Monday, May 20, 2024

Cinemutants - X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)

At a time when superhero movies are starting to lose their stranglehold on pop culture, there are really only two options: go back and watch old movies, or kill off an entire cinematic universe in spectacular fashion. This July, Marvel’s taking the latter approach with Deadpool & Wolverine, which seems primed to seal off the 20th Century Fox film universe. And while director Shawn Levy promises, “This movie is built [...] with no obligation to come prepared with prior research,” skipping the research has never really been my strong suit when it comes to franchises. It’s a perfect excuse, then, to go through the last 24 years (and 13 movies) with everyone’s favorite mutants, the X-Men.
This week, from 2009, it’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Learn the secret origin of James “Logan” Howlett, the Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), as he enlists in a special military group reporting to William Stryker (Danny Huston). When Logan’s brother Victor Creed (Liev Schreiber) begins hunting their teammates, Logan leaves behind a peaceful life with Kayla (Lynn Collins) and submits to an experimental procedure that gives him metallic claws.

  1. The best there is at what he does. I almost never rewatch Origins unless I’m doing a thorough rewatch, and it’s not exactly because this is a bad movie. It has a few things going for it, but by and large Origins is a colossal bore. Hugh Jackman is trying, he really is, and he’s got the persona of Logan down perfectly – certainly better than in The Last Stand, at least. But it turns out that the mysterious past of Wolverine is much more interesting when we don’t have all the answers; Origins takes the most boilerplate backstory and grafts it onto Wolverine like so much adamantium. Parental issues? Check. Tragic love story? Check. Hamfisted prequel references? See below. And as for those special effects, it’s hard to think of a movie with effects that have aged worse than this one; Logan’s claws are like floating cartoons, all the wrong size, and the third act is dodgy at best.
  2. The kitchen sink. Prequels shouldn’t feel like bullet points, and Act Two of this film reveals that nearly everything distinctive about Wolverine started on essentially the same day: he gets his claws, his dogtags, his motorcycle, and his leather jacket within the same 24-hour period. None of it’s very exciting, and Logan walks into the frame at one point carrying a literal sink in his hands, as if to say they’ve covered it all. But the storytellers have taken the path of least interest to get there, lining the cast with C- and D-list comic book characters as if to trick fanboys into liking the film because of its deep-cut casting. Folks took Solo to task for doing much the same thing, but the key difference was that Solo was fun; it turns out that X2 did Logan’s origins better by refusing to answer all the questions.
  3. Koo-koo-ka-choo got screwed. I’ve seen Origins a few times, but I still couldn’t remember all the mutants – their names or their powers. To be fair, this mish-mosh of characters feels like the detritus of who Fox had the rights to use. Kestrel, Bolt, Silver Fox, The Blob, and Agent Zero... were these never-rans selected to save the interesting mutants for non-prequel films? Perhaps not, given that the film also phenomenally squanders the character of Gambit (played by an uncharismatic Taylor Kitsch) who, let’s be real, you and I both forgot was in this movie. He’s mere set decoration in a third act that also throws Cyclops, Professor Xavier, and maybe/maybe not Emma Frost into the mix for what I can only assume to be their availability for the marketing. (We’ll start thinking about messy timelines next week, but despite playing fast and loose with its cast, Origins doesn’t actually break too many eggs.)
  4. We’re not like them! The one thing Origins has going for it is its casting. Jackman, naturally, isn’t making any missteps, but Liev Schreiber and Danny Huston are playing much better villains than this picture deserves. The film begins with an arresting credits sequence that shows Logan and Victor fighting in every war, the kind of time-skipping montage that Zack Snyder does so well, but that war sequence is the film I would rather have seen. Schreiber is having so much fun as Sabretooth, genuinely scary but also addictively fascinating to watch; it’s a genuine shame that we never saw this Sabretooth again (unless, fingers crossed, he turns up in Deadpool & Wolverine). Meanwhile, Huston plays a young(er) Stryker as the apex of sinister government banality, never quite trying to do a Brian Cox impression but still carrying that same weighty menace. Any time either one of these guys is on screen, Origins very nearly sings.
  5. Take a dip in the ’Pool. Since we’re gearing up for a new Deadpool movie, it’s worth thinking about how the Merc with a Mouth comes off in Origins... and the answer is, really quite badly. In the first act, it’s astonishing how fully formed Ryan Reynolds was as Wade Wilson, how recognizable his snarky charm remained seven years before his solo film proper. But as that third act ramps up, we find that Wade’s mouth has been sewn shut, his swords have been grafted into his arms, and he’s able to teleport and shoot laser beams out of his eyes. Deadpool, this ain’t, and it has a whiff of that mid-2000s self-loathing that comic book adaptations often indulged, pretending that the source material was much too silly for the big screen. Fans hated it, Reynolds kept pushing to do it right, and now fifteen years later Deadpool isn’t a punchline. Well, not like that, at least, but it does become a memorable gag in Deadpool 2, when our Deadpool travels back in time to shoot this Deadpool in the head (and a few other places).
Sound off in the comments, true believers: did we need this Origins? Which X-Men deserved a prequel film? If you thought 1979 was a barrel of laughs, join us next week for 1962, when the whole franchise gets a prequel/reboot with X-Men: First Class.

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