‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine’ (2009)

I didn’t read ‘X-Men’ as a kid (I was more of a ‘Fantastic Four’ nerd myself) so I can only judge this film based on how well it hews to the bible it has already set up in the first three ‘X-Men’ films. By that standard, ‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine’ succeeds…mostly.

Wolverine is by far one of the more interesting of the first-generation X-Men. He’s cranky; he carries his own moral code around like an invisible cloud often circumventing plans and strategies to do what he believes is right; he’s confident, and he’s practically indestructible. In short, Wolverine is the perfect anti-hero. Unfortunately, ‘Origins’ does little to dig under those surface qualities to show us just how he actually got to be the way he is.

Beginning in 1845 in rural Canada, ‘Origins’ introduces a sibling relationship between Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and Sabretooth (Liev Schreiber) and the years of soldiering the two brothers do between the death of their real, shared father and the Vietnam war are told in a visually artful way that tells us next to nothing about their characters. It isn’t until this last war, it seems, when Wolverine has had enough of his brother’s blood lust.

The bulk of the film centers quite rightly on how Wolverine acquired the adamantium, courtesy Col. William Stryker (Danny Houston here; Brian Cox in ‘X2?), adhering to his skeleton and how he lost his memories of a more than 100-year lifespan. The conflict between the human and the animal is expressly spoken of in the story but never really conveyed; it is a foregone conclusion that Wolverine will take Stryker’s offer and that he will continue to struggle with the beast within himself. And therein lies the major problem with this film: Like ‘Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith’ because we know what comes after it the inherent drama of the origin is vastly diminished.

Visually stylish and packed with both action and fight sequences, director Gavin Hood could have cut about 20 minutes in the second act without sacrificing the intricate set-up of Stryker’s betrayal. Too, Hood, on only his third film, makes a couple of rookie mistakes attempting to show us too much in some places and not allowing for enough breathing room in others; Wolverine’s embarrassment at the accidents caused by his brand new adamantium claws is priceless and a too brief bit of humor in a film that otherwise takes itself with the utmost seriousness. And for those who pay attention to such details, it is worth noting that while he is never referred to in ‘Origins’ as Sabretooth it’s likely because producers wasted the character in the first film in the franchise by presenting him as a mute animal barely up to average intelligence which is a clear diversion from Schreiber’s portrayal.

Hugh Jackman shoulders the burden of Wolverine well, delivering with a consistency of performance that should satisfy most casual fans. Let’s just hope that the producers and keepers of the X-Men series are smart enough to make their next move ‘X-Men Origins: Storm’.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆

One Response to “‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine’ (2009)”

  1. As a kid X-men was one of the comics that I started with, and to be sure like many of the people who were reading X-men in 1976 Wolverine was one of my favorites with his berserker rages and shadowy past that hinted at psychopathic killing sprees in the line of whatever duty he was doing (ah! the past when his history was mostly inferences to things too violent to reveal). The only disappointment with Hugh Jackman is that he’s somewhere around 6′ plus whereas Wolverine is supposed to be 5’3″. Other than that, Hugh Jackman IS Wolverine. That was my opinion from the first movie and he has subsequently inhabited the character beautifully ever since. Only in the movie though can he be considered a first generation X-Man, in the comics he was a part of the second group gathered together to rescue the first group from Krakoa the Living Island (or something goofy like that. Yet another example of why it’s so great to have these movies strip out some of the more dubious story lines from the comic book canon). Actually, I understand in the comics recently they retro-fitted yet another group of X-Men to get trapped on Krakoa before the traditional first group was trapped.

    What the progression of military units both Logan and Victor are a part of between their father’s death and their parting in Vietnam is that apparently they are very good at being those soldiers on the front lines without revealing the secret of their mutant heritage, and that they are really quite old. To have delved on anything more during this would have been a mistake of trying to show too much in the wrong part of the movie. I’m sure Marvel would love to step up to the task of populating 8 more Wolverine titles to more fully expand and retro-fit his history with dubious profit making filler but I for one am grateful that Gavin Hood chose not to add unwritten chapters to the life of Marvel’s favorite mutant.

    The struggle between Logan’s animal side and his humanity is missing. It isn’t enough that Victor eventually embraces his most predatory instincts, and is the stand-in for what Wolverine could become. Maybe they’re waiting for the inevitable second and third installments. Somewhere in the grand overview of the whole Wolverine prequel project, he needs to slip into a dangerous and debilitating anger-management problem. Berserker rage.

    To say the problem with one prequel (Wolverine) is that, like another prequel (SWE3), it is a prequel and we know where it is going seems like an easy way to make complaining noises. No one likes to bitch more than me, and certainly I know the only way you ever get good at bitching is with constant practice, but once you’ve amassed the proper experience with bitching, you recognize complaining for complaining’s sake, and that is a rookie mistake.

    If you come to the Wolverine movie hoping to find some levity then you likely smiled when you saw the preview of the Blob and Logan in the boxing ring where Blob belly-flops Wolverine through the ring-ropes, complete with some ridiculous sound effect of the Blob’s reverberating belly. That sound effect, thankfully is somewhere on the cutting room floor. The humor here should be much more sophisticated like the sink scene, or when Logan called the Blob ‘Bub’ and the Blob thought he heard ‘Blob’. Very slick that the Blob gets his name from not understanding a classic bit of Wolverine dialog, and that the Blob is the only person to refer to himself by that derogatory name. Too inside a trick for anyone but comic book fans to understand. Still, Hood reached too far when at the end of the boxing/sparring match his club-fisted handling of Logan bullying the Blob had Logan popping his claws through the big red boxing glove. You know Gavin was trying to be cute, which would have been appropriate if the movie were a Hello Kitty movie or something, but really I would’ve hoped he handle the character that is the Crown Jewel of all comic book characters with a little more consideration and quite frankly seriousness that Wolverine deserved. Oh well.

    The character of Storm would be a good choice for a next Origins movie, but even though I have not whined as loudly as some in the manifest wrongness in the casting of Halle Berry as Ororo, she should not be allowed to pretend that that her performance was deserving of a whole movie being dedicated to it. I recall, it was either her appearance on Letterman or the Tonight show before the first X-Men movie opened where she whined this is what talented Black actresses are reduced to in Hollywood, having to play in… comic book movies. No. With any luck there will never be a Halle Berry ‘X-Men Origins: Storm’ movie.

Discussion Area - Leave a Comment