Monday, May 4, 2009

Movie Review: X-Men Origins: Wolverine

X-Men Origins: Wolverine ***
Directed By:
Gavin Hood.
Written By: David Benioff & Skip Woods.
Starring: Hugh Jackman (Logan/Wolverine), Liev Schreiber (Victor Creed/Sabretooth), Danny Huston (William Stryker), Will i Am (John Wraith), Lynn Collins (Kayla Silverfox), Kevin Durand (Frederick J. Dukes/The Blob), Dominic Monaghan (Chris Bradley/Bolt), Taylor Kitsch (Remy LeBeau/Gambit), Daniel Henney (David North/Agent Zero), Ryan Reynolds (Wade Wilson/Deadpool), Scott Adkins (Weapon XI), Tim Pocock (Scott Summers).

X-Men Origins: Wolverine is a solid movie. What it does, it does fairly well and it remains consistently entertaining throughout. If it doesn’t rise to the level of recent superhero movies like The Dark Knight, Watchmen, Iron Man, or for that matter X2: X-Men Unite, we can be grateful that it doesn’t devolve into something as terrible as Catwoman or Fantastic Four. It may not be a masterwork, but it is an entertaining action film – and sometimes that’s enough.

By this point, even if you’ve never picked up a comic book, you probably know who Wolverine is. He is the X-Man who really cannot be killed, because he heals pretty much instantaneously. In the previous three X-Men movies, Logan cannot remember what happened to him – how he became what he is, which is a powerful mutant with a metal compound fused to his skeleton, and three giant claws he can extract from his hands at will. In X2, we met William Stryker (there played by Brian Cox, here by Danny Huston), who knows what happened to Wolverine, and offers us a few glimpses. In X-Men Origins: Wolverine, we get the complete story.

Logan (Hugh Jackman) was born in the mid-1840s, and was a sickly child. His lone friend is Victor (Liev Schreiber), who as a child he finds out his really his brother. After a murder, the two flee their Canadian home and end up in America, fighting in the Civil War, WWI, WWII and Vietnam. It’s sometime after Vietnam (but supposedly before the Gulf War, which we do not see), where most of the action in the movie takes place. Logan has grown tired of all the wars and all the killing, but Victor has started to feed on it, and love it too much. The two get in trouble with a court martial, but Stryker offers them a way out – if they join his team of mutants, they can go free, and will essentially be above the law. Victor loves it, Logan not so much.

The main thrust of the plot deals with Logan leaving the team, and going back to Canada where he meets and falls in love with Kayla (Lynn Collins), a modest schoolteacher. Stryker shows back up in Logan’s life when old members of the team start to die. We know, well before Logan does, that it is Victor behind the killings. And he’s coming for Logan next.

The director of the movie is Gavin Hood, who is an odd choice for this material. His film Tsotsi won the foreign language film Oscar a few years ago, and he followed that up with Rendition, a political thriller about the war in Iraq. But Hood proves himself adept at directing action (or, perhaps, has a good second unit director who knows how), as the action sequence in Wolverine are fast paced, and well cut together. This is not quite the Michael Bay school of action filmmaking where we the edits are so fast, we often have no clue what’s going on. Rather, the action seems to make sense, no matter how implausible it all is. What Hood doesn’t do nearly as well is special effects. Wolverine’s claws never quite look right when they are seen in close-up. But it’s a minor gripe.

It’s really the performances that make Wolverine work as well as it does. At this point, Jackman has now played Wolverine four times, and although this time the major difference is that he DOES remember what happened to him, it doesn’t really change his personality. He slips into the role like an old glove, and while he is no longer a revelation in the role, he is solid and dependable. Schreiber has a lot of fun playing Victor/Sabretooth, and because he does, we have fun watching him. Huston plays the slimy, amoral Stryker just about perfectly. Solid in support of these three are Collins as the girl Logan loves and all too briefly Ryan Reynolds as another member of the team. Not so good is who is an embarrassment as another member and Taylor Kitsch as Remy LeBeau/Gambit. Perhaps it’s not really Kitsch’s fault that I didn’t really like him as Gambit – I have after all been anxiously awaiting his arrival on screen since the first X-Men movie almost a decade ago, and perhaps my expectations were too high. Why they felt the need to make him into an Ashton Kutcher look-a-like, I’ll never know though.

Overall though, X-Men Origins: Wolverine does what it sets out to do. It is an entertaining summer action movie anchored by strong performances. Perhaps by the end of the summer, this wouldn’t be enough for me to recommend it – I am on the fence about it right now – but at this point, when it’s been so long since we had a movie like this, it is. Make of that what you will.

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