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Movie Review: Wolverine

May 4, 2009
Wolverine in Sheep’s Clothing

Oh, Brett Ratner (dir. X-Men, the Last Stand), we’re sorry.  All is forgiven.  Come back to the X-Men franchise…

Okay, it wasn’t that bad.  At least Halle Berry wasn’t in this one.  But I have to tell you, I refuse to review movies anymore based on their own merit, as opposed to reviewing them relative to expectations.  Dammit, Hugh Jackman owned this character in the first three entries of the X-Men franchise.  He stole every cigar-chomping, wolf-growling, Famke-Jannsen-stalking scene he sulked through.  Now, finally in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, we get him all to ourselves.  No PC, wimpy, touchy-feely sidekicks from the original franchise to dilute his animal magnetism on-screen.  And so, with heightened expectations in hand, what are we left with?  A formulaic, overwrought, two-dimensional revenge drama.  Sigh.

wolverine3The movie starts off in the year 1845 with Wolverine as a young boy named Jimmy, who can grow keratin-based claws out of his knuckle holes when he gets upset.  (What?  You don’t have knuckle holes?  Wolverine does!)  Jimmy is also sick a lot, and has some family problems, neither of which is ever explained.  His older brother Victor is more menacing and has anger issues, both of which you can tell because the young Victor furrows his brow a lot.  Victor also has claws, but they’re skinnier.  After a family tragedy involving Jimmy and His Two Dads, he and Victor run away from home swearing to always look after one another.  The opening scene is followed by a montage over opening credits showing Jimmy (Hugh Jackman) and Victor (Liev Schreiber) fighting in the Civil War, World War II and Vietnam.  Seems their regenerative and animalistic superpowers (Victor can become the fanged, growling Sabretooth) allow them some kind of immortality, living forever in their late-thirties (good thing immortality didn’t kick in during adolescence or infancy).

Anyway, as the brothers bond over the course of a century-and-a-half of fighting wars, big brother Victor develops a growing murderous psychopathy that alienates Jimmy.  This alienation culminates in present day when Jimmy and Victor are both members of a military guerilla strike force comprised of mutants Agent Zero (Daniel Henney), a sharpshooting pistol wizard, Deadpool (a criminally underused Ryan Reynolds), a sword-shuffling, smart-ass, the Blob (Kevin Durand), a lug with impenetrable skin, Bolt (Dominic Monaghan), who can generate and control electricity, and John Wraith (an out-of-his-league, a cowboy-dressed teleporter, and led by Colonel Styker (Danny Huston, neither resembling nor acting like a young Bryan Cox).  This teasing action scene showed what the movie could have been, as it highlighted the presence and skills of Stryker’s band of mutants in action as they take on a Nigerian warlord.  Alas, however, Jimmy refuses to participate in a subsequent mass slaughter  over the origins of a rock made of adamantium and skulks into the night, leaving Victor and the gang on their own.

Six years later Jimmy, now going by Logan, his last name, ends up a lumberjack in some logging community and shacking up with his doting girlfriend Kayla Silverfox (Lynn Collins, looking like a young Mary McDonnell).  Of course, his woodcutter bliss is short-lived, as Victor returns for a mayhem-filled visit.  The revenge plot is formed, and Logan, in the grips of blind rage, agrees to let Stryker infuse his exoskeleton with the indestructible adamantium Stryker was previously seeking, so that Logan can become meaner and stronger and beat up his big brother.  Turns out, however, Stryker has duped Logan and is in cahoots with Victor, rendering both of them the focus of Logan’s vengeance.

The rest of the film follows Logan, Victor and Stryker and a blizzard of distracting subplots and minor characters, as they work toward a climactic battle at Three-Mile Island(?!) over a villainous plot to extract DNA from imprisoned mutants to form a more perfect mutant.  Here the film descends into chaos as characters switch from evil to good, new villains and good guy mutants emerge, nonsensical fights ensue and the movie switches its primary focus from plot development to setting up the first three X-Men movies (did we really care where Logan’s jacket came from, for chrissakes?).

Directed by Gavin Hood, who previously directed Rendition and, uh, a bunch of words on, from a screenplay by David Benioff and Skip Woods, X-Men Origins: Wolverine is a mess.  Hugh Jackman and Liev Schreiber, both destined to collect an Oscar in the next five years for other movies, do their best with cheesy lines and contrived melodrama, but neither stands out.  Jackman’s Wolverine is a two-dimensional plot slave showing none of the humor and depth that Bryan Singer gave him in the first two X-Men.  Schreiber injects Victor with a menacing snarl, but the confusing plot twists render his character confusing and incomplete (and does he really become that lion-faced mute in the other X-Men movies?).  Compared to those first two, this latest entry in the now ten-year-old X-Men franchise felt like a cross between Superman IV and Roadhouse.  As for the next X-Men Origins chapter?  Meh.  Wake me for the reboot of the franchise in twenty years.



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