It’s no surprise that after the success of the X-Men trilogy that a prequel movie would be made centered around the most popular of the X-Men, Wolverine. It’s the role that really launched Hugh Jackman’s career, so the real treat about X-Men Origins: Wolverine is getting to see him in the role again. Jackman’s a great leading man and a fine actor, but sometimes he falls victim to mediocre writing and storytelling, and sadly – X-Men Origins: Wolverine is riddled with those kinds of problems.
Right off the bat, to stress the fact that this film is also probably the most violent of any of the previous X-Men films is most likely understood, but it’s important to make it clear that Wolverine is the most adult of any of the X-Men flicks. From featuring more language than the previous installments to showing more of Hugh Jackman’s body than any of us really ever wanted to see, to keeping the action (and violence) coming almost nonstop, Wolverine actually pushes the PG-13 rating envelope a bit too much. I suppose comic book fans can argue that an R-rating would be the only way to keep true to telling the story of Wolverine “right” (at least in their minds), but being more sensitive about the material for a wider audience is not only smart but ideal. Still, keeping the movie as edgy as it is may still limit its accessibility.
X2: X-Men United (like Spider-Man 2) is widely believed to be the best of the X-Men trilogy and there’s a good reason for that. Director Bryan Singer has a knack for storytelling, character developing, and working in just enough action and decent special effects to keep it all entertaining and interesting. Sadly, dramatic director Gavin Hood doesn’t even handle the more dramatic sequences of Wolverine to their greatest potential. Singer gave X2 plenty of room to breathe and tell its story in two hours and fifteen minutes, while Wolverine seems to try too hard to fit in just enough story to string a series of action sequences along within an hour and forty five minute window. Hood almost makes as many mistakes as Stephen Sommers did with Jackman’s monster vehicle, Van Helsing, where nonstop mindless action and eye candy were favored over story and character. So what made the first two X-Men films so great? Or even last year’s The Dark Knight? Story, direction, and characters. Singer painted a more realistic picture of mutants living in the existing world as we know it, while Hood seems to have treated it as if Wolverine existed in a completely alternate reality to the real world. It’s more like a live action cartoon for adults. Part of this is probably due to the fact that Hood used lots of CG effects and green screen which seems more often obvious than not. When it all comes down to it, X-Men Origins: Wolverine feels too different than the films it’s created to be leading up to.
The best part about X-Men Origins: Wolverine is Jackman returning as the title character. Liev Schreiber is good as Sabretooth, but it’s strange to see such a difference between this film’s take on the character and the 2000 X-Men version (with no explanation here as to how he comes to look like he does in the first X movie). Hood and company do work in some little tidbits for the fans — from seeing Logan get his signature leather jacket we see him wear in the first X-Men movie to us meeting Cyclops for the first time (and even at least one other contrived but still fun little surprise cameo towards the end), there are plenty of entertaining and fun moments during Wolverine to be worth most fans’ time. However, a mediocre feel is washed over the whole of the film. The first misstep happens early on as the intro of the movie shows Wolverine as a little kid. We get to see when he first discovers his claws, so when he does the typical throw-your-head-back-with-your-arms-out-and-scream-at-the-sky move, you’ll either laugh or groan at how painfully cheesy it is. Later, Jackman howls like an animal as Wolverine in a similar fashion which just spawned laughs from the audience during a moment that was intended to be serious. It’s stuff like this (including an overlong and goofy scene with The Blob) that detracts from X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Finally, viewers are likely to be left with more questions than answers by the story’s end. For example, we’re introduced to the Wolverine character as James Howlett, which is the first time I (as someone who has not followed the comic book lore of the character) had ever heard his name was anything other than “Logan.” Later, Stryker just out of the blue starts calling him “Logan” and we’re never given an explanation as to why. Did he choose this name as a cover for a new life? Was it given to him? While comic fans probably know (and I can also find through a quick wikipedia search), a movie like X-Men Origins: Wolverine should really have more clearly explained this to its audience.
Overall, X-Men Origins: Wolverine is a decent effort but significantly falls short of greatness. Characters get introduced and dismissed seemingly too quickly, while other story directions seem to conclude just as prematurely. The movie is violent enough to warrant exercising caution, while language (including a surprising amount of blasphemy for a superhero film) is also a hindrance. X-Men Origins: Wolverine isn’t a waste by all means, but it’s far from the movie it could have been and certainly won’t be remembered as one of the better superhero films. Perhaps if they explore the Wolverine story further, a more suitable director and better writers could be enlisted to create for fans a much stronger superhero flick.