Posts Tagged xmen

Movie review

X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)

Directed by Gavin Hood. Starring Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber, Danny Huston,, Lynn Collins, Dominic Monaghan, and Ryan Reynolds.

The first thing I noted was that they must have been in a little bit of a rush to get the movie finished in time for its first-of-summer-season release (which will creep back to late April or possibly the start of Daylight Savings Time in a few years, at the rate it’s going), because there were no fewer than 14 credited visual effects companies, the last 9 of which were just listed in a bunch, kind of like the “…And the rest” verse from Gilligan’s Island. That’s a lot of parallel processing, but the movie does have quite a lot of explosions and people flying around and sprouting sharp things from their bodies that have to be match-moved and whatever.

Oh yeah, is the movie entertaining? Sure, it was. I certainly have enjoyed Hugh Jackman’s embodiment of the character in the movies so far, and he’s still good at it, although there’s funny ways in which you feel like the first X-Men movie gave you more of the character’s background and psychology through fleeting glimpses and hints than this whole new movie does, even though it’s a full origin story, covering over 100 years (most of them as an opening credits montage).

I never collected X-Men comics. What I knew about Wolverine came mainly from owning his first appearance (in The Incredible Hulk #181, which was the main comic I collected from 1976 to about 1996) and having my brother summarize for me what he knew about it. That the adamantium claws aren’t his mutant power, it’s that crazy healing factor that he has; furthermore, this is the reason that scary people were able to graft adamantium metal onto his entire skeleton and give him indestructable claws. My impression from this second hand retelling, as well as the hints in the first two X-Men movies, as well as a significant amount of build-up in this new outing, was that Logan basically had to be flayed alive so they could do the surgery, with his healing factor keeping him alive and re-growing all of his tissue and muscle as they worked. So, unbelievably torturous procedure.

When they finally get to the scene where they do this, they kind of take a movie cheat with it. They talk it up like it’s going to be something along the lines of the live flaying, and then it’s just a bunch of needles that poke him and a computer readout showing that his heart rate goes to 300, then 0. I won’t spoil the surprise of whether the electrocardiogram line goes from flatline to BIP! BIP! BIP! he’s alive! again. You’ll just have to see it to find out.

Okay, the other thing about not reading the actual comics whence all of this mythology derives is that I don’t know whether any of the side mutant characters are from the comics too or just made up or what. The main one that’s puzzling to me is this guy Gambit. I’ve heard that character’s name before, okay, but that’s it. Having watched this movie and seen him in action, WTF? I have no idea what the dude’s mutant powers are supposed to be, which is kind of stupid. He’s really good at winning card games, then he’s good at throwing cards, and maybe making them look electric-glowy, then he seems to be able to jump and flip around pretty well, and then he has this stupid cane that goes WHOMPH to things, making it seem like that’s a source of power or something, except it gets snapped in two and that doesn’t slow the guy down. Later he has another cane anyway.

I didn’t know who he was, I didn’t figure out who he was, I didn’t care who he was. Maybe he’s a great character in the comics, but he was completely opaque and random to me. I have no idea whether he’s faithful to whatever he is in the comics or not, but I kind of hope not. The guy was also kind of a dick. Wolverine was just about to finally put the claws into a bad dude who pretty much deserved it, and then Gambit came in and whomphed the ground with his cane and the bad guy got away, and as far as I can tell it was none of his goddamn business to do that.

When the opening credits came up, I was cheered by seeing that it was a Donner production, meaning Richard and Lauren Shuler Donner, because those guys know how to make entertaining action movies, like the first two Superman movies and the Lethal Weapon series and all that. Not real deep movies, but they have the power to entertain. Also listed as producers of various types were Ralph Winter (once of Star Treks III, IV, and V) and Hugh Jackman himself. (“If you want me to go through all that again and pump iron for eight months to be beefcakey then I want a huge cut of the take and a producer credit” one imagines him demanding, and receiving.)

