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Declawed

By TK | Film Reviews | May 1, 2009 | Comments ()


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Where does one begin with this film? There's a difficult conundrum when it comes to movies based on comic books. Do you review the film as a fan, as a reader of the comics? Or do you review the film in a vacuum, regardless of whether you've read the comics? Is that even possible? However, regardless of what perspective one takes, there's one important fact about X-Men Origins: Wolverine that is pretty much incontrovertible:

It's fucking stupid. Completely, utterly ridiculous. Worse still? It could have been not just good, but great, using the exact same tools. Beware, there will be slight spoilers in here, but that's just as well, because you should avoid this goddamn mess anyway.

For those who missed both X-Men movies (I choose to pretend that Ratner's X3 was simply a fever dream, or a whiskey-blackout nightmare), Wolverine is a mutant who's powers include rapid healing, animal-like senses, claws that extend from his knuckles and the occasional berserker rage. X-Men Origins: Wolverine is, not surprisingly, about Logan / Wolverine's origins, how he came to become a part of the Weapon X program, which is where he also gained an unbreakable adamantium skeleton and claws, and why he showed up at Professor X's doorstep decades later with no memory of his past life. The film chronicles his early years with his friend and half-brother Victor Creed, as they run away from home in the wake of a tragedy caused by a young Logan. It goes on to show the two of them as they move through the years, never aging due to their advanced healing capabilities, until they are adults played by Hugh Jackman (Wolverine) and Liev Schreiber (Sabretooth). They're soon drafted by William Stryker (Danny Huston) into the Team X program, a military program that trains mutants to become assassins/super soldiers. Among the other trainees are teleporter John Wraith (Will.I.Am of the Blackeyed Peas), electricity manipulator Chris/Bolt (Dominic Monaghan), strongman Fred Dukes/The Blob (Kevin Durand), swordsman/marksman/wiseass Wade Wilson/Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) and super-fast shooter Agent Zero (Daniel Henney).

Together, they take on black ops missions until one day, Wolverine becomes disgusted with their methods and abandons ship, moving to Canada and taking up with the lovely Layla Silverfox (Lynn Collins), content to live the quiet life of a lumberjack. Eventually, of course, his past comes back to haunt him, his life is destroyed and he seeks to track down Stryker, gets his fancy new skeleton, and then turns to hunt down Sabretooth for revenge. There are double crosses and surprises (none of them surprising, all of them idiotic), and a big finish complete with the requisite explosions, pointless cameos that completely ruin the already-established time-line, and a lot of wasted talent.

That talent is the biggest source of frustration. There's an immense amount of cool assembled here, and everyone actually acts quite well. Schreiber brings a great combination of menace and wild-assed violence to his role, and his grim smiles can make a man shudder a bit. Agent Zero is suitably dead-eyed and badass. Ryan Reynolds, for the seven or eight minutes he's on screen, is hilarious and, despite the absence of a mask, perfect as Deadpool (until the dreadful, wretched end, that is). Hell, even that dick from the Black-Eyed Peas is pretty good. Taylor Kitsch of "Friday Night Lights" plays Gambit, who despite not belonging in this corner of the Marvel Universe at ALL (one of many ways they completely shit on the comic time-line), is actually not bad. And Danny Huston is phenomenal in everything, and no less so here. Actually, Jackman is probably the weakest part, and that's more due to the writing than his acting skills.

And here's where my rant really begins. The writing. E-fucking-gads, the writing is absolutely moronic. First of all, despite all of the talent assembled, other than Zero, Stryker, Wolverine and Sabretooth, no one has more than 10 minutes of total screen time. By the time the movie was over, I'd already forgotten that Dominic Monaghan was even in the film. Wolverine falls victim to the classic, ever-repeated mistake that comic book filmmakers make -- cramming in too many characters. I'm sure it starts off as an effort to please the fans, but it ends up just being a gigantic clusterfuck, with no one getting enough time. Such is the case here. A perfectly compelling film could have been made simply focusing on Wolverine and Sabretooth, but instead, they decided to throw every single mutant they could think of, time-lines and logic be damned, into the film and shit on all of them. Seriously -- Cyclops? Emma Frost (who is not only on screen for all of 3 minutes, but is now inexplicably one of the other character's sister)? Why? WHY? WHY? Deadpool, one of the coolest and funniest characters in the Marvel universe, takes the worst of this beating and is rendered literally mute at the film's end.

