X-Men Origins: Wolverine is a comic book film that seems to have been made for the pure sake of it. Little about it feels overly worthwhile, most of the action set pieces are short-lived and disappointing, and the performances are patchy to say the least (although I doubt that's where the quality emphasise was aimed at). It's relieving to see that it isn't the disaster that early speculation would have you believe, as there are some fun and well-done sequences, but for the most part it really feels like a wasted opportunity.
As the title suggests, Wolverine goes into the past of the healing, adamantium-clawed hero and explains some of the mysteries that were alluded to in the first three X-Men movies. Logan (or Wolverine as we've known him as so far) and his brother Victor (who later becomes Sabretooth – played by Liev Schreiber, a film highlight) fight in many wars together until eventually being convinced to join a special team of mutants that are being put together by William Stryker (Danny Huston). But after a disagreement Logan quits and seeks a quiet life with his new wife.
But Victor seems to have a problem, and years later starts hunting down each member of the team he and Logan joined for Stryker. However it's only after Victor kills Logan's wife that he becomes interested in his dealing with his past life, and he joins Stryker's Mutant X program that leads him to getting his adamantium skeleton. But soon realising Stryker has double-crossed him he wants to seek revenge for the death of his wife and for what Stryker has turned him into.
For anyone who may not be overly familiar with the ins and outs of the titular character's past, I don't know if Wolverine serves as a good history lesson within the context of this long-running fantastical set of stories brought to life. I only know the character from the movies, so I have no idea if what is presented here, such as the fact that Wolverine actually had bone claws from childhood or that Cyclops wasn't simply first "noticed" when we first saw him in the first X-Men movie, are true to what happens in the comics or not. I do know that some of the stuff, even within the context of such a type of film, are kind of groan-inducing. For some wildly strange reason all of this stuff was acceptable in particularly the first and second movies, but it seems to be done a lot cheesier this time around.
That may be down to the fact that they've brought in a director inexperienced with this type of superhero movie, in the form of Gavin Hood, the man behind the Oscar-winning 2005 film Tsotsi and the 2007 political thriller Rendition. Maybe the sudden jump from dead-serious fare to something as silly as this just didn't gel right, and it results in an awkward and clunky action film. Then again this may have been a project doomed to "okay at best" territory from the very beginning. The first two movies were under the expert direction of one Bryan Singer, who's departure from the franchise after the second left us with the enjoyable mess that was X-Men: The Last Stand. Even if it weren't entirely Hood's fault, they still could have picked someone far more experienced and therefore suited to this type of thing to be the man behind the camera.
Why they felt the need to include all of these peripheral mutant characters when it's supposed to be Wolverine's movie I just don't know. Those such as Blob (an almost unrecognisable Kevin Durand), Beak (an extremely underused Dominic Monaghan), John Wraith (why in hell they cast the Black Eyes Peas' Will.I.Am, I'll never know), Agent Zero (one of the cooler characters seen in the movie), Deadpool (an "I'm just going to do a less swearing version of my character from Blade: Trinity" Ryan Reynolds) and, of course, the much anticipated Gambit, were all characters far more applicable to one of the X-Men movies that have come beforehand. Fans everywhere have been looking forward to seeing, in particular, Gambit (a cringe-inducing Taylor Kitsch) way before now, and what they're given here is a disappointing, underused and undervalued portrayal of one of the X-Men universe's most beloved characters.
Almost the entire movie is like this, at least in the sense of how they use the story and character elements they have at their disposal; almost everything is wasted, rushed and jammed in there just for the sake of having them in there. But that's not enough; yes fans want their favourite characters to come to life but not if that means they're just going to be wasted.
Perhaps it was the sub-part script, written by David Benioff and Skip Woods (of 25th Hour and Hitman, respectively), this time around compared to the other movies, but Hugh Jackman's performance (when he's not jabbing his claws into people left, right and centre, that is) seems to have lowered in quality. This may be because the character isn't suited that well to much non-action orientated scenes, but whenever there's supposed to be some sad or heartfelt scene involving his wife or thinking over his past, it feels forced and contrived, and it's almost like you can tell Jackman feels that way to when performing it. He does that gruff, growling, angry Wolverine thing we've known for years now, but what he's surrounded with has apparently brought out a lesser performance in him.
The story is also something which severely holds back the film, which is attempted to be overshadowed by bucket loads of action, however short-lasting they may be. The reported disastrous trouble behind-the-scenes definitely shine through with a story that feels tacked together and not very well thought out. Any moody, human-loss perpetuation type backstory (even if that may have been what was in the comic) is instantly going to pale in comparison to something like The Dark Knight. Even if this is supposed to be taken infinitely less seriously. Wolverine is loud and silly entertainment, but the worrying thing is I'm not sure the movie realises that's all it really is.
Although a lot of the action sequences are disappointingly short-lived and all-round "meh" in nature, it has to be admitted that they do do a number of things right. Some of the visual effects, one which involves the destruction of a specific piece of architecture, are fantastically done, and props go to the sure-to-be-numerous effects companies that were involved in this one. The fight sequence towards the end, an almost obligatory thing in these movies, is very cool indeed, with the introduction and inclusion of a certain unnamed character being like the cherry on top of all the punching, kicking, clawing and displays of mutant powers we all didn't know existed in this world until now. Many of the latter are, perhaps, a little underwhelming if you're at all familiar with the TV show Heroes, but within this X-Men universe it's always cool to see any of these powers in action.
There is never a point in X-Men Origins: Wolverine that screams of the terrible disaster that it had the potential to be. The most is not made of what was there to work with, in particular some of the underused characters and short-lived action sequences, but there are a decent share of things that make it kind of worth seeing if there's nothing else better showing. Overall Wolverine gives off a strong sense that a lot more could have been done with it, and that it was simply made to cash-in on one of the comic book world's most beloved characters, to exploit some long-awaited appearances from as yet unseen characters and generally just milking dry a franchise that the third one seemed to suggest came to a close.
I just wonder if X-Men Origins: Magneto will be any better…