When I was in third grade I ordered a little paperback called The Marvel X-Men Guide Book from one of the school's book order clubs. It had all of the mutant superheroes and villains from the X-Men comics with their powers and histories explained in depth.
When it arrived it immediately became the Bible of my group of friends. Every day during recess and lunch we'd take it out to the playground, choose which character we wanted to be, and begin epic battles. The X-Men figured quite high in our collective imaginary consciousness for years. We collected X-Men trading cards, watched the X-Men cartoon religiously, played X-Men video games, and fought with X-Men action figures.
The Guide Book had a picture of Wolverine on the cover, and few mutants loomed larger for us than the animalistic Canadian with the unbreakable skeleton and the claws that could slice through anything. I imagine if young Davey (as I was known up until sixth grade) had seen "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" he would have been blown away by the thrill of seeing his imaginary heroes come to life. (The group of adolescents sitting in front of my friends and me seemed satisfied as the credits rolled.) For the adult David, though, and his fellow X-Altar Boys, raised in the Mutant Church some fifteen years ago, the film before us is hardly salvation. Instead we have director Gavin Hood and screenwriters David Benioff and Skip Woods molesting Wolverine - a sin which will not be forgiven easily.
"X-Men Origins: Wolverine," a title as awkward and clunky as the film to which it belongs, is a prequel to the "X-Men" trilogy, exploring the origins of the series' most exciting character. The film begins in the 1840s in the Canadian wilderness of the Northwest Territories and gives us Wolverine (Hugh Jackman,) then known as James Howlett (Troye Silvan) as a child just discovering his claws and other mutant powers. The film then fast forwards through the next 120 years or so as we see Wolverine and his brother Victor aka Sabretooth (Liev Schreiber) fight alongside one another in numerous armed conflicts from the Civil War to the World Wars, and ultimately to Vietnam. Part of Wolverine's mutation includes a healing factor which prevents him from aging - despite being over a century old he still looks like 40-year-old Jackman.
When Wolverine and Sabretooth's powers come to the attention of the government they're both recruited by William Stryker (Danny Huston) to join a shadowy team of mutants. This team includes wisecracking assassin Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds,) immovable strong man the Blob (Kevin Durand,) teleporter John Wraith (will.i.am,) and marksman Agent Zero (Daniel Henney.) Does it show my age that much that when I was a devoted X-men fan this last character was known as Maverick?
Eventually Wolverine comes to abandon the team and escape his life of violence. He begins working as a lumberjack and settles down with Kayla Silverfox (Lynn Collins) in his native Canada. But his past catches up with him in the form of his brother Sabretooth. So Wolverine is forced back to a life of violence, and persuaded by Stryker to undergo an experiment that will bond the unbreakable metal adamantium to his skeleton and claws. Now even more powerful than before his adventure really begins.
The film is a profound failure on almost all fronts. It's as though Hood, Benioff, and Woods missed the comic book movie memo. With "Iron Man," "The Incredible Hulk," "The Dark Knight," and "Watchmen" the superhero film expectations bar has been set quite high. It's not enough just to have a film with classic superhero characters and state of the art special effects. (That's all "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" is.) Now if you're going to make a superhero film it's expected that you'll invest in strong acting, character development, non-cliché plots, and philosophical or even political themes. "Wolverine" has none of that; and there's absolutely no excuse for it.
The character of Wolverine and the origin film that could have been made had every opportunity for the kind of drama a major motion picture is supposed to have. We could have perhaps gotten 20 minutes of young Jimmy Howell discovering his mutant powers. We could have gotten the relationship between Wolverine and Sabertooth truly developed. If you're someone that doesn't age surely the most important person in your life is going to be your brother who has a similar ability. They're the only one that's going to be a constant in your life. This fascinating philosophical aspect isn't even considered by Hood, Benioff, and Woods. The whole idea of exploring Wolverine as a character doesn't seem to even cross their mind - they're too busy cramming together boring action set pieces.
They're just not interested in telling a story. They could care less about drama. Their objective is to make an X-Men product for the kiddies and the geek community. What else could explain the fact that their story is actually built around figuring out how they can insert popular X-men characters that have yet to be featured in the series? The only reason that Gambit (Taylor Kitsch,) Deadpool, and the Blob are in the movie is because they're fan favorites - not because they really serve the story.
This choice is a clear demonstration by the filmmakers of a lack of respect for the intelligence of their audience. (And if a movie doesn't give you respect, then you don't give it your money.) Hood, Benioff, and Woods are more interested in appealing to third grade comic fans than a broader audience. They're making disposable entertainment, not popular art. For that reason anyone above the age of 12 should pass on "X-Men Origins: Wolverine," the summer's first blockbuster disappointment.
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