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X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)

by on 2013/05/14

X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)

“Wow. Goo Goo G’Joob got screwed.”
“Kuekuatsheu. It means ‘the wolverine’.”

* * *

Welcome to another edition of “I can’t believe they hated it so much.” Really, that’s how I feel, with all the wrath directed by critics and fans at X-Men Origins: Wolverine. It’s a movie that does what it needs to do, perhaps not perfectly, but well enough at least to entertain.

A complaint I’ve often seen about the original X-Men series was the sprawling cast with too little attention paid to individuals. Here we get that narrower focus on the most popular character, Logan/Wolverine (Van Helsing’s Hugh Jackman). I suppose that must have led to overblown expectations.

We’re shown his general history, a stepping-stone survey of his life. We also get important information on related concepts: his name(s), his relationship with Sabretooth, adamantium, Weapon X, and his memory loss.

All these details are woven into an oddly Commando-or-Rambo-like story. After background scenes outline James Logan Howlett’s military/mercenary service, he tires of the violence and retreats to his homeland of Canada. However, after several years of peace and domestic bliss, he’s visited by a former commander, who warns him their old squad is being hunted. “Your country needs you” he implores.

Typically, our hero ignores the warning – “I’m Canadian” he retorts – until he’s personally affected by the situation. Then he makes it his sole ambition to hunt down everyone responsible, no matter the cost to him physically or psychologically. Even along the way, everyone he cares for – or who cares for him – are taken from him in a manner reinforcing his nihilistic quest.

The themes may be of family, but the story is pure revenge.

Which is why I found it a little surprising to realize he’s always being saved. His brother Victor, his partner Kayla, the mutant Gambit, and an elderly couple . . . all have in common the capacity to deliver him from some problem. On one hand, such passive agency hardly seems heroic; on the other, the sacrifice of his various benefactors underscores why he devolves into a berserker.

This wasn’t the only issue giving me pause. At a couple of points, I felt the otherwise solid script would weaken: awkwardly shoehorning in his signature line – “I’m the best there is at what I do, but what I do isn’t very nice” – and a speech to Kayla both expository and inappropriately melodramatic.

I don’t intend to bash the writing overall. It’s usually simple and effective, rarely stooping to pedantics. It presupposes familiarity with the general idea of mutants, and includes some nice tie-ins to the wider series, including a re-imagined Sabretooth, younger Scott Summers, Emma Frost, and Jason Stryker, and a slightly creepy digital Charles Xavier. (Uncanny X-Men, indeed. Uncanny valley, more like.)

Speaking of “creepy digital” the effects were my most significant gripe, usually related to obvious compositing. Some foregrounds and backgrounds clearly didn’t match: escaping an explosion, fighting atop a reactor, and shredding apart a fire escape at high speed. But then it has just as many moments of convincing, impressive effects, my favourite being a terrific opening montage.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine’s greatest crime is one I choose to forgive: it’s overly familiar to fans of the comics and action pictures in general. Based on what we know from the context of previous feature films, everything here is exactly what you’d expect, with few surprises leading up to a foregone conclusion.

Still I’m inclined to sympathize, relax, and just have fun here. This movie, like its title character, has a dirty job to do, yet it doesn’t bitch, it gets to work, and gets it done, bub. To modify its catchphrase – for better or for worse – it’s competent at what it does, but what it does is familiar.

* * *

Rated 14A (Canada) / PG13 (United States)

107 minutes

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