Wednesday, May 6, 2009

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

Shmukt!: Claws for Alarm

When the X-men movies lost its chief stylist Bryan Singer to do "Superman Returns" it was a double disappointment. "X-Men III: The Last Stand" was the most expensive movie ever made, and looked terrible. Top-heavy with stars that not only bloated the budget but capsized the script to fulfill their demands, it brought the X-series to a sad ending, x-hausted, x-cessive, and x-cremental (while "Superman Returns" felt like going to The Church of Kal-El and Klan).

Time to re-boot, so here we have, rising as he always does from his own ashes, "Wolverine Begins" with
Hugh Jackman reprising his break-out role. It's a smart move. Jackman was "the" star of the "X-men" movies and after the first, they were tailored for him, like his strategically ripped wife-beaters. One is hard-pressed to think of another movie where he is used so effectively (and succeeded at the box-office).

But this is a curious re-boot. At a time when most super-hero movies are dusting off the cliches,
"X-Men Origins: Wolverine" (the title says it all) coats itself in the dust and the muck and the mire and revels in it. For instance: there is not one, but two scenes where Jim Logan (Jackman) looks up at a conveniently omniscient overhead camera and yells his frustration to the skies and his x-communicating God.

Are you kidding me? Hasn't that shot been decommissioned after all the easy laughs it's garnered on "The Daily Show?"

It has. But nobody told director
Gavin Hood ("Rendition"). He seems unconcerned about cliches or recycled material (or "sell-past" dates), as the movie lurches like lead villain Sabretooth (Liev Schreiber, but it was Tyler Mane in the original where they didn't know each other) bounding from one bad idea to the next, linked as they are by the most mainstream of transitions—the one-to-one dissolve. We get a lot of them in the Main Title. After the Bruce-Wayne-Meets-Oedipus childhood trauma opening Hood shows the brothers Logan fighting in war after war, guns fading into guns and helmets into helmets. It's quite "artily" if unimaginatively done,* but Hood keeps using it until you start looking for the detail he might use in the transitions. Flames? Ocean waves? How about a dusk to dawn transition? That hasn't been done since...well, since I started writing this.

A lot of the problem is that
Marvel—"The House of Ideas," as it likes to trumpet—has culled so much from other stories that the whole Wolverine opus reads like a Reader's Digest Omnibus of Comic Literature. Logan gets recruited to join a Dirty X-Dozen black-ops unit, then declares himself "Wolverine no more" and becomes a lumberjack (and that's okay) until his school-teacher gal-pal is killed, and he swears revenge (cue the overhead camera and the underhanded cliche). He then submits to a "Frankenstein" experiment under the control of his former superior Stryker (Danny Huston, prequeling for Brian Cox), that coats his skeleton with indestructible adamantium. He escapes Stryker, and hides out with an old farm couple, the Kent', no, the Hudson's, before being attacked—again—and hooking up with Gambit (Taylor Kitsch) for a full assault on the villain's headquarters, where like Spartacus, he leads a "mutie" revolt, that includes a young Scott Summers (Tim Pocock, looking like Ben Stiller rather than James Marsden).

There are lots of Marvel folk appearing (briefly):
Bolt, Deadpool, The Blob, Agent Zero, and Kestrel. The inconsistency with their comic-book counter-parts will drive some fan-boys nuts (not to mention Wolverine's brylcreemed pompadour from the first two films is gone, too). This fan-boy had trouble with the fights, all based on other movies: the war action from "Saving Private Ryan" (by way of "Crank"), another based on John Woo's hyper-dramatics and aerodynamics, and another, straight out of the "Star Wars" prequels.

So much recycled material to so little effect. Using the character's own
onomatopoeia, it's ten pounds of snikt!TM in a five pound bag.

"X-Men Origins: Wolverine" is a Cable-Watcher. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaahhh!

"C'mere, Kid. Got a lousy movie to show ya!"

* If you ever want to see it done to death, check out Danny DeVito's direction of "Hoffa."

** Spoiler Alert: Good place to put spoilers, isn't it? In case you think you're missing something, you're not. There's a cameo by Professor X (Patrick Stewart reprising his role), although why is Scott (Cyclops) the only guy X was reaching out to?—seems he could have contacted all the escaping mutants (because it would have killed the suspense is why), and the by-now standard "Marvel Tag" at the end of the credits is no big deal—Wolverine at a bar: "Drinking to forget?" "No. Drinking to remember." Supposedly, there are three others. If they're all that "good," don't bother collecting them all.

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