Comics

Clawless

The banality of X-Men Origins: Wolverine

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As the tri-clawed, super-healing mutant superhero Wolverine, Hugh Jackman cuts an impressive figure. With his strapping physique and bushy chest, his practiced grimace and wooly chops, his mysteriously furrowed brow and peaked waves of Revlon hair, he resembles a successful DNA crossbreed between a wild wolf and an underwear model. Jackman embodies the rough, rakish physical essence of the comic-book hero to the point that they're indistinguishable: When you see him in another film, it's tough to remind yourself that, no, it's not Wolverine moonlighting as a movie star, but a singing, dancing Australian who happens to be the spitting image of Wolverine.

Yet while Jackman's physical characterization of Wolverine is unimpeachably credible, the question remains: What lies behind his shaggy mug? Sadly, if X-Men Origins: Wolverine is any indication, not much. The film, a prequel to the popular X-Men trilogy focusing on the beginnings of the title character, escorts viewers through an extended lifetime of loss, grief, anger, and conflict, but struggles to make any of it meaningful.

Screenwriters David Benioff and Skip Woods move from Wolverine's youth in the middle of the 19th century (his healing powers slow the aging process) to the recent past where, after fighting in every major American war, both he and his brother, another fanged mutant known as Sabretooth, end up in a special military unit for gifted mutants. There is the unstoppable Blob (Kevin Durand), the crack-shot Agent Zero (Daniel Henney), the sword-wielding Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds), the teleporting John Wraith (singer Will.i.am), and the diminutive Bolt (former hobbit Dominic Monaghan). They're led by the nefarious Col. William Stryker (Danny Huston) into battle against a Nigerian warlord, allowing each a neat demonstration of his powers.

But things go violently wrong, and Wolverine quits, disappearing to the mountains of Canada to pursue a simple life as a lumberjack with a schoolteacher girlfriend named Kayla. It seems like a pleasant enough arrangement. He cuts down logs all day and comes home to find her wearing only his flannel. But when she's murdered, Wolverine reluctantly agrees to submit to a painful experiment that Stryker claims will give him the means to get revenge.

As superhero origins go, it's not terribly sophisticated, mostly rehashing many well-worn funny-book clichés. He may say he's a lumberjack and he's okay, but that's just what he wants people to think. As is so often the case with superheroes, his story involves the tragic death of a parent-figure and the resultant pangs of guilt and righteous anger. But Wolverine, perhaps to beef up his tough-guy bona fides, faces this anguish not once but three times: first, as a boy in 1845 Canada, when he believes his father to have been murdered; second, when he lashes out and kills the man he believes responsible, only to find out that it was actually the second man who was his real father; and finally, in the present, when he escapes a military testing facility and is briefly adopted by a set of surrogate parents until they, too, are murdered before his eyes. The point of these repeated episodes of parental death? One can only speculate, but if a single parental death worked for both Batman and Spider-Man—and by "worked," I most certainly mean "set box office records"—why shouldn't three times work even better for poor Wolverine?

Anyone reasonably well-versed in comic-book lore will instantly recognize the classic "superhero model" of self-discovery: Watch your parents die, find a mission in life, learn about yourself! Yet this hirsute hero seems oddly unaffected by the trail of symbolic patricide left in his wake. The film barely achieves the psychological depth of your average professional wrestling match. People live, people die, people yawn—and for the duration of this film, there's hardly a difference.

Perhaps the movie would have benefited by borrowing a bit from the world of pro-wrestling. In the original X-Men film, Sabretooth was a gruff, oversized thug played by wrestler Tyler Mane. Here the character, who tears through his enemies with grimy, saw-like fingernails, is played by a slinky, sneering Live Schrieber. Their rivalry is a classic catfight, and the claws are always out—quite literally. It's true, of course, that Schreiber can act and Mane cannot. But what this film needs is not acting so much as someone to flip it upside down and pound some sense into it.

What we get instead is fluff and filler—undercooked action scenes, pointless supporting characters, and thoughtless setpieces. There's a slapdash finale at Three Mile Island, referred to ominously as "the island" for most of the film, as if the characters might at any time crossover into the current season of Lost. When they finally reach the nuclear disaster site, you wonder if there's going to be a full-fledged movie meltdown, though nothing so catastrophic happens. Like the facility, the movie is empty, seemingly abandoned by its creators once they realized it was such a disaster.

Indeed, the entire production seems to stem from the flimsy notion that it might be neat to make a film about Wolverine's early days. In one telling scene, our hero is told that the best way to elicit information from an angry, uncooperative Blob might be to take him on in a boxing match. Wolverine raises a furry eyebrow and responds with understandable skepticism: "This is your idea of an idea?" It's the film's only clever line. If the filmmakers had been around when I walked out of the theater, I might have asked them the same thing.

Peter Suderman blogs at theamericanscene.com.

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  1. Dammit.

  2. I am disappointed there were no Ayn Randian themes or discussions of individual liberty or the evils of the state, etc.

    A tongue in cheek review with that would fit on this site and would at least draw a snicker.

  3. There is the unstoppable Blob…

    No. No. No. I hope this is the writer’s error and not the script’s.

  4. When the Juggernaut collides with the Blob, the Blob is the one who’s gonna move.

  5. Clawless

    At first glance I thought maybe the rumored sequel to Clueless was being discussed. Imagine my disappointment.

