29 April 2009

Movie Review: X-Men Origins: Wolverine


X-Men Origins: Wolverine
2009, 107mins, PG-13
Director: Gavin Hood
Writer (s): David Benioff, Skip Woods
Cast includes: Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber, Danny Huston, Lynn Collins, Ryan Reynolds, Kevin Durand
Release Date: 1st May 2009

The summer season is officially upon us with the arrival of “X-men Origins: Wolverine” or just “Wolverine” for short. Examining the back story of one of the X-Men’s most tortured souls, the film aims to combine the hefty action of most blockbusters with a more thoughtful character examination at the center. As a result it’s surprising to see that “Wolverine” is such a lightweight action movie, an idea ripe for bleak and intriguing exploration has been reduced to a competently assembled blockbuster working from a linear narrative. I had fun with the movie and wouldn’t be averse to viewing further origin stories but next time I would suggest that Fox work a little harder on the character and less on the supporting acts and ramped up explosions.

The film takes us back to Wolverine or Logan’s beginnings and travels through his extensive lifespan, from his childhood in the 1800’s to the current time. The credits roll through clips of Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and comrade Victor Creed (Liev Schreiber) as they fight war after war, eventually being recruited by William Stryker (Danny Huston). Stryker has noticed that both men don’t seem to succumb to ageing or physical injury whilst also boasting a set of animalistic claws, and thus adds them to a team of mutants he has been assembling. The squad is initially set on doing good but things start to get nasty and Logan walks out when massacres become part of the job description. Fast forward six years and he now has a peaceful and remote life with the lovely Kayla (Lynn Collins), but things are about to take a dive for the worst. An increasingly aggressive Victor has reappeared all across the map claiming mutant victims as he goes, eventually taking Kayla’s life in the process. As a result Logan agrees to cut a deal with Stryker, by allowing himself to be the test for a new sort of super strong metal, Stryker will in turn equip Logan with the means to exact revenge. Things seemingly go to plan until Stryker attempts a double cross, but Logan now much stronger than before escapes with plans to take out both his lover’s murderer and Colonel Stryker to.

As an event movie “Wolverine” has the key ingredients to work. It possesses a sizeable budget, a decent concept and a likeable star but what it lacks is that little extra spice to make it great. Recent superhero flicks like “The Dark Knight” and “Hellboy 2” managed to pull out that list trick in order to trump their peers, but “Wolverine” in turn never quite manages it. As a fun and breezy way to spend a 107 minutes it’s perfectly ample and certainly looks the big budget part, but in truth the picture lacks that extra dose of imagination to make it sparkle.

Jackman is once again fine in the part of the title hero, though debatably not as good as he was under Bryan Singer in the “X-Men” franchises pinnacle. He has the charm, the delivery and the physical presence to make the role work and can pull a little darkness into proceedings quite comfortably. In truth without a star like Jackman a film like this, working from such a basic plotline might be in trouble. The Aussie hunk anchors the film nicely and provides a consistently adept performer throughout. As Victor, Liev Schreiber probably proves the film’s most kinetic and adventurous performer, not burdened with the back story Schreiber cuts lose and unleashes a scary villain onto proceedings. I’ve admired Schreiber as an actor for some time and once again he repays the faith, his range now encompassing feral and menacing along with the quieter and more refined types he usually plays. Danny Huston is somewhat disappointing as Stryker, acceptable but rather too bland to leave much of an impression. Lynn Collins also marks a misfire, the actress never anything more than a damp squib of a love interest; Jackman’s worst scenes are easily those he has to share with her.

The film is directed by Gavin Hood who does a decent job with the action stuff, and actually provides skilled in building dread on a few occasions. The picture never breaks out of the conventional blockbuster mould but it does the basic stuff pretty well, there are several well staged set-pieces and the climax is a satisfying conclusion. A lot of what there is to like about “Wolverine” can be attributed to Hood’s solid job behind the camera. Fans of the comic books should be pleased to see that the director has drafted in several fan favorites and thanks to well timed action interludes the picture feels brisk and well paced. In the wake of several ponderously overstretched summer movies, viewers should be pleased to know that “Wolverine” never outstays its welcomes.

The key problem with the picture is the unremarkable screenplay and less than detailed examination of the central character, as a prequel “Wolverine” seems intensely more interested in blowing stuff up than actually getting to grips with its conflicted hero. I’m not saying that the story is a shambles or that the writing inexcusable, just not as unique or memorable as the majority might be hoping for. The movie is good fun and does feature several highly enjoyable set-pieces, but in many ways it feels that the script was constructed around the spectacle rather than vice versa. It doesn’t really detract from the fun nature of the product, but it certainly might make it a whole lot easier to forget. Also I never really bought the movies sporadic attempts at comic relief, nearly all of these just came up as clumsy and rarely raised a laugh.

I suppose “Wolverine” is a decent enough way to fire up the industry’s most profitable few months, it’s perfectly watchable, fairly enjoyable and features at least a few excellent performances and action sequences. Still, the story is lacking and there are other flaws to be accounted for to, which combined keep “Wolverine” from reaching the levels of excellence that other recent genre examples have. I’m contented enough with the product, and no doubt this summer will offer up plenty worse, but I just can’t help but hope it has a couple better up its sleeve to.

A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009


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