the dealer in a second. Stryker is collecting mutants - why not telepaths? The information could have been picked out of the dealer's thoughts instead of drawing attention to the exploits of a covert team of mutants; mudane plotting. Although the swords deflecting bullets wasn't bad, just a bit too much "We've seen this before and done better". It's the same with Agent Zero's "Gun-Fu". We've seen this performed far better in Equilibrium and Wanted. It's lazy film making.

The Team go to Africa to find where the adamantium meteor crashed Actions here cause Logan to decide to quit, after Team X "decimate" a village -as in some ADD direction implies that the mutants are killing villagers. It's very unconvincing and makes Logan look like he's having little more than a hissy fit as opposed to having a genuine grievance.

We then find Logan in a cabin, shacked up with a teacher. How did he get there? How did he meet Kayla? Stryker pays a visit, with Agent Zero who asks what the audience might be thinking; "What's Logan doing working as a lumberjack?". For a guy who is supposed to have a berserker rage he does very well settling down and leading a "normal" life.

Dominic Monaghan's character gets taken out by Sabretooth in an example of Team X cleansing. We're asked to believe that he is working at a circus with a lame lightbulb trick that wouldn't be worth it's place in the carnival.

So, we get a couple of lovey scenes that introduce Kayla's mutant power and the idea of the "Wolverine" and Creed gets down to "killing" Kayla. Logan falls for this ploy quite easily as it appears that his amazing senses are on hold whilst Kayla "dies". Either that or the blood that is spilt on her body was withdrawn at some point before and given to Victor in the bag.

The fight in the bar is anotehr good example of a scene that works. Both Jackaman and Schreiber revel in this PG-13 restricted fight that would have been great in an R rated movie. Logan really gets beat up, but it's reduced to a Hanna-Barbera cartoon style fight because there's no indication of real life pain, except for the smashing of his bone claws. Some fanboys moan about the fact that in teh comic book it took Logan's smashed bone claws a long time to grow back. I can understand but not agree with that frustration.

After the vicious attack by Creed, that leaves Logan in...hospital (lol!) Styker turns up and offers Logan a deal to get revenge on his partner's killer. We cut almost straight away to Logan in the "bathtub" being told that he won't have experienced anything as painful as this. The adamantium gets injected and Logan *gasp* "dies"! I don't know who was concerned at this stage. Logan wakes to hear that he's going to be destroyed and that he's outlived his purpose. With a massive roar, Logan leaps up, presumably kills a couple of guards (the PG-13 rating restrains yet again) and disappears out a back door. His claws cut through a metal door before he escapes, running buck nekkid through a forest.

I have no problem with the decision to write the Hudsons in as an old couple, similar to Ma and Pa Kent from the Richard Donner Superman movie. Clearly, there wouldn't have been time to explore the comic book version of James and Heather Hudson's discovery of Logan . I quite liked the scenes with the Hudsons . Here, there's a little comedy with Logan in the bathroom. Just before the Hudson 's get a few of Agent Zero's bullets, they get to give him a similar looking leather jacket to the one he wears in X1 and X2, and a motorbike. In the first of two explosive hero moments, Stryker orders a helicopter to fly off a couple of missiles at the barn. It explodes in suitably movie style (as if the Hudsons had kept a huge stock of explosive material in every room) whilst Logan bursts out of it riding the motorbike. what follows is an average chase through the woods, with Logan followed by the helo and a couple of jeeps. A cool looking moment is Logan swerving the bike, using his claws as extra brakes, reminding me of a moment in Akira and a panel in the Wolverine comic book. Then follows a Jeep slice and dice before the trailered helicopter moment. This looks a lot better, furious edited into the movie than it did in the trailer. Logan striking the gasoline trail on the ground that leads to the helicopter's remains looks very iconic and displays the larger than life character framed against an explosive backdrop exceptionally well. Kudos to whoever had the idea to put that in the film.

The next scene implies that Logan and John Wraith had a mild friendship during their time in Team X. Logan questions Wraith on Victor Creed's location and the whereabouts of a mysterious " Island " that he'd heard of whilst in the adamantium tank. Wraith doesn't know but thinks that Frank Dukes might. It seems that Dukes has tried to get through the trauma of working in Team X by eating and is now a lot bigger. Here we get the fat suit. Throughout these scenes, we get a glimpse of the previous movie's Logan ; earnest and passionate. He cares that Team X had a hidden agenda that he didn't stick around to see. Jackman implies, with a look, that Logan is guilty that he walked away that perhaps by staying longer he could have subverted this treatment of mutants. It's this kind of quandry that I wanted more of. There just wasn't time for it, it seems.

