Sometimes movies like X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE make me sad, because they give me time to reflect on how all the money going into these huge-budget movies could have been spent on important and worthwhile things like medical research, or wildlife conservation, or food for the needy, or reimbursing me for the allotment of my meager salary I used to purchase a ticket.
Let me back up:
X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE (which I am now going to refer to only as WOLVERINE, in order to keep my word count down), is the supposed origin story of the previously-mysterious, eternally-popular mutton-chopped mutant from the Marvel comic books and the three previous X-MEN feature films. It’s meant as a prequel to that trio of movies, explaining how Wolverine got to the point in which we initially meet him at the beginning of 2000’s X-MEN. As usual, Wolverine is played by Hugh Jackman, in a performance that has very little to do with the source material, but with an Eastwood-esque charisma that, for a while at least, had effectively anchored this increasingly unwieldy film series.
I had some hopes going into this movie because its initial screenplay credit goes to David Benioff, the novelist who wrote the books The 25th Hour andCity of Thieves, and the short story collection When The Nines Roll Over (all highly recommended). On the other side of seeing this thing, I can’t believe that a single word of Benioff’s draft was used. Or maybe he did write it after all, but only after being hit in the brain with one of those ‘amnesia bullets’ that wipes Wolverine’s mind clean in the penultimate scene. (Sorry, I ruined the ending.) Wolverine is lucky to have the amnesia though. If this was my origin, I wouldn’t want to remember it either.
Look, I’m not by nature a negative guy; I know from first-hand experience how much effort goes into making any movie, no matter how it turns out, and I have no interest in denigrating the hard work of anyone involved. However, in the interest of honesty, and in the hopes that something can be learned from the experience, here are some quick [amnesia] bullet points to explain why X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE is – an understatement here – no classic:
* Shockingly clichéd dialogue. If the humor was intentional, they would have called it AIRPLANE.
“You look like a man fixin’ to do a bad thing.”
“Colonel, this is turning into a disaster.”
“All of their strengths, none of their weaknesses.”
(Actually, I know exactly where they took that last line from – an earlier Marvel movie called BLADE!)
* Incoherent action geography and by-the-numbers plotting.
* A charismatic performance from Ryan Reynolds, who dominates every early scene and, naturally, is punished for it by being removed from the movie for an hour, only to return at the end with his mouth sewn shut.
* Dominick Monaghan and Kevin Durand, both so good on Lost, also unnecessarily wasted.
* An atrocious debut performance from Will.I.Am, who also has an atrocious number-one hit right now. He’s a double-threat!
* A complete lack of continuity with the X-MEN movies goes without saying, but I was still hoping that they’d at least TRY to explain how the great actor Liev Schreiber would one day become a pro-wrestler.
* Unintentional laughter abounds in this movie. I listed the times when I laughed out loud:
1. Opening credits freeze-frame on Liev Schrieber as Sabretooth, bounding like a bunny rabbit though a SAVING PRIVATE RYAN homage/ D-Day flashback. Really, any time he jumps around the movie is almost worth the cost. Hysterical. Not meant to be. But hysterical.
2. Naked CGI Wolverine jumping into a waterfall. (Hard to explain and we don’t have the time. None of us here are immortal.)
3. Aunt May and Uncle Ben, from the SPIDER-MAN movies, cameo as the kindly old couple who take Wolverine into their home.
(Not actually them.)
(If not, it’s Ma & Pa Kent for sure.)
4. Adamantium bullets, Wolverine’s only weakness. He’s a werewolf now.
5. The Blob gets his name from mis-hearing Wolverine when he addresses him as “Bub.”
(So how come Wolverine calls Gambit “Blob”?)
6. Ryan Reynolds’ sad eyes when he reappears as Deadpool with his mouth sewn shut.
7. Patrick Stewart cameos as a weird old guy who invites a group of kids into his helicopter. Creepy! (Imagine if I hadn’t seen the other movies yet and I didn’t know why this was happening, seeing as how the movie doesn’t really explain it.)
Again, apologies for the spoilers, but not really. If you’re an emotionally mature adult and you haven’t yet seen this movie, I’m actually helping you. I’m saving you time and money. This is a bad movie, not that it brings me any joy to say so.
I recognize that this movie wasn’t made for me. Clearly. It was made to swallow up the allowances of thirteen-year-old boys and to sell overseas to foreign audiences that will hopefully get better dialogue on their subtitles. A movie like WOLVERINE only has to be just good enough to meet those standards, and not any better than that – that’s just how business works. It also should be acknowledged that the movie isn’t made for girls either (let alone women) – the only female character in the entire movie exists solely to get killed (twice!) so that the title character has his excuse to wreak bloody vengeance all over the place (but not too bloody, since it has to come in under a PG-13 rating so all the kids can get in.) The movie’s not sophisticated.
Still, it could’ve been. I’m a comic book guy. At least, I was, for my formative years. I appreciate the artistry and energy of superhero comics, and for some time I was wrapped up in the compulsive appeal of them also. I read all the X-Men comics throughout the 1990s, although that wasn’t necessarily a golden era for comic books. That decade was dominated by flashy yet hollow characters such as Gambit and Deadpool, who coincidentally have been crammed into this WOLVERINE movie. Comic book fans know what I mean when I say that X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE is like a shoddily-drawn issue of a spinoff X-Men comic – it has some of the characters you like in it, and it’s got explosions, so you’re gonna get your fix. But you will not remember it as fondly as you do the better issues.
It would be a copout, though, to suggest that this is the best we can expect. Look at SPIDER-MAN 2. Look at THE DARK KNIGHT. Look at the LORD OF THE RINGS movies. There is a precedent for huge-budget movies of this sort that still manage to engage a large audience emotionally and tell a coherent story cinematically. It takes a monumental amount of hard work and good luck, but it can be done.
In fact, one just opened.
Given the choice, absolutely go see the new STAR TREK movie. You don’t need to be a fan of the series from before. I’m not, never was. Although I guess I am now! JJ Abrams’ STAR TREK is that good. I have a minor conflict of interest here, in that I know, have met, and very much like some people behind the scenes, but that will only hinder me so far as to stop me from writing a full-length rave review. I admit that I want to see this movie storm the box office so that nice people get paid and the rest of us frequent a quality movie, but if I didn’t truly think it was good enough to recommend, I wouldn’t. It’s a really fun time at the movies, and a much better way to forget your troubles than an amnesia bullet.