(20th Century Fox) Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber, Danny Huston, Ryan Reynolds, Dominic Monaghan, Lynn Collins, Taylor Kitsch, Will.i.am, Kevin Durand, Daniel Henney, Scott Adkins, Tim Pocock, Stephen Leeder, Peter O’Brien. Directed by Gavin Hood.
One of the truisms of storytelling is “begin at the beginning.” That’s not always possible, but sometimes once we become involved in a story, we want to know more about what preceded it.
James Logan (Jackman) is a mutant. Born in the mid-19th century, he and his brother Victor Creed (Schreiber) are virtually indestructible, their wounds healing literally before our very eyes. Born with the mutant gene of instant regeneration, they are virtually immortal. In addition, they have the weapons to defend themselves; Creed has sharp claws that retract into his fingernails, Logan bony spikes that retract into his knuckles when he’s not using them.
They are born literally to battle, and they move from war to war, starting with the Civil War and all the way to Vietnam, fighting alongside each other but as time goes by, Victor becomes more bloodthirsty, less civilized. After he melts down and decapitates a senior officer, they are sentenced to death by firing squad. That has the same effect as all the other bullets that have passed into them over the decades.
While rotting in their cell, they are visited by Major William Stryker (Huston), an ambitious black ops sort who is putting together a team of specialized individuals, each with their own unique talents; Blob (Durand), a superstrong Southerner with an eating disorder; Wraith (Will.i.am), who can become invisible at will and can seemingly teleport from place to place; Bolt (Monaghan) who can influence electrical devices with his mind, as well as communicate telepathically; Agent Zero (Henney), who can make astonishing leaps that would do any gymnast proud, and also is absolutely deadly with any firearm – and Deadpool (Reynolds), who is awfully talented with a sword and also has the same regenerative ability the brothers have (he also can’t stop talking, which annoys the heck out of his teammates especially Stryker).
Logan is becoming increasingly appalled with the methods the team will go to, and when they massacre an African village, he walks out on them. Victor, on the other hand, revels in the carnage and has found a home and a purpose at long last.
Logan flees to a small town in the Canadian Rockies, where he takes a job as a lumberjack and moves in with a beautiful schoolteacher (Collins) who tells him native stories of the moon and her lover, banished to the Earth for leaving the spirit world, never able to touch again. The lover is the wolverine, howling in despair at the sight of his lost love. Logan is at last at peace, or as at peace as he gets – he is haunted by nightmares of horrible deeds, some of which he’s participated but some, disturbingly, seem to be being committed by his brother.
Logan’s peace is short-lived and the past comes calling, leaving him to cradle his lover’s body in his blood-soaked hands. The animal is awakened in him and he sets out on his path to become Wolverine – Weapon X, one of the most dangerous men on the planet. God help those who stand in between Logan and his revenge.
Director Gavin Hood actually has some pretty good films on his resume (including Tsotsi) and this is his first real major effect-laden blockbuster. There are definitely signs that Hood isn’t as comfortable yet with that kind of film. Granted, he’s also hampered by a very weak script that doesn’t really do the story justice.
There are two main problems here. The story is the first; there is a profusion of characters, some which exist only to give X-fans an a-ha moment. Fanboys are screaming that this isn’t anywhere near canon (and for those familiar with the backstory of Wolverine in the comics, that’s a legitimate gripe) but in all honesty, I’m less interested in slavish adherence to graphic novel continuity than I am with telling a good story, and this ends up not being a very good one. It’s maddening all the more because there are some elements that really work here and it’s a shame that the writers couldn’t maintain that level of quality throughout the two hours; it feels a little padded to be honest.
Second and more egregious are the special effects. Quite frankly, they’re horrible in places and it distracts from the movie. I expect major summer tentpole releases to have at the very least adequate special effects, but the CGI here ranges from ludicrous to downright astonishing (in a bad way). Wolverine’s claws often look fake, which considering this is his fourth appearance in the movies should never happen. There’s a shot near the end of a group of young mutants walking towards a helicopter that is so very obviously green screened, but done so poorly that you wonder if the shot wasn’t done thirty years ago and then shoehorned into this movie. I get the distinct impression that the effects work was assigned out to the various subcontractors far too late in the post-production process and that they were rushed to get them completed in time to make the release date. That’s inexcusable in this day and age.
That’s not to say that there aren’t some plusses in this movie. Jackman has got Wolverine down pat, and Schreiber is a truly menacing Sabretooth (that’s Victor Creed’s supervillain name for all you non-fanboys) who is much more of a threat than the Sabretooth played by Tyler Mane in X-Men. Reynolds makes a really fine Deadpool in his few brief moments in the movie, and I look forward to seeing him in his own movie, said to be getting much attention at Fox. And while the special effects were below par, the same can’t be said for the physical stunts and action sequences which are nicely done.
Overall, the movie is a bit on the disappointing side. I might have hoped for it to be a bit better written and definitely I would have hoped for better effects. Still, it is not without merit. It certainly hits many of the marks that you would expect a big summer action movie to hit, and if you’re looking for mindless entertainment you can certainly do worse. Overall, I’d rate it as sufficiently entertaining to go and see, but I don’t think it got the kind of repeat customer box office it might have gotten with some tweaking. This isn’t Iron Man by any stretch of the imagination, but at least it isn’t Elektra either.
WHY RENT THIS: Jackman makes a compelling Wolverine, and he and Schreiber have some great scenes together. Lots of great action sequences with fight scenes to satisfy the cravings of all summer action movie junkies jonesing for their first fix of the season.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The writing is uneven whose good moments are outweighed by cliches and shortcuts. The special effects are surprisingly bad, and one gets the impression they were hurried and not planned out properly.
FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of comic book violence and scenes of human experimentation can be fairly intense for more impressionable sorts.
TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Jackman and Patrick Stewart are the only actors to appear in all four X-Men films (Stewart has a cameo near the end of Wolverine). Also, there were two post-credit scenes shown during the movie’s theatrical release; one showing Wolverine drinking in a bar, the other set at the rubble of the film’s final battle. Which ending audiences saw depended on what showing they went to.
NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: A fascinating conversation with former Marvel Comics head Stan Lee and Wolverine creator Len Wein.
FINAL RATING: 6/10
TOMORROW: Four Months, Three Weeks and Two Days