Just because I mentioned Gilligan’s Island once already, I’ll do so again by randomly mentioning that Richard Donner’s early directing career includes episodes of Gilligan’s Island.

So, as this light entertainment unspooled, I was for the most part thinking it was a pretty good comic book. Like, some sort of Giant Size X-Men Annual or something, like if I’d read it when I was a kid I would have enjoyed it okay. Thinking more critically about it, there’s very little here that’s original in plotting or detail. Kinda seen this, kinda seen that, kind of saw that coming.

Oh, wait, that’s not exactly true. At regular intervals I was chuckling out loud, or making kind of a “Ha!” reaction to a detail or a line that was unexpectedly clever or cute. If I tell you what they are it spoils them a bit, but, as an example, Wolverine at one point jumps into the ocean from a single-engine aircraft. I’ve seen that before. But instead of going Sploosh!, he skips along the water like a pebble (in a series of painful smaller splats) because of his forward velocity.

The movie ends with a pretty good fight where Wolverine and Qui-Gon fight Darth Maul at the top of a big shaft. Actually given the story I guess it’s more like Obi-Wan and Anakin fighting Darth Maul, but whatever. It didn’t occur to me until this morning, when another reviewer helpfully noted that it was actually Three Mile Island that they were on, that the movie was winkingly suggesting (because of the timeline) that the meltdown crisis that history records was actually because of this superhero fight on top of the cooling towers.

Anyway. Yeah, not exactly new and original, but the movie is directed with snap and a light sense of humor by some guy I don’t remember hearing about before, though he’s probably a young dude. I did have a good time as long as I watched it uncritically, if you know what I mean. It would be easy to chop it to pieces, but a little more fun to go ahead and take the popcorn ride, eh? What the hell, it’s just superheroes.

There were a couple of mountainy locations that I kept thinking reminded me of locales from The Lord of the Rings movies, and the end credits thanked the New Zealand film commission (but also claimed to have filmed entirely in New South Wales, and didn’t list any New Zealand locations).

The main guy apart from Hugh Jackman in this thing is Liev Schreiber, a good actor whom I’ve taken a long time to warm up to. This is probably due to a certain syndrome — namely, a guy who’s a good enough actor to be believable as a scummy guy, and the first role I ever see him in, he’s so scummy I develop a dislike at a subconscious and conscious level for the actor, without exactly knowing why. My brother does this, too. You just kind of associate them with unpleasant feelings. Having realized I do this, I try to give the actors a break and take another look at what they do, and also try to look for movies where they’re just as convincingly playing good guys who give you a good feeling.

This isn’t the first time Hugh Jackman and Liev Schreiber have worked together, of course. They were also both in the time travel romantic comedy Kate and Leopold, whose modest charms I discovered by being bored one weekend and finding it on cable. In this pairing, Schreiber plays Wolverine’s brother, another mutant with a similar set of powers (nasty claws, bit of a gift for healing quickly) but a much more feral mindset. He’s also got a pair of sharp little pointy canines, which must have made the guy think, “Hey, with fangs like these, I’d better start chewing the scenery pronto!” It does mean that you enjoy the movie slightly more every time Schreiber is there, just because he brings this energetic mania into the scene. The movie does a really lousy job of explaining his actual loyalties and where he fits into a confusing tangle of half truths and misdirections. Near the end he’s yelling at Stryker that he was promised — uh, I’m not sure what. “You promised me it!” is kind of all I remember hearing, and nobody ever quite says what it is. Unless it’s just that he wants an adamantium skeleton, too.

Ultimately, it is completely unclear why they gave Wolverine a metal skeleton in the first place. They give a couple of reasons, then turn around and say those are lies, and by the end the last remaining reason that I heard didn’t make any sense if you went back and thought about events. How could that be the motivation if the other story was also a lie because Sabretooth was really working for Stryker and so — whah? Huh?

Oh well. It doesn’t matter. There are lots of explosions and things getting clawed to pieces, and then explosions. Summer movies 2009 have started, for better or worse.

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