When I was a teenager, reading Chris Claremont’s Uncanny X-Men and thinking Wolverine was a cool character, I never imagined that it would not only be a live-action film but also be a hyped blockbuster to start the summer season. Add to the mix the pirated version being leaked a month before the film and the resultant media commotion, and you have the sort of dream world a comic book could never have envisioned (much like cyberpunk didn’t see the mobile phone in their futures). Therefore, it’s a shame that the movie itself isn’t very good – it is perfectly serviceable entertainment, with some nice action and some humour, but it’s just okay and nothing more.
The heart of the problem is the fact that Hugh Jackman is a nice bloke – not that he can’t play the Wolverine berserker rage, which he manages fine, but because he is producer on this film and he thinks that the reason he has become a star is because the geeks have supported him in role as Wolverine and he believes that he is repaying the fans by giving them what he thinks they want: the Wolverine origin. As producer and star, he had the clout to influence the direction of the film and he has decided to not take any risks; he has been responsible for a film that never goes beyond the expectations of the fans, who are not the best people to aim for when making a good film.
The other problem is that an origin story is not inherently dramatic unless it’s part of a larger story – watching a film where we’ve already seen three films in the character’s future (and the fact that they treat Wolverine as practically immortal, thus eliminating any excitement) means that there has to be something else to care about in the narrative. Otherwise, the film suffers from the tedious and unnecessary tendency of comic books to tie up all elements of any story in a tidy fictional package, connecting all disparate points, dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s to the extent that it becomes an exercise in continuity masturbation.
The film is essentially the gist of the Origin storyline (Logan kills his dad with his bone claws for the first time) and the Weapon X storyline (Logan gets his adamantium skeleton and claws) with a connecting storyline. The Origin bit happens pre-credits, which is about as important as it should be – I always thought that it was a stupid story [LINK], because Wolverine works best with a mysterious background, but also because the story was rubbish and it only came into being because Marvel decided they had to do it before Hollywood botched it up. Also, the bone claws – really, really, REALLY stupid idea. The credit sequence is actually nicely done – covering Wolverine and Sabretooth’s time fighting in wars together (Civil, the First and Second World Wars, Vietnam) before Stryker offers them a position on Team X, doing nasty things for the government, before he finally decides he hashad enough, and he turns into Lumberjack Wolverine with Kayla Silverfox in the Canadian Rockies. Of course, things can’t stay that way, and Logan gets back in with Stryker after Sabretooth starts killing the old members of Weapon X and then Silverfox. When he gets the adamantium bonded to him, things don’t turn out quite as smooth as expected, and Wolverine must unleash the animal within.
Good things: Jackman is good as Wolverine; he’s pumped up and channels the rage, and he’s also charismatic and carries the film. Liev Schreiber as Sabretooth is great – he exudes animal rage and power (even if the extending nails are rather silly. Ryan Reynolds in the few minutes on screen as Wade Wilson is hilarious and looks fantastic – can we get a Reynolds-starring Deadpool film ASAP? The direction of the film is handled well by Gavin Hood, his first time on a blockbuster, giving the feel of the film a sheen of 1970s style. There are nice touches for the fans (the old couple who find him after he escapes from the Weapon X facility are called the Hudsons, the wife is called Heather) but, the film tries too hard to cater for the fanboys, including providing a reason why Wolverine has no memory when he joins the X-Men (adamantium bullets? Really? He’s a healer and you’ve covered him with an indestructible metal, and that’s the best you can come up with?), as well as cameos for Emma Frost and Cyclops for no particularly good reason whatsoever. It’s just too much fanboy service and not enough in the service of a good film – even with the piracy, it was always a sure bet that the geeks would give the film a boffo opening weekend, but the returns are going to be low after that because the word of mouth will not see this through afterwards. Which is a great shame, because I wanted this to be good and give Jackman a chance to step up to the big leagues. When asked if I would buy this on DVD when it came out, I said no – which saddens me no end.
Jackman described the illegally leaked copy like ‘a Ferrari without the paint job’ – based on the final film, he would be lucky to have a decent Toyota.