X-Men Origins: Wolverine

Competent enough action film, but we expect a little more from the franchise.

Released in 2009, certified UK-12A. Reviewed on 04 Jun 2009 by Scott Morris
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If you can remember X-Men 3, I'd imagine you remember that it wasn't particularly good. Not unspeakably awful, just the sort of almost competent outing that adds nothing to and says nothing about the franchise. As such, despite the obvious awesomeness of Hugh Jackman's portrayal of the obviously awesome Wolverine character, I hadn't really built up any hopes for this Origins story and early trailers seemed to hint that this may be the wisest course of action. Yet still, I find myself in front of it and truthfully, it's not so bad. It's not great either, but it's remarkable how lowered expectations helps a film out in the long run.

I'd thought that the origins of Wolverine, in Marvel lore at least, was still supposed to be a mystery, so I have no idea if this is supposed to be canonical or not. At any rate, he's seen here as a young 'un coming into his 'powers', until a frightful misunderstanding sees him killing his father (who'd killed his foster father) and going on the run with his elder brother, Victor Creed nee Sabretooth (Leiv Schriber). An unusually effective credit montage shows the pair taking up arms to defend America between the Civil and Vietnam wars, with Wolvie becoming increasingly disturbed by all this death and mayhem in equal ratio to Sabretooth's maniacal embrace of such conflicts.

This little family drama comes to blows when the pair wind up part of a mutant powered Special Forces team under the aegis of one William Stryker, of whom you may have heard. Now significantly more Danny Huston-ey than Brian Cox-ey, this team pushes the boundaries of acceptable conduct far past breaking point leading to Wolverine leaving in disgust. However, you can never truly leave either the military or your family, and soon the cosy life Logan has created for himself as a lumberjack in Canada comes crashing down as Sabretooth comes after him, killing the woman he loves and beating several shades of bodily matter out of him.

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Wolverine is left having to form a grudging alliance with Stryker, who claims to have perfected the procedure to fuse Adamantium to bone, giving Logan the tools he needs for vengeance and also to that make that awesome snikt sound. It's not quite that simple, of course. Given what we've already seen of Stryker in X2 the double cross doesn't come as much of a surprise, but let's leave the details for those who wish to see this.

Now, from what little I know and have cribbed from Wikipedia this takes some fairly considerable retroactive continuity slash complete character rebooting of pretty much everyone in it, so it perhaps isn't the best fit for comic obsessives. In terms of a film it's, well, alright. I've seen worse. Like, well, X-Men 3, a film for which I have no plausible defense for my previous inexplicably high rating. It's full of decently entertaining action set-pieces. It does a half-way plausible job of explaining why Wolverine goes into his loner act. It has, finally, the kinetic card slinging Cajun Remy 'Gambit' Leboux as a character, which surely all sane mutant fans have been crying out for since before the first film arrived.

Jackman continues to be likable, amusing and charismatic, arguably more so than the character demands. Schriber plays Sabretooth with commendable glee, creating a far more compelling character than the one dimensional roar machine of the first film. The supporting cast are equally adept, even to the point of Ryan Reynolds breaking the Ryan Reynolds Facial Hair Law (essentially, if he has a beard in a film, he's great. If he's clean shaven, he's terrible. He's clean shaven. He's not terrible. Paradox!).

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The only problem I have, from a certain perspective, is that it's entirely pointless. While I'm not claiming that they're masterworks of narrative subtlety, there was at the heart of the previous X-Men films some form of social narrative, as there has been with all of the top-tier comic book franchises. Wolverine simply doesn't.

Viewed as a slab of popcorn-munching action, it's perfectly acceptable entertainment. It's nothing even slightly more than that, an if you want to be overly critical about it, effectively it's completely pointless. It ends with Logan in the same amnesiac state as we join him in the rest of the films, so as far as his character is concerned it's a shot to nothing. Nothing that happens has any bearing on anything that happens later. Gambit's introduction to the series is enjoyable and all, but he serves no real purpose in this film apart from completely gratuitous fan service.

Which, in the end, is all that this film is. Another competent action outing for fans of the franchise to enjoy. Whether that's a strength or a weakness is an exercise best left to the viewer.

Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 3/5 TippyMarks.

Gavin Hood
Cast list:
Hugh Jackman (Logan / Wolverine)
Liev Schreiber (Victor Creed / Sabretooth)
Danny Huston (William Stryker)
Will i Am (John Wraith)
Lynn Collins (Kayla Silverfox)
Kevin Durand (Frederick J. Dukes / The Blob)
Dominic Monaghan (Chris Bradley / Bolt)
Taylor Kitsch (Remy LeBeau / Gambit)
Daniel Henney (David North / Agent Zero)
Ryan Reynolds (Wade Wilson / Deadpool)
Scott Adkins (Weapon XI)
Tim Pocock (Scott Summers)