X-Men Origins: Wolverine

Cast:
Hugh Jackman as Logan / Wolverine
Liev Schreiber as Victor Creed / Sabretooth
Danny Huston as William Stryker
Will.i.am as John Wraith
Lynn Collins as Kayla Silverfox
Kevin Durand as Frederick J. Dukes / The Blob
Dominic Monaghan as Chris Bradley / Bolt
Taylor Kitsch as Remy LeBeau / Gambit
Daniel Henney as David North / Agent Zero
Ryan Reynolds as Wade Wilson / Deadpool
Scott Adkins as Weapon XI
Tim Pocock as Scott Summers
Julia Blake as Heather Hudson
Max Cullen as Travis Hudson
Troye Sivan as James

Directed by Gavin Hood

Summary:
By no means perfect but a solid effort at condensing a complicated origin story into a satisfying fast-paced action flick, offering enough surprises and nods to the fans of the franchise that it does add to the character’s mythos.

Story:
Before he joined the X-Men, Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) was just a mutant with healing powers and bone claws fighting alongside his half-brother Victor Creed (Liev Schreiber) in a special military unit led by Colonel Stryker (Danny Huston). After a fierce argument, the two brothers are separated, but years later, Victor returns and kills Kayla Silverfox (Lynn Collins), the love of Logan’s life, forcing him to want revenge. Along comes Logan’s old military boss who offers to enhance Logan with an experimental process that will allow him to avenge her death.

Analysis:
The challenges of trying to condense the ridiculously convoluted back story that’s been created for Marvel’s popular mutant Wolverine into a feature film that isn’t over three hours long would be a daunting task for any filmmaker, especially one not known for FX-driven action movies. That was the challenge faced by Gavin Hood (“Tsotsi”) in trying to create a suitable prequel for a trilogy of movies that peaked with the first sequel then faltered with its follow-up.

The opening scene is taken directly from Jenkins and Kubert’s “Origins” mini-series where the young James Howlett faces a traumatic incident that awakens his mutation, while discovering that his life was a lie and that he was actually the son of the groundskeeper. (Wolverine’s villains would probably have had some good ammo for “Yo Mama” jokes if they knew the truth.) James and his half-brother Victor Creed form a bond over their shared mutations, leading to a well-executed opening credits montage where the duo fight side-by-side in a series of wars. It quickly becomes obvious to James that his older brother is far more vicious and brutal. Eventually, they end up under the command of Major Stryker in a special military unit made up of mercenaries with special powers, but Stryker’s desire for information requires the murder of innocents, and Logan has had enough. Years later, Logan is living peacefully in the Canadian Rockies with his girlfriend Kayla Silverfox (Lynn Collins), when he learns that someone has been killing members of Stryker’s team.

We won’t get too much further into the complex plot that follows, but the adage of a movie that has something for everyone is clearly the case here, but it never feels as if they’re throwing everything but the kitchen sink into the mix, as was the case with “X-Men: The Last Stand.” Granted, this isn’t Wolverine’s origin taken verbatim from the comic books, which would have been impossible, but it incorporates enough elements from every significant story to create something completely its own story. It also wisely builds its plot more upon ideas introduced in “X2,” clearly the best movie of the earlier trilogy, so that we actually see what happened between Logan and Stryker that led to events in Bryan Singer’s sequel. In fact, one can probably go back and rewatch that movie and see that the storytelling is consistent.

More importantly, this prequel gives Jackman the center stage to show off his wide range of skills (as well as a bit of skin for the ladies), and he’s complimented well by Liev Schreiber, in that their scenes together rarely disappoint, especially when they go claw to claw in the sort of fights that comic fans will be dying to see. Danny Huston is a natural to play the younger version of the character originated by Brian Cox, and though not Native American–British in fact–Lynn Collins doesn’t do bad as she valiantly tries to keep up with the guys as the love interest and the token woman in the movie. Even without getting involved in the action, she does leave an impression with an underdeveloped character.

Over the course of Logan’s journey, the film introduces various mutants from the “X-Men” books, though not necessarily ones that have anything to do with Wolverine in the comics. The best thing to come out of that endeavor is the introduction of Taylor Kitsch’s Remy Lebeau aka Gambit. One of the characters introduced in the ’90s during Jim Lee’s run, the Cajun hustler had a cool visual power that involves charging up objects (like playing cards) and then throwing them to create blasts, a power that really translates well to the screen. Kitsch also has just the right amount of natural charisma and personality to make him the perfect foil for Logan.

Comic fans will probably be looking forward to the introduction of Ryan Reynolds’ Deadpool as well, and that’s where some real disappointment may lie. Reynolds’ Wade Wilson shows up in the flashback sequence as part of Stryker’s military outfit and offers a few funny barbs directed towards Logan, but then returns late in the movie as a bastardized version of Deadpool that’s almost unrecognizable. (The odd thing is that he’s referred to as “Weapon XI,” which is credited as another actor, not Reynolds.) Otherwise, there are a few too many throwaway characters like Will.i.am’s Wraith, Kevin Durand’s Blob, who doesn’t look that much better than Mr. Hyde in “LXG,” and Dominic Monaghan’s tech-controlling mutant, who would have fit just as easily into the crowd scenes in “The Last Stand.” On the other hand, their introductions don’t feel as forced as that movie, and it remains consistent in that we don’t have a lot of spandex-clad heroes running around, which might be one explanation for why Deadpool’s appearance sans costume might put some people off.

The script itself has some problems with everything played just a little too seriously, which actually isn’t too far from the comics, but it misses its mark when trying to lighten things up with humor. That’s not to say that the movie is completely bogged down by the drama, because the pace is maintained quite effectively with enough action scenes interspersed to keep things moving. Hood does deliver the goods on a couple impressive set pieces, whether it’s Logan taking down a helicopter or some of the destruction later in the movie. Unfortunately, the FX aren’t that spectacular, suffering from some of the same problems the first movie did in terms of having so many FX shots that no CG team could do them all justice; because of this, some of the manifestation of mutant powers look somewhat fake or cheesy.

Being that this movie is intended as a prequel to the first “X-Men,” there are a number of clever Easter Egg moments done purely to set up the earlier trilogy, although the clear age difference between Cox and Huston does create somewhat of a contradictory timeframe for when this story takes place.

Considering how many weak, disappointing and simply godawful superhero movies there’ve been in recent years–many of them coming from 20th Century Fox–this origin movie isn’t so bad, basically on par with last year’s “The Incredible Hulk” in that it has solid character moments, some cool action scenes and enough stuff taken from the comics that true fans won’t be completely disappointed. It’s not the greatest movie ever made, but in terms of a fun superhero popcorn movie to kick off your summer, you can do far worse.

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