Friday, May 1, 2009
X-Men Origins: Wolverine lacks passion, vision
X-Men Origins: Wolverine can be taken in two completely different ways. Taken one way, it's a decent little bit of B-movie action entertainment. Taken another, it's a disappointing movie that unfortunately adds nothing essential or even interesting to the character and fails to have even a basic answer to the question of why anyone should care.
Those who know Logan only from the movies will like this survey of his life more than most. The film does a decent job of covering all the bases, from the days of young James Howlett, through his ongoing rivalry with Sabretooth, the Weapon X program and his eventual struggles with memory. That the movie manages to pack all that in, reinventing it as needed, shows an effort on the part of the filmmakers to digest and do something interesting with the source material. And the story does follow a sort of logic and makes sense all on its own if you're not too picky about it.
But there's no getting around that there are some major problems with this film, which is just not very well made. The biggest problems are in the script, which for all its efforts to incorporate comic book storylines fails to transfer the character of Logan or his motivation for doing what he does in any way.
Admittedly, this has always been the problem with Wolverine comic books. Yes, the original 1982 miniseries by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller is a classic and you have to wonder why they didn't go that route for a Wolverine solo movie. But pretty much everything from the time Logan got his own solo comic in 1988 has felt in a lot of ways like a place holder. Wolverine comics have always sold well and the character remains popular, but few of the hundreds of Wolverine stories have made as much of an impact on him as anything that happened in one of the X-Men titles. What's weird is there's really no reason Wolverine comics couldn't be better, aside from the fact that really sticking to the core elements of what makes this guy tick results in a character that's too violent for Marvel to market to kids. So they always have to hold back and even create nice guy versions for the cartoons and so forth — leaving anyone older who might be interested in seeing this guy truly unleashed with not a lot to hold on to.
This movie doesn't seem to really know who Wolverine is. The guy they've come up with is definitely not the cool guy fans first came to know and love in the early days of the new X-Men.
So, my take on the character has always been that he was a mutant with a healing factor and bone like claws (even though I hate that idea, added in during the early 1990s) who was experimented on against his will and given adamantium bones and claws that made him near indestructible. The event was so painful and traumatic that he suffered severe memory lapses and, more importantly, struggled to retain control of his sanity in the face of his tendency to fall into animalistic berserker rages. It was always his struggle to hold on to the little bits of humanity — his few friends in the X-Men, Mariko Yashida, the idea of one day having control of his dark side — that defined him. The ultimate Wolverine action sequence was one in which he faced alone a giant horde of enemies who couldn't beat him no matter how much they shot, cut or punched him. Every blow hurt him and he'd walk out of it enraged and bloodied, waiting for his power to painfully knit him back together.
The movie Logan, however, is a real moper. Here he's cast as a good kid who did something bad, became a soldier in a lot of wars and did a lot of nasty things alongside his brother, but really always wanted to live a peaceful life away from it all. But it turns out he can't do that and when his past comes back to haunt him, he seeks revenge and willingly submits to the Weapon X procedure in order to get it. That's what you'd call a major change in your character's motivation, and you can argue based on it that the movie Wolverine is not Wolverine at all.
The procedure itself is described as terrible, and we have to take everyone's word for it because it seems to give Logan little more discomfort than a root canal before he's back out in the woods and using his newfound claws to chop up military vehicles. When he learns he was sort of tricked into getting the procedure, there's a bit of teeth knashing and distant stares, but not much more. The memory loss comes much later via a deus ex machina that I'll leave a surprise.
Along the way to that ending, there's a lot of action sequences — some of them fairly cool, though nothing especially exciting or innovative — and a whole bunch of cameos from various mutants, some welcome (Gambit, John Wraith), some not (Blob, everyone else). There is a cool, Die Hard-esque final battle against an interesting version of a popular Marvel character that's too little too late, and a terrible cameo from a CG Patrick Stewart as a walking Professor X.
In the end it's hard to get too worked up about anything in this movie because nothing about it conveys any kind of emotion. Wolverine should be about rage unleasahed, but nothing here is really all that interesting enough to get even slightly mad at. It's all very rote and routine, with no passion for the character or the story coming through in any of it.
On top of that, this movie is just not well made. This movie looks muddy, the editing does no favors for the action sequences or the performances, the score has no subtlety, and even though there's a lot of good CG VFX there's also some truly awful effects in there too.
In the end, I'm not sure the quality of this film matters much. Fox will keep making X-Men movies in order to hang on to the rights as long as possible. And their track record will likely continue to falter as long as they keep micromanaging the property instead of finding a filmmaker like Bryan Singer who can bring some passion and vision to the project and just let him do his job.