Sunday, May 03, 2009
There aren't many comic-book creations better than the X-Men. The first time I saw the original movie I have been captivated by the originality displayed by creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. I think there is a part of all us, that part that strives to be exceptional, that likes the idea of being a superhero and "X-Men" taps into that desire with its premise that mutants are human beings who have made a rapid evolutionary leap -- and that any one of us could be super-human. The original "X-Men" movies spent as much time on the political overtones of the story as much as the action. Taking the fear and envy non-mutants must feel toward the heroes of the story we learn why some mutants would destroy humanity while others fight to save it. "Wolverine" doesn't bother with such trivialities as worrying about whether or not mutants are accepted by the rest of humanity-- and that is both a strength and weakness as far as this movie is concerned. To put it more simply, if you're looking for an introspective look at mutant-human relations, move along, there's nothing to see here. If you're looking for a action-heavy, plot-light movie to wile away a couple of hours with, then you've found your flick. The movie opens with a young Jimmy Logan finding himself in the middle of a ugly family dispute, the stress of which brings out his mutant nature. On the heels of that revelation he also learns that Victor Creed/Sabretooth (Liev Schreiber) is his half-brother, with mutant abilities very similar to his own, and both boys flee the scene. What follows is a montage of Logan and Victor fighting in every American war up until Vietnam; a compelling but strange history since they happen to be Canadian. During the fighting Victor relishes his violent nature and the beginnings of an estrangement begin as Logan becomes increasingly disturbed by Victor's behavior. Things finally come to a head when Victor's actions put them in front of a firing squad that, predictably, is unable to kill them. Soon after Major William Stryker shows up and offers them a position in his secret, all mutant squad. The mutants in Stryker's unit are introduced in a sketchy fashion so we end up knowing very little about them: Wade (Ryan Reynolds) has a smart mouth and a way with a sword; Zero (Daniel Henney) is an uncommonly good shot with a gun; Bolt (Dominic Monaghan) can control electricity; Fred (Kevin Durand) can hit like a jackhammer; and John Wraith (Will.i.am) can disappear. That's all we know. The group is sent on a mission to Nigeria to get a meteorite and it only takes seeing the unrepentant violence of the one mission for Logan to decide to leave the unit. A few years later we see Logan living an idyllic life in the Rockies as a lumberjack and living with his girlfriend Kayla (Lynn Collins). Styker approaches him and tells him that someone is murdering members of the squad and the Logan might be in danger. Shrugging it off as a ploy to get him back into Stryker's group, Logan leaves, but Kayla is murdered not long after and Logan goes back to Stryker to be equipped with an adamantium skeleton to enable him to seek revenge. "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" both delivers and disappoints in many respects. The action is the main thing the movie has going for it. The original X-Men movies tended to focus more on the back-stories of the characters yet hold back on showing us what they can really do with their spectacular abilities. Wolverine flexes his muscles in this one like we've never seen before and the fight scenes between him and Sabretooth have a level of intensity lacking in the earlier films. However the plot is thin. Very thin. If I had to pick one main complaint about "Wolverine" it would be that the movie spends all of it's time showing the bad behavior of certain characters but leaving us completely clueless as to how they got that way. Liev Schreiber does as much as is humanly possible with a two dimensional character and really, he's the best thing about the movie. You can feel the menace when he smiles. We see that he likes inflicting pain on other people but we never learn why he's so sadistic. Likewise, for a movie that has Wolverine in its title, we learn very little about the character that we didn't already know. We see why he had the adamantium fused to his skeleton and how he lost his memory, but we never see any personal ticks or triggers. Additionally, there is a lot of potential in some of the supporting characters that just never really gets proper attention. Remy LeBeau/ Gambit (Taylor Kitsch) especially has charisma, despite a weak Cajun accent, and could have been used quite a bit more. But the biggest mistake is letting the character of William Stryker go largely unexplored. We're told why Stryker hates mutants (something that is also revealed in the second X-Men movie) but like too many elements in "Wolverine" we're not shown the events that shape his character. It wouldn't have taken too much time away from the action to show a scene that gives us the foundation for Stryker's motivations, but it would have added so much. Movies like "Iron Man" and "The Dark Knight" have irreversibly colored my perceptions when it comes to comic book movies. I know that it's possible to take characters that are larger than life and make them relatable and give them depth. I also know that a movie like "Wolverine" doesn't have to choose between plot and action. But in this case, "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" definitely chooses action over insight. It isn't precisely a bad film, it just isn't all that it could be.