Well there’s only one film left to go in this series of reviews after I’m done here and that is, of course, X-Men First Class. They say that all journeys have their ups and downs. That to reach the light we must first go through the darkness… or some hippy crap like that. We’ve certainly been through the darkness with X-Men The Last Stand (Still can’t believe how long I made that review, really sorry) and now we have, well more darkness. But you know what? Wolverine isn’t as bad a film as X-Men 3. It’s certainly not as bad as many people would have you believe. It’s dumb as feck but it’s not a total car crash. So, on with the review I guess.
So X-Men Origins: Wolverine is the first, and so far only, solo X-Man adventure. As the title suggests this is an origin story of one Wolverine. If you’ve read the similarly named comic book you’ll have a good idea of his back story. It’s a long and convoluted affair and telling it effectively in the space of 1 hour and 45 minutes is no easy task. You have to get from the late 19th century with a young poorly James Howlett discovering his powers all the way through to his eventual memory loss after being part of the Weapon X program. That’s about 80 years of story in 105 minutes. How does director Gavin Hood manage this? By basically hitting fast forward as fast as he can so within 30 minutes Wolverine is all Adamantium enthused and angry and we can get on with the real action.
Gavin Hood was a slightly odd choice for a director on this project. In the 80s and 90s he was an occasional actor doing small parts in films such as Kickboxer 5 (Yes there’s at least 5 of them) and Project Shadowchaser 2 (yes, there was a one). Later he began directing and to his credit made two relatively successful films in Tsotsi and Rendition. I’d imagine he went for Wolverine in order to expand his catalogue and maybe make a name for himself. It was either a brave or monetarily smart choice to pick such a relatively unknown director for a tent pole summer movie such as this. I’m not gonna lay the blame of the failings of this film at his feet. There’s clearly issues with the script, characterisation and the fact you’re trying to tell a very long story in a short amount of time.
So let’s go over the positives. The first act rattles along at a very fast pace. Within 3 minutes you’ve seen a the young Wolverine and Victor Creed/Sabretooth learn they are brothers, papa Howlett gets killed, Wolverine popping his claws and screaming up at the sky for the first time in this movie (He screams at the sky again later), Creeds father getting killed by an enraged Wolverine, his own mother rejecting him and the two boys deciding to run for their lives and never stop. That’s a lot to go through in the opening minutes and all this drama is admittedly weak due to us not having anytime with the characters but it’s short and the good stuff starts right after.
As the boys run we see a montage based title sequence of Howlett and Creed fighting through various historical conflicts from the American Civil War through to Vietnam. We’ll ignore that they’re Canadian and assume they faked IDs to get by. Gradually you see Creed getting more violent until he eventually kills a CO and the brothers are placed in front of a firing squad. Obviously bullets do nothing to these guys other than tickle, which arouses the interest of William Stryker, the baddie from X-Men 2 this time portrayed by Danny Huston. He wants them for a team of mutants to do a bit of covert ops fun. The team is a good chance to show off a few mutants doing actiony things. Best of all is Ryan Reynolds as Wade Wilson. He pretty much steals the show during all these early scenes and has my personal favorite action scene in the film. This is likely because Wade Wilson is the man that becomes Deadpool and I, like every other internet geek, am a huge Deadpool fan. Anyway, evil orders are made with Wolverine disagress with and he leaves the team which , as we learn later, sends Sabretooth over the edge. 6 years pass and Wolverine has settled down with a lady friend (Kayla Silverfox as played by Lynn Collins) in northern Canada and is working as a lumberjack, as ALL Canadians do. Because it’s OK. Silverfox get’s killed by Sabretooth who’s been going around apparently killing the old team, and after Wolverine get’s his arse handed to hi in a revenge grudge match with his brother he takes up Stryker on an offer to get hisself an upgrade.
Now this is where the cracks show. the first act is formulaic but serviceable. it provides at least 2 decent action sequences and any chips in it’s windshield haven’t done too much damage yet. But as the windshield repair guys will tell you, a chip can soon turn into a crack and eventually your windshield will shatter. You know how the first 2 X-Men films made a big deal about Wolverine escaping the Weapon X facility and going on a major rampage? Well forget that because that scene lasts all of 20 seconds. yup, the big payoff moment people were waiting for lasts 20 seconds. After surviving the Adamantium bonding process, whilst still in the water tank, Wolverine hears Stryker say to erase his memory. Obviously this annoys Wolvey because he doesn’t want to forget Kayla or why he went through this. He jumps out the tank all angry like, slashes a few people up and some pillars and then dives off a waterfall at which point Strykers team give up trying to capture him. That’s it. I honestly think they made this scene short to avoid filming Jackman running around in the nude too much. Although if you watched the first 2 X-Men films closely you’d notice he was wearing some boxers while in the bonding pool. Dunno why he wouldn’t have been able to keep them on but I suppose it gave the CGI guys a chance to digitally hide his little wolf under some smoke and to actually airbrush it out as he jumps off the waterfall.
