Friday, May 1, 2009
Review: "X-Men Origins: Wolverine"
Wolverine's spin-off is a cut below the other "X-Men" movies.
Packed with loads of claw-whirling mayhem but not a whole lot of soul, "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" manages to take the most mysterious and popular member of the team of mutant super-heroes and turn him into a patsy with a Cain and Abel complex.
That is, if those Biblical brothers both had freaky long claws and the ability to instantaneously heal from virtually any wound. That's the familial legacy of Wolverine/Logan (Hugh Jackman, looking very veiny) and his brother Victor Creed, otherwise known as Sabretooth, and played by Liev Schreiber.
There's a load of bad blood between them -- and splurted on them -- with the basic conflict being that Wolverine wants to keep his animal instincts in check, while Sabretooth believes in letting his feral flag fly.
Complicating matters further, Sabretooth was a character in the first X-Men movie, in which he was played by another actor and looked completely different, and also didn't see fit to mention anything to Wolverine about being siblings. But continuity is not a big priority when summer box office records are in the offing.
The story opens back in 1845 (both Wolverine and Sabretooth's mutant powers slow the aging process), when Logan was a sickly boy. His powers first manifest during a terrible family argument in which several people are killed, and Logan and Victor flee as outcasts.
A montage shows the pair fighting together in virtually every American war from the North vs. South to Vietnam. Sabretooth's killer instincts grow even more out of control when they join a secret team of mutant super-soldiers led by Col. Stryker (Danny Huston). After some civilians are messily caught in the crossfire, Wolverine walks off to live the quiet life lumberjacking in the Canadian Rockies with a lady friend (Lynn Collins).
But old troubles return when Sabretooth starts hunting down the old team members, and a predictable tragedy leads Wolverine to strike a bargain with the human devil Stryker to obtain the tools to defeat his evil brother. He agrees to undergo an experimental process to bond an unbreakable metal called adamantium to his bones.
The rest of the movie is a confusing gumbo of double-crosses and MacGuffins, with Wolverine and Sabretooth tangling in a blur of claws every 20 minutes or so. A few other characters from the X-Men universe crop up, notably the Creole mutant Gambit as a potential ally.
The action scenes are well-executed by director Gavin Hood ("Tsotsi"), but this movie's problems began before the first foot of film was shot. Since the final events in "Wolverine" take place about 20 years prior to those in the first "X-Men" flick, screenwriters David Benioff and Skip Woods have to perform some major contortions to get things to sync up. In one laughable moment, Stryker produces a gun loaded with adamantium bullets he intends to use on the wayward Wolverine to induce amnesia. The final showdown also takes place in a very famous spot, with some architectural rearrangement that surely would not have gone unnoticed.
Some mysteries are better left unplumbed, and sometimes characters are most compelling because of what we don't know about them. They should have left "Wolverine" well enough alone.
2 stars out of four