  6. The word appears consistent–bad movie. Oh, well, there’s always Terminator.

  7. well, i saw it for free so i liked it. i DO understand that if i paid for it, i might be pretty upset.

    it was still better than x-men 3, elektra, daredevil and loads of other marvel comics movies.

  8. Three Mile Island is abandoned?? The last I checked it was pumping out carbon free electricity…

  9. Why would anyone think this wouldn’t suck? Jesus, Wolverine is the most tired, douchey-cliche character anyway, plus an unknown director and written by Dave Benioff and Skip fucking Woods?

    Benioff is working on A Song of Ice and Fire. It’s all over, folks.

  10. Just got home from seeing it, on a senior discount thank goodness. It was like X-Men, only without any real mutants.

    They must have saved a bundle on makeup.

  11. It was like X-Men, only without any real mutants.

    So no fine booty in tight leather or spandex.

    *sigh*

  12. as the tri-clawed,

    I thought he had six claws? Hexaclawed? Hexiclawed?

  13. I can’t be the first one to notice:

    “…played by a slinky, sneering Live Schrieber. ”

    His name is spelled “Liev”.

    Spell checker run amok I guess.

  14. Just saw it. I’d say it was average for a comic book flick. I’ve definitely seen better (you know the ones), but there have been many worse ones too. The audience seemed quite happy.

  15. “Why would anyone think this wouldn’t suck? Jesus, Wolverine is the most tired, douchey-cliche character anyway, plus an unknown director and written by Dave Benioff and Skip fucking Woods?

    Benioff is working on A Song of Ice and Fire. It’s all over, folks.”

    Oh no. Oh god no. Oh please god ha’ mercy on this puir soul, tell me they’re not working on ASoIaF! That’s going to be difficult to translate from fiction to film for even an experienced director, and they’re going to entrust it to… to…

    /coma

  16. Me, I’m holding out for Star Trek and Terminator later this month. This badly reviewed piece of celluloid can wait for the bit torrent tracker DVD release.

  17. I liked it. Was pretty much what it said it was. A comic book character on a big screen.

    Tired cliches and all.

    Gambit was a little disappointing. Needed more “dirty southerner” in the character.

  18. “plus an unknown director”.

    I guess Gavin Hood would be disappointed after winning the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film (Tsotsi).
    Ah well, its not like Wolverine will win him any more fans.

  19. You forgot to mention the worst, most stupid plot hole in the whole movie. Why on earth would someone intentionally make someone invincible only to then immediately betray him? Duh.

    I mean, it’s the most retarded fucking thing I’ve ever seen. And it’s not like Wolverine wanted all that much, only revenge against his brother. So what, let him have it, then he’s your loyal friend and bygones are bygones? What motive was there for Stryker to betray Wolverine like that – right AFTER he’d turned him into an invincible killing machine?

    I can suspend belief with respect to science fiction, so long as the laws of nature are not blatantly violated (thermodynamics, newton’s laws, etc), but one thing I cannot accept is character not acting in a rational way. That kills any movie for me.

  20. Saw it last night. It was way better than Ghosts of Girlfriends Past.

    Why on earth would someone intentionally make someone invincible only to then immediately betray him?

    [plot points follow]

    The way I read it, Striker’s intention was to make him a killing machine and then immediately erase his memory, to make him a mutant killer for the government, but when Wolvie heard him give the memory-erasure order (thanks to his heightened senses) he escaped in trademark berserker fashion.

  21. I saw it this weekend and I thought this was a great movie. But I went in expecting a cliche comic book style movie with lots of action and comedy. That exactly what I got. My only criticism would be that Wolverine is such a violent character that they needed to scrap the PG-13 rating and gore it up significantly. There needed to be lots and lots of blood to really get the point across that Wolverine is truly brutal when he is angry.

  22. I’m going to pretend the movie never happened. Wolverine was far more interesting as an unknown force of nature. The same sort of thing that made Heath Ledger fantastic as the Joker. A better movie would have been exploring the time between his loss of memory and joining the X-Men. Maybe. Or maybe just finding better writers.

  23. It has got to be one of the biggest disappointments of the year. Not only did they butcher Wolverine’s backstory, they made it so jumbled and confusing it didn’t even make sense, and on top of that removed any pathos or feeling from it. So what was even the point? Even most of the fight scenes weren’t really great.

    Some of the acting was good, but Sabretooth really needed different makeup, also I wish he put more effort into bulking up like Jackman did. He still did an good job, but could have been more feral.

    All in all it was just an awful awful movie. what a horrible way to cap the X-men trilogy.

  24. Peter,
    I can definitely see where you’re coming from with this review. As a (still) amateur writer, I’d be the first to say that the script was ‘amateurish’. It didn’t deal with any of the deeper themes that the X-Men comics, and even the movies, deal with.

    That said, it was a comic book movie. While I’d give the script a C-, I’d give the special effects a B, and Jackman an A. That averages out to a B-.

    Yes, it could have been better, but what couldn’t?

  25. “Yes, it could have been better, but what couldn’t?”

    Well, X-III could have been much, much better…as in, they could have actually written a script for the movie and used a halfway-decent director (Brett Ratner does not count as a halfway-decent director…see Rush Hour III). And compared to X-III, Wolverine deserves an Oscar for the quality of its writing and character development.

  26. Oh, look, we’re devolving into an opinion-fest. Thank God for user-generated-content. It really enriches discourse. Really.

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