From this point on the whole film is shaky. Each scene seems to be leading from one set piece to another. There’s variety in these action scenes in both presentation and quality. One sequence involving a helicopter and Wolverine on a motorbike borders on action parody. He even not only rides a motorbike out of an exploding building but also walks away slowly from and explosion. That’s after riding the bike in front of multiple green screens in a studio with a fan on full whack. There’s some odd CGI in this film but I’ll get to that later. Other action scenes are either pointless (2 more fights with Sabretooth that go nowhere, a fight with Gambit for the sake of the fanboys) or they’re just swamped with CGI such as the finale which is completely wrong. I’ll get to that one later too. The one fight I do actually enjoy as the film goes on is Wolverine Vs The Blob. It’s a kinda fun, almost lighthearted, boxing match and it’s quite a relief to see an action scene that doesn’t involve 30 odd explosions and a load of in your face CGI.
Despite the action being more rickety than Adam Rickitt with ricketts the film does move along at a decent pace and there’s a lot more time spent giving the characters something to do. Although Wolverine does get through buddies pretty quickly. In the preposterous helicopter scene Agent Zero says to Wolverine that innocent people seem to die around him a lot. Doesn’t make much sense at that point because so far only an old couple have bit the dust around Wolverine, Kayla was killed without him being there. Oh there’s a major plot hole with that death, I’ll remember that for later too. Anyway, everyone Wolverine comes across either dies or get’s forgotten about. Gambit sort of sticks around but spends the entire third act just wandering around the location. But even though that nonsense is happening we get to the final act in before things get too tiresome. There’s some fun dialogue in places and Wolverine stays likable which is key to this story.
Now onto the odd CGI. Large portions of this film are filled with some of the most unnecessary CGI ever created for a film since, well X-Men 3. There’s CGI scenery that could have easily been made on set such as CGI wood chippings and machinery at a logging camp. Hell in one shot the machinery is CGI but later it appears to be real. There’s a horrible CGI zoom over some hills from Wolverines location in a barn to where Agent Zero was sniping from. It’s a shot that really needs to be done this way but it looks like the camera is flying towards flat cut outs of identical hills. Wolverine some laughably bad CGI claws in some scenes. They look like 1996 effects. Now I know they need to be a CGI effect for when they pop but is it needed in a bathroom scene where he’s just looking at them and striking them against each other? God no it is not. Also there’s a very odd looking younger Xavier making a cameo at the end. What’s really odd is the finale is set in 1979 (oh yeah, the films maths are atrocious, more on that later) which is a few years before Xavier would have met a young Jean Grey in X-Men 3. In that scene Patrick Stewart has some basic de-aging make up on and it works alright because as we all know Patrick Stewart hasn’t aged a day for 30 years. Why CGI him I have no idea. Just slap the make up on him and give him a whisper of hair if you must. Or at least do the CGI well. To add to that the mutants he’s picking up run towards a CGI copter on a background plate whilst they are shot against green screen. Why?
So plot hole time and a bit of a spoiler warning. Turns out Kayla wasn’t killed by Sabretooth. She was sedated with a drug that put her in a death like state and Sabretooth used some wolf blood on her to make her look dead. This somehow fools Wolverine. i guess he has selective powers now then. First off he would have smelt the wolfs blood on her instantly and figured something was up, especially as he finds a decapitated wolf just before this. Secondly she doesn’t have a mark on her. Thirdly if you found your girlfriend apparently dead you’d call an ambulance at which point they’d look at here, ask where the blood came from when there’s no wounds and assume she’s actually been sedated in some way and take her to the hospital and attempt to revive her. Obviously Wolverine would have gone with them and maybe thought about the smell of wolfs blood he should have picked up and asked who would have had the resources to attempt to fake someones death. So yeah, that’s pretty dumb. Instead Wolverine just seems to leave her body in the woods and runs off to a bar to have an actually pretty good fight with Sabretooth. A fight that involves CGI logs falling on a composited Wolverine. Why they couldn’t have just filmed real logs being dropped onto a composited in Wolverine I don’t know.
