X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009, Gavin Hood)


Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Immortal mutant James Logan takes part in a scientific experiment and is injected with a metal called adamantium…

Get used to multiples names…
* James Logan (Hugh Jackman) adopts the name Wolverine in this prequel to the X-Men trilogy. The film is the story of his life up to and including the moment he loses his memory.
* Logan’s childhood friend Victor Creed, who becomes one of the movie’s main villains, is played by Liev Schreiber. Early on we learn that the two share a father. Notwithstanding that, an actor who looks similar to Hugh Jackman has been cast as Logan’s mum’s husband.
* For the second time in three X-Men films, William Stryker features. As this film is set 20 years before X2, he’s been recast: Danny Huston has taken over from Brian Cox.
* In the early 1970s, Logan is seconded into a military squad of mutants. One of the team is played by Ryan Reynolds and is later experimented on by Stryker and becomes a zombie-like creature called Deadpool. Other mutants in the squad include Fred J Dukes, who’s later known as the Blob after putting on a ridiculous amount of weight (Kevin Durand), Chris Bradley (Dominic Monaghan), John Wraith (will.i.am) and Zero (Daniel Henney).
* While hiding out in Canada Logan has a boring girlfriend, Kayla (Lynn Collins). She may as well be called Character Who Gets Killed To Make The Hero Angry. (She later shows up again: it’s revealed she’s a mutant too and her death was staged.)
* On the run, Wolverine is given aid by an elderly couple (Max Cullen and Julia Blake) who may as well be called Mr and Mrs Convenient Characters Who Help The Hero Before Getting Killed.
* When Wolverine needs information about Styker’s base, he asks the only mutant to have ever escaped: Remy LeBeau aka Gambit (Taylor Kitsch).

Crossovers and continuity: There are a few elements that will be contradicted or expanded in future movies.
* William Stryker had featured in X2 (2003) and will also crop up in the First Class trilogy (2011-2016). In this film he mentions having a son, who we then see briefly: the son is also in X2. Stryker’s secret base at Alkali Lake is also seen in X-Men (2000), X2 and X-Men: Apocalypse (2016).
* Deadpool got a whole film to himself in 2016. Although still played by Ryan Reynolds, it’s a different take on the character.
* Both this movie’s Victor and Sabretooth from 2000’s X-Men are based on the same comic-book character, though it’s open to debate whether they’re meant to be the same man in the film series.
* We meet a teenager called Scott Summers (Tim Pocock). The grown-up Scott was one of the good guys in the 2000-2006 X-Men trilogy.
* Although not named, one of the mutants being held prisoner by Stryker is clearly meant to be Emma Frost – a popular character from the comic book. A different version of Emma will be X-Men: First Class (2011).
* Near the end of the film, Charles Xavier shows up to rescue the freed mutants. Patrick Stewart recorded new dialogue, while unsettling CGI has been used to show the character look like he would have done in 1979.

A comic-fan writes… Because I know next to nothing about the source material, I’ve asked my friend the writer Rebecca Levene to talk about this film: “I may be the only human being on the planet who actually likes this movie. Yes, the story’s a convoluted mess, but then so is Wolverine’s backstory in the comics and there are some genuinely inspired moments – particularly the title sequence montage showing Wolverine and Sabretooth’s long and violent history. Most of all, though, the comic geek in me loves the other X-Men cameos. Here at last is Gambit in all his sexy Cajun glory. And Deadpool’s ultimate fate may be a travesty – what lunatic takes away the Merc with a Mouth’s ability to speak? – but before that Ryan Reynolds gives us a glimpse of the star turn he’d later deliver.”

Review: This one doesn’t work. The characters are as thin as the pages of a comic book. Laughs are few and far between. But the biggest issue is simply that there’s no wow factor. The action is computer-game-ish – boring slo-mo violence and laws-of-physics-defying stunts – while there’s a real lack of polish to the filmmaking: exterior scenes are often filmed on a sound stage, while greenscreen shots are sometimes laughable. Also, curse of the prequel has struck again. Because we already know the broad strokes, at times the movie feels like an exercise in box-ticking. There *are* some good ideas, of course. The titles sequence shows us a montage of Logan and Victor fighting side-by-side in the American Civil War, the First World War, the Second World War (very Saving Private Ryan, this) and Vietnam. As the eras progress, Victor gets more and more reckless – smart, economic, fun storytelling. But after that the film gets vague and aimless. The main body of the story is set in 1979, for example, but the production design isn’t especially pushing the period. Instead it’s a bland version of ‘a few years ago’. There are no mobile phones or computers, but the odd old car aside it could be any time. That’s representative of the way the whole film is directed: no focus, no unity of vision, no distinctiveness.

Four ‘Three Mile Islands’ out of 10

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