I will say this without reservation: If you are a Marvel Comics fan, this film will create a black rage within you that no amount of Iron Man films can cure. Should you manage to make it to the end, you will want to punch something so hard that your hand shatters, just to ease the pain in your skull. It's that bad. You're better off just watching the first 30 minutes, then going home. You know, while I don't always agree with it, I can understand Hollywood's need to do some retconning when adapting comics, because let's be honest -- some comic book ideas are just goofy. But the trick is to make those changes fo good reasons, and if you do, you can still produce a decent piece. Constantine completely trampled the "Hellblazer" comics to pieces, but they made a half-decent movie. Blade barely resembled the comic, but again, success. Perhaps it's because they're lesser-knowns. Or, perhaps it's the the Wolverine writers are simply lazy hacks. Perhaps it's because director Gavin Hood, who gave us the phenomenal Tsotsi, was simply in over his head.

Even if one manages to ignore the brutal blows to the canon, the film is still just... dumb. Worse still, it's boring. Frustratingly so, because the first 30 minutes or so are actually pretty slick. A lot of balls-out Wolvie/Sabretooth violence, Deadpool in full hellion mode, and Danny Huston as the sinister puppetmaster. And everyone nails their respective roles. It was 20 minutes in when I found myself saying, "Hot diggity, we might have another winner on our hands."

20 minutes later, that thought had evaporated, to be replaced by the above mentioned black rage. Wolverine is once again reduced to a depressed boyfriend, albeit one with some minor anger management problems. The writing is all over the place -- one minute he's a cold-blooded killer, the next he's a tortured, lovesick pup. The only ones who escape with any semblance of cohesion are Schreiber and Huston -- both superior actors anyway, I suspect, but also the only well-written characters.

Finally, the action bears mention. It's a decidedly mixed bag, thanks in no mall part to some uninspired special effects and drab cinematography. Again, the opening sequences are impressive. But then, perhaps to try to accommodate for the lousy writing, they simply ratchet things up, throw a few more mutants into the mix, and blow some shit up. The finale is so breathtakingly awful, I wanted to start shooting at the screen. It combined the very worst examples of how not to write a movie ending. Don't resort to cheap plot twists. Don't resort to explosions. Don't kill off important characters. The plot twists are actually somewhat surprising -- not because they kept the big reveals hidden so well, or because the writing was so clever, but because they're so goddamn, shitballs stupid that they are unnecessary. You're not surprised because it's so shocking, you're surprised at the depths of the writer's rampant idiocy and their willingness -- nay, their dedication -- to resorting to cheap ideas in the hopes of maintaining audience interest. Yes, when Wolverine jumps on the helicopter, it's kind of cool. Unfortunately, the sequence that leads up to that feels rushed, poorly designed and thought up by howler monkeys on acid. The final battle is even worse. For those who don't want to know, or haven't read any of the online spoilers, skip to the next paragraph. For the rest... here goes: Stryker somehow steals a bunch of powers of other mutants, and gives them to Deadpool. He now has claws, and a healing factor, and can shoot optic blasts like Cyclops. It's a lame tactic that gives us nothing less than a weak, unimpressive climax. The finale is a mess, a slapped-together affair that does little right -- the set design is boring, the fight scene is plodding, and Deadpool just looks flat-out ridiculous. If you make it past that and sit through the credits, you're treated to a brief final scene that... well, adds absolutely nothing to the film. So at least there's that.

I can rave no more. I don't know that I can say that X-Men Origins: Wolverine is worse than X3, because at the very, very least it doesn't rely on tired dialogue clich├ęs like "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned" or "What have I done?!" But it's guilty of even worse crimes -- taking an absolutely A+ cast, letting them give very good, if limited, performances, and then writing them all into the goddamn ground. You already have one of the greatest rivalries, between Wolverine and Sabretooth. Deadpool is already a fantastic character. Rather than use the already compelling story lines, they just throw the kitchen sink into it, and we're left to watch it drown in it's own excess. For that is the greatest sin here -- taking a promising, popular concept and trying to inject it with magical movie steroids. Not surprisingly, it ends up pathetic and limp.


TK writes about music for Pajiba. He likes dogs, raising the dead, and tacos. You can email him here.


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