Another bit of comedy sees Logan go up against "The Blob". Pointlessly, but probably designed to appeal to the kids, Logan is pitted against the bigger Frank Dukes in the ring. After a couple of belts, Logan almost goes beserker and threatens Frank with his claws. Frank knows nothing but knows a man who might know something. Dukes puts Logan and Wraith up against Remy LeBeau (who's known as "Gambit"). Here follows more rubbish plot developments (if you can call them "developments").

When i saw the trailer for Punisher War Zone, I was worried that the film would look like it's taking place in one big set. When Wraith and Logan get to New Orleans , that's what they find; an alleyway that looks suspiciously like a set. Whilst Logan questions Gambit during a card game - "I know what you are, Geeambit" - Wraith fights Creed, predictably, in the alley/set. Gambit sends Logan flying through a wall, and inexplicably gets in the way of a fight between Logan and Creed; a fight where Logan has the upper hand. The reason for this interruption is never adequately explained in my view, other than to save Creed to battle Logan , later.

Scott Summers, soon to become Cyclops is snatched by Sabretooth at school in a scene that feels shoehorned into the movie.

Gambit is convinced into flying Logan to "The island". Once again, Logan 's hatred of flying is highlighted. So, this dubious bit of characterisation can be mentioned...twice, but no-one can remember that Logan had Canadian dog tags. Jeez!

So, we find that Wade Wilson has become Weapon Eleven (XI) to Wolverine's Ten (X). Again, I didn't have a problem with the change in Deadpool's look as I felt this was the beginning of the character's origin, too. It is strange, as a friend pointed out, why Wolverine has to face a similar foe. Whilst Stryker is overlooking the Weapon XI progress, Logan infiltrates the island facility. I use the word "infiltrate" loosely as he appears to just stroll in. In a shocking twist of events, it turns out that Kayla is still alive.(ok, I'm being sarccy). Creed used hydrochlorothiazide to slow her heartbeat to an almost imperceptible level (except in reality it just makes you pee). Surely, Logan would have noticed. Creed then sprayed her with blood. As I said before, presumably Kayla's blood that was withdrawn sometime before. It seems that Kayla is a mutant that can convince people to do her bidding and has a sister that Stryker has captive.

Another PG-13 Creed/Logan fight ensues. It looks good and would have been better without the need to lessen the visual impact.

After seemingly besting Creed in battle (cut short by Kayla reminding Logan that he's "not an animal"), Logan and Kayla free the captive mutants from their cages. This includes Kayla's sister who appears to be Emma Frost from the comic books, in her diamond form. The mutants escape and a familiar face is there to greet them; Professor Xavier. So, Professor X has just been waiting in the wings for someone, like Wolverine to go in and shake things up? He doesn't lift a finger and then allows Logan to wander for 15 years? FFS! Not only crappy writing but the CGI "plastic surgery" on Patrick Stewart is far short of the CGI flashback scenes in X3. Again, why take a step back?

So off the helicopter goes, presumably back to the Xavier estate in Westchester . No anti-aircraft weaponry on this island, thankfully for them. Weapon XI fails in his attempt to rid the world of Weapon X, even with multiple mutant powers. Logan is given a hand by his brother in a scene that I liked; brothers back to back. "Nobody kills you but me" The trouble is, some of the CG work rivalled the Statue of Liberty fight, in X1 for bargain basement CG and that was made in 1999!

Already introduced, Stryker feels it's time for the Adamantium bullet answer. Stryker shoots Logan in the head with adamantium bullets that should erase his memories. This was one of the worst plot contrivances in the movie rivalling the nuked fridge in Indy 4. This was the only time i thought "Should have stuck with the comic book". in the series "Weapon X" a celebrated graphic novel in it's collected form, Barry Windsor Smith recounts the time that Logan spent going through the Weapon X program. What they did to Logan was to wipe his memory through the training process, not shooting him with adamantium bullets. I can't understand the logic behind it. How would it work? Apart from being able to pierce his metal laced skull, I don't see how the impact on his healing factor would have screwed with his memory cells. Stryker tries to finish off a wounded Kayla, but she convinces him to walk "until his feet bleed". This leads to a totally pointless scene during the credits with Stryker being picked up by Military Police for the murder of a General.

Logan has no memory of what has transpired and doesn't recognise either Gambit or Kayla.

