X-Men Origins: Wolverine

Director    Gavin Hood
Starring    Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber, Danny Huston, Ryan Reynolds, Taylor Kitsch
Release    1 MAY (US) 29 APR (UK)    Certificate 12A
3 stars


27th April 2009

Straight off the bat: this movie features more shots of muscle-bound men looking up at the camera and yelling "RAAWWWRGH!" than any other I can remember. It's the shoutiest film of the year: guaranteed. But in the X-Men Origins universe, cursing skywards is short-hand for tragedy - it's emotion, spelled out in capital letters in case you didn't realise. And in a movie as big as Wolverine's own X-Men spin-off, there just isn't enough time to devote to 'character building' or 'plot development' when there's helicopters to be blown up.

In effect, X-Men Origins: Wolverine - hereby referred to only as Wolverine - delivers exactly what it promises: to lift Hugh Jackman's entertaining gruff guy sideshow act from the X-Men franchise and give it room enough for berserker rage writ large. Alas, where there are back-stories and origins to be plundered, there are also fanboy hearts to be broken, and I suspect Wolverine will light the blog touchpaper in that respect.

The movie starts with a young Wolverine popping a boner - from his hands. Gruesome abnormality and healing powers discovered, we segue into a war montage where growned-up Wolverine and similarly-affected chum Victor Creed (Schreiber) fight back-to-back against all manner of cannon fodder. It's the appearance of smarmy army guy William Stryker (Huston, filling in for Brian 'can't hold down a character' Cox) that sets their ultimate rivalry in motion when he recruits them to Team X; a shady military organisation that's nothing like the X-Men, no sirree bub.

It's here we meet the rest of the cast, or rather 'the padding': supplementary characters here feel shoehorned into the action to up the cool quota rather than honour their origins. So, while we meet The Blob (Kevin Durand aka Lost's Keamy), Wraith (Black Eyed Peas', last name a.twat) and Gambit (an underwhelming Taylor Kitsch), they really only function to show off their powers and make up the numbers in fight scenes.

The majority of nerd noise, however, will focus around the treatment of fan-favourite Deadpool, whose entire comic-book back-story (and front-story) is disregarded in favour of another Ryan Reynolds smug-fest - he's Van Wilder with swords, and that's just the first half of the movie. To the lay person, such characters serve as interesting diversions - cool end-of-level bosses, if you will. But to the average comic-book fan (who, ironically, may never lay a person), it's tantamount to sacrilege the way these characters are treated.

Machinations are never explained; motivations are never pondered; mutations are never discussed. For the whole movie, Wolverine is seeking revenge - when confronted with it, he bails. Sabretooth is out for blood - when confronted with it, he folds. Stryker wants to create the ultimate weapon - when he gets it, he wants it dead. Characters are always seemingly on the brink of having nothing to do - even in a fantasy-based superhero franchise like this, the deus ex machina used in the finale is particularly galling. You're left with a movie that never quite bleeds into the original X-Men movies: there's little here that truly informs Bryan Singer's originals.

Throw in the worst, most pointless post-credits sequence ever seen and you've got a movie that often soaks up audience goodwill like a damn sponge. (If I were a more cynical man, I might suggest that the pre and post-credit blips were shot after the movie was leaked online, purely to create the 'unseen' material Fox producers blabbed about. I may well be wrong on this - I'm aware multiple end scenes were shot, but I sure hope the others are better than the lame bar scene I saw. See Iron Man for how to do this right.)

All this might suggest Wolverine is a bad movie: it's not, at all. It's a big movie in every sense. Action scenes are often gigantic in scale; the locations (New Zealand and Australia doubling for, uh, Canada) are jaw-dropping; the special effects are genuinely top-notch. And if you can't get on board a film where the hero gets blasted onto a moving helicopter before crashing and walking away from the explosion while smoking a cigar, you sir, are a dullard. It's blockbuster season: head for Cannes if you want arthouse.

Jackman, let's not forget, is magnificent. Who else could sashay from mincing Oscar host to side-burned anti-hero with such ease? Sure, the whole movie is basically an expensive excuse for him to flex his guns, but Jackman is on song and carries the movie effortlessly - charisma coming out of his arse, this guy. Kudos also to Schreiber, who brings little baggage to the role of Sabertooth but leaves a lasting impression of genuine snarling menace.

Yes, there's duff dialogue throughout - one awful quasi-poetic exchange between Wolverine and Girlfriend is repeated ad infinitum throughout like it's fucking Wordsworth. Yes, the tone lurches gaily from pulse-pounding revenge drama to awkward comedy interludes and back again. And yes, it's more X-Men 3 than X-Men 2. But is it worth seeing? Certainly in the way that most blockbusters are: it's big, loud, dumb, colourful and every dollar spent is seen on screen. But how will the true fans react? Cut to sky-cam, as a million geeks look to the heavens and yell "RAAWWWRGH!"

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