Monday, May 04, 2009

X-Men Origins: Wolverine / *½ (PG-13)

Logan/Wolverine: Hugh Jackman
Victor Creed/Sabertooth: Liev Schreiber
General Striker: Danny Huston
Kayla Silverfox: Lynn Collins
Remy LeBeau/Gambit: Taylor Kitsch
John Wraith:
Frederick J. Dukes/The Blob: Kevin Durand
Chris Bradley/Bolt: Dominic Monaghan
David North/Agent Zero: Daniel Henney
Wade Wilson/Deadpool: Ryan Reynolds

20th Century Fox presents a film directed by Gavin Hood. Written by David Benioff and Skip Woods. Based on characters from Marvel comic book publications. Running time: 107 min. Rated PG-13 (for intense sequences of action and violence and some partial nudity).

So I’m sitting in this bar in Chicago with my best friend two weeks ago trying to salvage the evening after the heartbreaking Game 2 loss of the Bulls to the Celtics. The Blackhawks are giving the bartender an even harder time in the NHL, so he says, “We’re watching something else. You guys seen ‘Wolverine’ yet? I got it. We’re watching it!”

Now, I find myself in a bit of a conundrum having just written a diatribe railing against movie piracy and the stupidity of critics who would so brazenly write a review based on one of these pirated copies. I submit my opinion that I would rather not see it at this point in time, but my friend and the only other guy in that bar are game. I’m not really sure I want to see what might happen to the heavily tattooed and elongated earlobed bartender’s mood if he’s forced to watch the Hawks blow it any longer, so I don’t protest much.

For the next hour and a half or so we proceeded to perform our own version of “Mystery Science Theater 3000” on the fourth X-Men installment. What we took such pleasure in ridiculing as we guzzled our late night High Life was not the over 400 unfinished special effects shots, the temporary score, or the unfinished color timing; it was the script and B-movie story by David Benioff (“The Kite Runner”) and Skip Woods (“Hitman”).

Of course, I couldn’t really review the movie seen under those circumstances, so I went to see it when it opened in theaters. And even with the finished special effects in their dazzling glory (properly color timed mind you), the final score, and my own sobriety, the screenplay brings the whole production crashing down. The script is spectacularly bad.

I suppose a brief synopsis is a necessity, so here it goes. Wolverine started out life as a little boy named Jimmy a long time ago and through a melodramatic event discovers that a) he has the mutant power to grow six claws from between his knuckles at will and has the power to heal himself; and b) he has an older brother Victor with similar powers (although the brother’s claws are his fingernails). The two fight every major war in American history together. This is shown through montage during the film’s credits and is the best sequence in the movie, perhaps because there is no dialogue.

After surviving the firing squad in Vietnam for killing a superior officer, the two are approached by General Striker to join a covert team with “special privileges,” which are never quite explained. Now Jimmy looks like a buff Hugh Jackman (“Australia”) and Victor looks like a scary redneck version of Liev Schreiber (“Defiance”), both sporting matching muttonchops. The group enables Victor’s violent tendencies and Jimmy leaves the team to pursue a normal life with a girlfriend (Lynn Collins, “The Number 23”) and an axe.

Six years later, someone is killing off the team and Striker (Danny Huston, “How to Lose Friends & Alienate People”) recruits Jimmy to join the Weapon X program where the unbreakable metal adamantium is fused to his skeleton creating the nearly indestructible Wolverine that we all know and love. The assassin Wolverine is assigned to hunt down is, of course, Victor.

Now, that took me longer than expected, but aside from the adamantium skeleton part, all that plot takes place in the first 15 minutes of the movie. The remaining 90 minutes of the movie is amazingly similar to the first 15 minutes replayed over and over again with different mutants thrown into the mix and a great many “secrets” that nobody is willing to divulge until Wolverine knocks them down and shoves those claws in their faces. If you don’t really know what a mutant is, well you’re out of luck, because the filmmakers show little interest in explaining the socio-political environment of the world of the X-Men beyond the fact that General Striker hates them but is willing to use them for his dirty work.

In fact, from this movie it would seem that other than Striker, just about everybody in this world is a mutant. Now, that may serve as a bit of a spoiler about Wolvie’s “normal” girlfriend, but that secret isn’t really anything that the filmmakers don’t try to beat into your head with a frying pan during a scene where she diffuses a fight between Jimmy and a big guy making a redneck cell phone call, which would involve blocking the road with your vehicle while you converse with another person from your drivers’ seats. And you know, I’ve seen it twice now, and I’m not sure when people stopped calling him Jimmy and started calling him Logan. Maybe someone can help me out there.

But details such as what names people are going by can easily be missed between eye rollings with banal lines like these to sit through:

“We didn’t sign up for this.”

“You can’t just walk away.”

“Embrace the other side.”

“You’re gonna die for what you did to her!”

“All the horrible things in your life... Your father, the wars, I can make all this go away. You can live knowing that the woman you loved was hunted down, or you can join me. I promise you will have your revenge.”

“You’re not an animal, Logan.” What is he? The Elephant Man?

And one of my favorites, “If I learned anything about life, it's this: always play the hand you’re dealt. My name is Gambit... and I play for keeps.” Now, I just can’t wait for the Gambit movie!

But the clichéd and hackneyed script isn’t the movie’s only flaw. There’s a huge cast of characters and instead of actually introducing them, director Gavin Hood (“Tsotsi”) just throws Wolverine and Victor in amongst them to do their thing, regardless of what anyone else is doing. All the other characters are just window dressing for the action scenes. With the plot to kill off the special unit the warring brothers were a part of, it would be beneficial to actually get to know some of these guys so we might actually care if someone is out to knock them off.

Ryan Reynolds’ (“Adventureland”) involvement as one of Striker’s mutant unit is completely inexplicable considering the capacity his character serves. He comes on for one action sequence in which he cracks wise a couple of times to set up a joke at the end of the film when a completely different actor is actually playing his character. Of course, they cast Reynolds so they might be able to develop a spinoff for his mutant character known as Deadpool.

Gambit (Taylor Kitsch, NBC’s “Friday Night Lights”), beyond his laughable introductory line, is another completely wasted character. The effects in his scenes are beyond dazzling, but what is the point of including such a powerful mutant character to take Wolverine to an island that Wolvie could easily have found on his own if Gambit had simply told him its name?

But I’ve gone on too long. While the special effects are good for the most part, the only real joy I derived from watching this film, I got during that initial drunken bash session of the unfinished project. “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” doesn’t add anything meaningful to the X-Men mythology or to comic book-based movies in general. All it is good for is as a subject of ridicule while you’re sitting in a bar getting drunk with your friends.

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