Logan is left to walk away and we get a final scene, which I actually liked, of Logan in a Japanese bar explaining that he is drinking "to remember". This, to me was more in keeping with the character. Although I gather that it wasn't very popular compared to the Iron Man "Avengers" clip.

The director, Gavin Hood has a couple of very good, intellectual movies under his belt in Tsotsi and Rendition. His ability to direct action and people isn’t under scrutiny, it’s the writing in my view. Having said that, Hood isn't averse to using some old cliches. he never misses an opportunity to frame Team X in a position ready for the stills camera; Wolverine posing in front of the others.

Apart from the direction and Jackman/Schreiber’s commitment to the movie, everything else just comes across as cheap and lazy. With cheap effects; the helicopter, a frickin fat suit out of Austin Powers and overall some awful CGI that looks like the film was made in the 90s. The laziness comes in with the attention to obvious detail and the, ludicrous by any standards, explanation as to how Logan became a wanderer with little or no memory. Adamantium bullets? Jeez! A recent animated feature - Hulk Vs Wolverine - did a better job of portraying the Weapon X scenes, and with more blood! How difficult was it to go and research exactly what makes Wolverine such a compelling character? Instead we get a clawless 2-dimensional version with no clear motivation apart from his half-brother killing the love of his life. How did he meet her?; What real evidence is there that she was his soul mate or otherwise? Nada.

I'm convinced that this film was made for young boys with Attention Deficit. Nothing is dwelled upon for very long. The myriad of characters get very little screen time to flesh out their characters and make them meaningful. The main casualties of this are Dominic Monaghan and Ryan Reynolds. Monaghan, particularly is hideously underused and whay they would put a counter-intelligence operative in the field of battle is beyond me. he could have done he's stuff in the safety of the transport.

A heartfelt plea to whoever's working on another Wolverine movie; Don't myopically see that the movie has to be set before X-Men. There are plenty of Wolverine solo stories that can be told. in the books, he tended to go off and do his own thing, often to the detriment of the other X-Men. This has already been shown in X1 where he goes off to find the Weapon X facility. There's potential to make a fun, highly dramatic film with a few other mutant characters that haven't been seen before. Drop the amount of characters in future movies. Either make a 4 hour epic taking into account a number of new mutant characters or spend time on a small number of existing characters. I realise Marvel want to sell as many action figures as they can off the back of the film but it shouldn't be the driver in making the movie. If Japan is the next stop, adapt Frank Miller's story of Logan trying to win Mariko Yashida's heart whilst facing her evil father Shingen. If that can't be done, if it can't be at least equalled, don't bother. Leave the franchise alone for Marvel once they regain the rights for the character. Personally, I'd love to see Wolverine in Madripoor; a stand-alone story where he is defending Tyger Tiger as the rival crimelord to a more evil crimelord that deals in slavery, drugs and torture. Give the film a bit of an edge, and push that PG-13 rating as hard as possible. I will be writing an article on my favourite Wolverine stories, soon. Sure, it's been done before. Wizard magazine probably publishes one once a year, but this will be mine, to illustrate how easy it is to adapt a good story for a general audience.

I will be buying this on DVD. I'm dying to hear a commentary track.

If you've read this far, then thanks! i like to think that my views are less a comic "geek" rant than an overview on why I was disappointed by what could have been so much better given a bit more attention and care. I wish Hugh Jackman the best for the future but hope he and his production team look to experts to write a sequel screenplay and not amateurs.

On a final but more positive note, the game is far better than teh film it adapts, and it's rated 18.


ZedWord said...

"Apart from the direction and Jackman/Schreiber’s commitment to the movie, everything else just comes across as cheap and lazy"

That pretty much summed up my thoughts too. Paradoxically, however, at the same time it was lazy it was also too busy. X-Men Origins is crammed full of so much stuff (plot threads and characters) that I think it needed some X-lax *rimshot*

Fox should have ponied up a higher budget. Jackman as Wolverine is a sure thing, financially speaking. But this movie died because of some pretty low-grade effects. Leaked work-print, indeed. From what I hear, there was virtually nothing different from the leaked "workprint" and finished product. It felt like a desperately small movie.

Star Trek on the other hand, is the complete opposite. Have you seen Star Trek yet?

wayfarer said...

You're right, there was too much going on without any dimension to it. Really, with all the talented writing on various eras pf teh comic book, I expected more without it pandering to the fanboy.

My review of Star Trek is here;

A totally satisfying movie. :O)