Hugh Jackman dons the adamantium claws once again for this prequel revealing the back story of Wolverine, but even his considerable charisma and thespian skills are no match for an ill-conceived scenario that buries its intended emotional resonances beneath an avalanche of typical action-movie antics, and then further aggravates the situation by tossing in a multitude of mutants that contribute little to the story. The serious tone established by Bryan Singer in 2000’s X-MEN is almost completely obliterated, reducing the film to the level of any another by-the-numbers franchise entry.
Some of the special effects and fights are fun in an over-the-top comic-book kind of way, but X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE feels too much like a typical Hollywood action flick with more emphasis on brawn than brains. Having Logan take out a helicopter (after being blown in the air by one of its missiles) is so blatantly ridiculous that you almost have to cheer its chutzpah, but it reduces the film to the dumb level of “it’s only a movie” (exactly what the first X-MEN movie studiously avoided).
Needless to say, lots of mutants are included whether or not they have anything substantial to offer; they seem included mostly as a sop to fans who will be familiar with them from the comic book (and of course they provide merchandising opportunities for action figures, etc). In fact, the film is so over-crowded with super-powered characters that it includes not one but two three-way fight scenes, neither of which explores the mathematical possibilities in an interesting way (THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY, this is definitely not).
In one case, the script can barely be bothered to explain why one of the Mutants (Gambit) is fighting Logan (Jackman); he simply jumps into the fray, apparently because he does not want to guide Logan to the place where his brother Victor (that is, Saber-Tooth) is hiding. Coincidentally, at the very moment Gambit intercedes, he prevents Logan from killing Victor – which would of course have removed the necessity of leading Logan to Victor’s hiding place. The irony (if Gambit had not been so eager to avoid being Logan’s guide, he would not have needed to be Logan’s guide), goes unremarked. Acknowledging it would have not saved the script, but it would have shown a welcome glimmer of self-awareness.
The screenplay is so contrived it almost establishes its own aesthetic standards. You can bet that everyone who tries to help Logan will die in order to fuel his quest for revenge – or simply to justify the next action scene. And if they survive, it will only be because their death’s were faked as part of some arcane plot. And of course the prequel nature of the story requires its own brand of convolutions in order to maintain continuity.
For example, Logan-Wolverine cannot be allowed to remember any of the Mutants (or anything else for that matter), necessitating a memory wipe that pushes dramatic license so far over the line that it should be revoked. (It all depends on firing a bullet into Wolverine’s self-healing brain in just the right place to take out his memory cells; part of the unintended campy charm is that the character who comes up with the bright idea takes it for granted, as if this display of shooting skill were the easiest thing in the world, barely worth mentioning.)
Hugh Jackman displays his usual charm as Logan; you can tell he wants to play a character, not just a generic action hero, but X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE is obviously unworthy of his talent. Leiv Schreiber is a good actor, but even in a thick coat and with sharpened eye-teeth, he does not look like a dangerous predator who will grow up to be Tyler Mane. Danny Huston does his dependably dependable work as Colonel Stryker, even if the script paints him as a rather incompetent villain (he turns Logan into an unstoppable force, without apparently having considered the possibility that this unstoppable force might not follow orders).
As if the prequel nature of the storyline were not open-ended enough, W-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE ends with a tease promising a sequel. (A sequel to a prequel? The mind boggles!) If this is the best the filmmakers can do, then they should end the franchise now, before completely running into the ground.
The single-disc edition DVD, released in September, defines “bare bones.” Although Fox found room to squeeze an unbearable number of trailers that run before the DVD Menu shows up, they could not find room for a single worthwhile bonus feature. That did not stop them from placing a “Special Features” link on the Main Menu, but all that offers is an irrelevant anti-smoking Public Service Announcement and a couple more trailers (I LOVE YOU BETH COOPER and DOLLHOUSE SEASON 1 on DVD and Blu-ray). Audio is in Dolby Surround sound with options for English 5.1, Spanish, and French, and with subtitles in Spanish and English for the Hard of Hearing.
The film was also released in a two-disc DVD set and a two-disc Blu-ray set, both of which include a digital copy and loads of extras, such as two audio commentaries (one with director Gavin Hood and one with producers Lauren Shuler Donner and Ralph Winters), which could easily have been squeezed onto the single-disc. There are also four deleted scenes and an alternate ending. Additionally, the Blu-ray includes pop-up tracks and a BD-Live feature that allows you to look up details on IMDB.
X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE (April 2009). Directed by Gavin Hood. Screenplay by David Benioff and Skip Woods. Cast: Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber, Danny Huston, Will i Am, Lynn Collins, Kevin Durand, Dominic Monaghan, Taylor Kitsch, Daniel Henney, Ryan Reynolds, Scott Adkins.