X-Men Origins: Wolverine attempts a tricky device, presenting an origin story of a character we have already grown to love. We know where he is now and we know at least two of the other survivors, so much of the plot is predestined. What is left is for writer David Benioff to entertain us while providing a few surprises and geek references along the way. He succeeds on some levels but the movie fails on many more.
When the movie begins we meet Jimmy, a young boy in 1845 who is sick in bed, his friend Victor sitting by his side. Instantly, his life is turned upside down when Victor’s father shows up and kills Jimmy’s dad. The youngster watches as bone claws grow out of his knuckles as he swells with anger before lashing out and killing Victor’s dad. As the man dies, he reveals he is Jimmy’s real father. Jimmy’s mother looks on in horror, asking him what he is, foreshadowing the fear mutants were seen with, even by those who love them. Jimmy, now calling himself Logan, runs away with his newly discovered brother Victor, escaping the witch hunt coming for them.
This is followed by a beautifully choreographed montage showing Logan and Victor fighting in the Civil War, the World Wars, and finally Vietnam. Somewhere along the way, they stopped aging and the movie never explains why. In the comics, his mutant healing powers slow the aging process, so I can only imagine he stopped aging when his body reached the level where it fully accepted his powers. That is just one of many unanswered questions Benioff’s script poses.
Following an incident in Vietnam where Victor kills a superior officer and the brothers are put in front of a firing squad only to survive, they are recruited by William Stryker (Danny Huston) to serve under him in a covert ops unit. The story strays from the comic origins (something done quite a bit in this movie) at this point. In both the comics and the movie, they are joined by Agent Zero, an expert marksman, Kestrel, a teleporter, and Wade Wilson, a wisecracking mercenary. The movie drops a few other mutants into the team as a way, I can only imagine, to give the geek population something to look for. The Blob, one of the first mutants introduced in the comics, and Bolt, one of the younger ones, are both added to the team. I don’t have a problem with their additions, as it doesn’t really matter in eh grand scheme of things.
I do have a problem with how they treated Wade Wilson in the film. For anyone who reads comics, Wade Wilson is Deadpool. Wade was given part of his powers (regenerative healing factor) in his comic book history from the Weapon X program. This much was kept true, however, avoiding too many spoilers, they gave him many more powers, took away his ability to speak (which was his biggest selling point in the comics), and made him a very dangerous, but very boring villain. He should have been anything but boring and that is the movie’s biggest sin in dealing with his character.
The first time we see the covert team, they are infiltrating a bad guy’s lair and we get to see each of their powers on display in one of the coolest segments’ in the movie. At this point, you can see who is a real bad guy and who might have a chance at redemption. It is clear this team is not meant to be since we know Stryker is played by Brian Cox as is the main bad guy in the second X-Men movie. We also know despite the main bad guy, Victor Creed, lives because he is one of Magneto’s henchmen in the first X-Men movie. Finally, we know Logan is found fighting for sport, with no memories of his past, at the start of the first film, so that is where we must reach the end of this movie. The rest of the team’s fate is up for grabs.
I understand how they wiped Wolverine’s memory at the climax of this film, but I still think it was a copout. For those who saw it, understand that while Wolverine’s brain can heal from damage, the tissue forming is new tissues and his old memories are not a part of the new tissues of the newly developed brain. It makes sense from a scientific point of view, but it is a copout nonetheless.
There are also some cool scenes along the way, but the CGI was a real let down. Much of the special effects look fake and take a viewer out of the moment where they should be excited. The fight scenes range from really cool (the final battle with Deadpool) to disappointing (why must Victor and Wolverine charge each other the same way every time they begin to fight – the exact same way?) The filmmaking looked really raw and extremely bad during points of action and it is clear Gavin Hood, while a talented young filmmaker in some areas, might not be meant for action movies.
The geek cred is there. Along with the aforementioned mutants on the op’s team, there are also a number of other cameos including a young Scott Summers and Emma Frost. Emma Frost was added for fans of the comics and you don’t need any knowledge of who she is to understand her place in the movie. She is just there as a hidden Easter egg. Summers was added to give a wink of familiarity to the fans of the movies, and to give the tie in to Professor Xavier’s development of the X-Men. Speaking of Professor Xavier, the special effects makeup job to de-age Patrick Stewart was one of the worst I have ever seen. I hope to God they find someone better to do the effects before they make X-Men Origins: Magneto.
In more prominent roles were Kayla Silverfox and Remy LeBeau. Silverfox is an old Wolverine girlfriend straight from the pages of the comics. Her powers are changed and her fate is altered somewhat in this film, but she serves the same purpose in both instances, so once again I have no complaints. Remy LeBeau is Gambit, someone readers of the comic either love or hate. I have never had an opinion one way or the other about the character but I thought he was great fun in this movie and brought a lot to the table. While he started out as a daft punk, getting his ass handed to him easily by Wolverine, he proves himself in the end and is a fantastic character, one of my favorites in the movie. I wouldn’t mind seeing him in his own solo adventure.
The MVP of the film, without anyone coming close, is Liev Schreiber as Victor Creed. He absolutely steals every scene he is in, making his big bad guy the highlight of the film. He is perfect displaying the fearsome personality of the ruthless killer and gives a bit of pathos to his inner demons, helping you cheer for him at times. He is the worst type of human, but is also the coolest character in a movie filled to the brim with mutants. If Live Schreiber is cast in a big budget vehicle every summer, I will never be disappointed.
At the end of the movie, I felt disappointed. It has moments of pure adrenaline and boasts great performance from Schreiber, Jackman and Taylor Kitsch (Gambit). It gives X-Men fans glimpses of people who become famous, whether it is through the movies (Scott Summers) or the comics (Emma Frost, Gambit). But it also treats a truly great character (Deadpool) with a complete lack of understanding, boasts horrible CGI and has plot holes the size of the Grand Canyon. At the end of the day, it is brainless fun that can provide fans hours of “Where’s Waldo” fun but never reaches the level of the movies it followed.