Now onto the bad maths. So the finale is set on Three Mile Island and the destruction of it is put across as though it is what really happened at the three mile Island incident of 1979. This is 6 years after Wolverine leaves Sabretooth and the black ops team behind. So you can assume that sequence of scenes was set in 1973. the mission Wolverine quits on appears to be the first mission he went on, it’s a little unclear but dialogue suggests they didn’t know each over well, So we can assume the brothers were recruited towards the end of the USA’s involvement in Vietnam in 1973. That’s OK so far, except 1979 makes no sense within the X-Men movie universe. In X-Men 1 and 2 Professor Xavier mentions that Wolverine has been wandering around without his memories for 15 years. Those films are set, as the first film tells us, in the not too distant future. So lets assume it’s 2001 seeing as the first film was made in 2000. No Xavier knows this because he’s read Wolverines mind so that’s fact. So why is it 1979, potentially 22 years earlier, that the finale of Origins takes place? Another issue is that Wolverine and Sabretooth are set to be executed by firing squad. no I’d assume that while in Vietnam the military would operate under US law. Well Firing Squad executions were suspended in the United States between 1972 and 1976. On top of that only a handful of states have ever used firing squad as a form of execution. Now either the army was breaking US law, which would put them in line for punishment, or this scene takes place before 1972, which would put 6 years later at least 1 year before the 3 mile island incident. I’m getting confused now.
To add to that a teenage Scott Summers is here to add another power to Strykers super mutant hunter project Weapon XI. He appears to be around 16, which would put him at around 38 in the first X-Men film. Jean Grey appears to be 12 at the start of X-Men 3 which takes place not too long after the second film which takes place right after the first, so lets assume 1 year passes between all 3 films. That puts Jean Grey at around 32 at the start of X-Men 3 and Cyclops at 39, but 20 years before X-Men 3 would have to be 1983, which would be 4 years. Now I don’t know about you but I kind of assumed Jean was the older of those two. Cyclops certainly doesn’t look like he’s knocking on 40 in those films. James Marsden was 27 at the time of the first. Famke Janssen was 36. I’m just gonna assume that either the movie isn’t canon or no-one wanted to check continuity. I’ve probably just rambled on for no reason but continuity is key to a well told story and it helps build a more tangible universe for the movie to be set in.
Now about the finale. The whole film is about Wolverine wanting to get revenge on his brother. But for some reason he doesn’t have a final battle with him. They have a little scrap and Wolverine decides to not kill Sabretooth and a few minutes later they’re best buds fighting a bastardisation of Deadpool. God they messed up Deadpool. all they get right is that he is Weapon XI. Now I don’t mind them giving him an actual teleportation power cos it allows them to avoid explaining so futuristic device. What is a problem is the samurai swords they stick in his arms, the laser eye beams and the fact they sewed up the Merc With The Mouth’s mouth! Ryan Reynolds doesn’t even play him at the end. I suspect because he read the script and went “What the hell?” and decided that he’ll lay Wade but not whatever that is at the end. It’s stupid and really damages not only the fanbases interest in the franchise but also kills any chance that we’ll ever get a Deadpool film because the casual audience now know him as the mute thing with thee sword arms.
The last dumb thing is the plot device to remove Wolverines memory. In the comics his memories are removed as part of the Weapon X program, he goes on missions for them and eventually breaks free and goes on the run. Obviously in the film they wanted Wolverine to get his claws earlier and he couldn’t have his memories wiped then or he’d have no quest to go on. So for some reason they decided Adamantium bullets would erase his memory. Apparently shooting him in the head would damage his brain which would heal but his memories wouldn’t. That’s not how the brain works. When someone get’s amnesia they’re brain needs to heal and in many cases as it heals they are able to get their memories back. It’s true that many don,t but that is because their brain is too damaged to heal. Wolverine can heal from anything. Memories aren’t some magical thing that get’s stored in your head that can be poofed away. memories are created by the cells in your brain literally writing them into it’s cells. They are electrically stored in a series of cells which are way more complex than you can begin to comprehend. Either way they are part of the structure of your brain. His brain would heal the same way his body does which is to perfection and his memories would be restored. His memories would have to be wiped without damaging his brain, which would admittedly require some sci-fi explanation but even that would be better than an Adamantium bullet that erases memories because the bad guy says it does.
So yeah, I’ve ranted a fair bit about this film. It has so many problems. The trouble is that the convoluted nature of Wolverines origins led to some haphazard writing in order to fit it all in and at some point people stopped raising questions about the logic of the film. Then so much money was spent making CGI Xaviers and claws and bits of wood that when the special effects mattered they just didn’t pend the time needed on it. All that said though the film is still a watchable mess. The first act has it’s issues but it does what it needs to to get to the point viewers want to see. The film moves along at a speedy pace and the action sequences that do work work really well. Jackman is fine as usual as Wolverine. Liev Schreiber is intense as Sabretooth, although he does look wrong with his clean cut hair and that goofy pounce thing he does. Characters are actually given some time to show who they are, not just what they can do and most importantly it will leave you wanting another Wolverine movie because now the origin stuff is out the way he can go have a less convoluted adventure. Watching this film is akin to watching a building collapse in an eartquake in slow motion. It seems fine at first but gradually the cracks begin to form and as they get worse it starts falling to pieces. in the end you’ve seen something spectacular, you might even want to even see it again, but you know what you saw was ultimate not a good thing to witness.