During World War Two, there was a huge push from the government to curtail civilian use of any type of material that could be used for the war effort. People were to ask themselves “Is this trip really necessary?” before setting out in their cars, using much needed gasoline and tire rubber. In the current, near war-like culture in Hollywood, those fighting to have the biggest and best summer blockbuster films should be asking themselves the same question before investing hundreds of millions of dollars into a production.
If they had, than we might not have been stuck with X-Men Origins: Wolverine.The film opens in the 1840s in Canada’s Northwest Territories. (Never mind the fact that Canada wasn’t formed until 1867 and the Northwest Territories in 1870. This is probably the least of the script’s errors.) Some high-powered soap opera antics reveal that a young James Logan and Victor Creed are actually half-brothers, each with mutant powers. As one of those powers is super-fast healing they don’t age once they hit adulthood, where they are played by Hugh Jackman and Live Schrieber respectively, and spend the ensuing century fighting in various wars. Eventually, they are recruited by Col. Stryker (Danny Huston) to join a special Black Ops team of mutants, but Logan leaves after the group is involved in a My Lai-esque massacre. Settling in Canada, Logan finds a new life as a lumberjack and love with Kayla Silverfox (Lynn Collins). However, he finds himself drawn back to Stryker when his former teammates start being killed, and the killer also kills Kayla. And all this is just in the first 20 minutes or so, setting up the film’s main plot- Logan running around a lot, fighting other mutants.
At its best, Wolverine is a technically competent motion picture. The camera work is focused and pointed at the action. Director Gavin Hood’s shot selection isn’t particularly inspired and too many moments echo things we have seen before. When Bill Shatner as Captain Kirk looks up at the camera and screams “Khan!” in Star Trek II, it is a powerful moment. When Hood has Jackman do it not once, but twice, in this film, it seems tired, lacking in impact and cheats Jackman out of being able to deliver more nuanced acting moments.
There’s something interesting in the idea of a hero who can instantly heal any physical wound, but has to deal with a near-fatal emotional wound. But the script never really explores the idea. Instead, Jackman stomps his way through the film, pretty much giving a one note performance from the point Wolverine discovers Kayla dead. But so much more potential is treated as throw away. Any bonding moments that Victor and Logan may have had while growing up is lost in the opening credits montage of them fighting in numerous wars. Stryker’s hatred for mutants, explored far more fully in X-Men 2, merits only a one line of dialogue mention here. Are the film makers expecting us to remember this character’s much more fleshed out backstory from the previous film?
The big problem, though, is that we know how this will end- with its hero amnesic, with no clue save a set of military dog tags, as to who he may be. This is the state we met him in back in the first X-Men film (2000). Through that film and its sequel, he discovered his history with the military and the experiment that fused the indestructible adamantium metal to his skeleton. It was that process of discovery and the choices he made based on this knowledge that made him one of the most interesting characters in the X-Men trilogy. Here, however, no matter what Logan does, it doesn’t matter, as he is essentially a blank slate when the final credits roll.
If this film had premiered ten years ago, it would have been praised by genre fans for its level of quality. The thing is, the bar for films such as this has been raised considerably in the past decade, thanks to films like the first two X-Men films and others. Time worn dialogue like “I know who you are!” and “There’s a special place in hell for the things we did!” just don’t meet that standard any more. This leaves Wolverine only an average genre installment. And in the age where DVDs can be delivered right to your home, at trip to the cinema for this one may not be necessary.