Following closely behind a film that perfects a concept isn't easy. Try to imagine a moviemaker sinking a big boat in the wake of Titanic, or racing Trans-Ams right after Smokey and the Bandit. That's what X-Men Origins: Wolverine faces in its final minutes, during that quintessential comic movie moment where the conquered villain, lying helplessly on his back, begs the hero to just kill him, please.
How could anyone top The Dark Knight's rooftop take on the scene? Moreover, why would anyone want to try? Honestly, Gavin Hood, the director behind Wolverine, should have flat-out refused to film the version in his new movie, a prequel to the popular X-Men series featuring a slate of mutated heroes and villains with assorted superhuman powers doing battle with each other and humanity. Then again, judging by the rest of Wolverine, Hood and his team seem cheerfully unaware of the pressure they should feel by following the biggest and best comic movie ever made.
If last summer's superhero flicks stopped at Iron Man, or if the underpowered Watchmen had received a bigger push to claim the casual fan's attention, Wolverine might be considered a serviceable popcorn flick. But, as things stand, it's undeniably unimpressive when compared with last year's comic book adaptations. The special effects seem so standard, the acting so bland, the script so sloppy.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine
Directed by Gavin Hood, written by David Benioff. Starring Hugh Jackman, Danny Huston, Liev Schreiber, Lynn Collins, and Ryan Reynolds. Rated PG-13.
If any Marvel character could match the grit of DC's Batman in his rebooted form it may be Wolverine, often considered the ultimate anti-hero. The titular character, played by Australian superstar Hugh Jackman is a cigar-chomping, wisecracking loner with a leather jacket, retractable claw-blades and a massive following, routinely topping lists of fan-favorite comic characters. Even though the film is a prequel, the filmmakers weren't hemmed in by the Wolverine backstory — Wolverine's near-complete memory loss was a big part of his shtick in the first three X-Men movies.
But the blank slate doesn't seem to have inspired much imagination. There's no excuse for the lazy writing that plagues the film. Hell, a helpful elderly couple takes in a cold and naked Wolverine, outfitting him with his famous leather jacket and motorcycle only to be — you guessed it — killed in a surprise attack by bad guys as our hero is powerless to save them. The clever wisecracks mostly work, but the circumstances during which Wolverine utters his catchphrase, "I'm the best there is at what I do, but what I do isn't very nice," are even more awkward than the phrase itself. Wolverine's amnesia? Yeah, two special adamantium bullets to the brain cause that, though the bullets don't even pierce his skin.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Considering the massive universe of semi-familiar characters that can easily facilitate whatever superhuman feat needed to create an eye-popping scene (fire, ice, you name it) there's no reason not to play it up. Instead, the best stunt, Wolverine's hop from a Hummer to a helicopter, can be seen in the trailer.
Likewise, the script by David Benioff (Troy, The Kite Runner) and Skip Woods doesn't give much room to that most important of prequel characters, the straw-man villain. Since the main characters are alive in later installments, you know Wolverine can't kill them. We're at least owed the courtesy of developing the Darth Maul-style stand-in (in this case, Deadpool) for more than five minutes to leave us satisfied with his death. Instead, Wolverine's evil brother Sabretooth (played perfectly by Liev Schreiber) is simply let go, while Col. William Stryker (Danny Huston) is told to keep walking until his feet hurt, then walk more.
The real problem is that there's none of the complexity, born from genuinely captivating ethical quandaries, which marks the best superhero movies. Why not show Wolverine struggling to decide what to do with his brother, knowing full well that Sabretooth will kill more innocent people but knowing he can't just kill him, considering their history? Why not show Sabretooth or Stryker righteously pursuing a cause instead of doing bad things seemingly for the sheer one-dimensional joy of it? Why not develop the relationship between Wolverine and his love interest so he's more conflicted about the surprise revelation at the end of the film? As it stands, they ought to put Jackman in a yellow and blue unitard and give him a few bank heists to stop.
Here's the really scary thing about X-Men Origins: Wolverine: It's the planned first installment in a franchise of prequels. If Wolverine, the undisputed star of the X-Men team, doesn't make for a better movie than this, imagine the Cajun stylings of X-Men Origins: Gambit. After that hits the megaplex, even Joel Schumacher's Batman & Robin might finally find some redemption.