, 107 min, 2009
Hugh Jackman (Logan / Wolverine), Liev Schreiber (Victor Creed), Danny Huston (Stryker), Will.i.am (John Wraith), Lynn Collins (Kayla Silverfox), Kevin Durand (Fred Dukes), Dominic Monaghan (Chris Bradley / Bolt), Taylor Kitsch (Remy LeBeau), Daniel Henney (Agent Zero), Ryan Reynolds (Wade Wilson), Tim Pocock (Scott Summers), Julia Blake (Heather Hudson), Max Cullen (Travis Hudson), Troye Sivan (Young James), Michael-James Olsen (Young Victor). Directed by Gavin Hood and produced by Hugh Jackman, John Palermo, Lauren Shuler Donner, Ralph Winter. Screenplay by David Benioff and Skip Woods.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine, an attempt at an entertaining prequel to the X-Men film franchise, is a curious affair; I had about as low expectations as I could possibly imagine for something like this and still it managed to disappoint.
The film opens in “1840 – The Northwest Territories of Canada” with young Logan (known as James when he was a youngster), who lived with his parents and (it turns out) half-brother Victor. Young Logan was doing just fine until one fateful night when he killed his biological father. Victor (now played by Liev Schreiber), who becomes Sabretooth, and Logan (Hugh Jackman) remained close after that, aware of their connection, with it quickly becoming clear that they have similar retractable claws in their hands. The brothers proceeded to fight in every major war and conflict throughout American history, surviving death after death (as displayed via the credit sequence ala’Watchmen – though lacking that film’s style, wit and stirring use of visuals with music); never mind they’re Canadian.
After a violent meltdown during Vietnam, Victor and Logan were booted out and approached by Gen. Stryker (the invaluable Danny Huston), who has put together a special team of mutants to do his bidding. This includes Wraith (rapper Will.i.am), a black man who can seemingly teleport quickly from spot to spot; Bradley (Dominic Monaghan from the Lord of the Rings trilogy and TV’s Lost), who seemingly controls things with his mind; Fred Dukes (Kevin Durand, formerly of Lost), who becomes The Blob; and Wade (Ryan Reynolds), a sharp-witted and remarkable samurai swordsman.
Flash forward several decades and the team seems to be getting picked off one by one. Stryker goes to Logan, hoping to get him to… who knows what? What else? There’s Kayla Silverfox (Lynn Collins), a seemingly Native American gal who appears to have strong powers of persuasion; she can touch you and control your will. She and Logan were living together in peace and harmony in the Pacific Northwest until Stryker came back. Then all hell broke loose.
There’s also Gambit (Taylor Kitsch), a New Orleans card hustler whose ability to wield cards at opponents with frightening speed and violence comes in handy; he also has a weird cane. And there’s the attempted kidnapping of Scott Summers (Tim Pocock), who shoots sharp lasers out of his eyeballs; points for whoever can tell me his mutant name, which has eluded me.
The film was directed, I’m woe to report, by Gavin Hood, who has made the South African foreign Oscar winnerTsotsi (2005) and the less prestigious but admirable American CIA drama Rendition (2007). Now this? The film is well-made as can be expected, and the actors commit fully to their limiting roles, but the material lets them down I think. The screenplay by David Benioff (25th Hour) and Skip Woods (Swordfish) is a mish-mash of action sequences and stultefyingly dull drama. It just goes to show you that sometimes whoever is in front of and behind the camera isn’t enough.
The performances are pitched at about the level of a series of WWE pro wrestling matches, with supernaturally-gifted “heroes” and “villains” facing off again and again with seemingly no end in sight. Even Danny Huston as the prototypical conniving bureaucrat who may have ulterior motives is lost at sea here. Who’d have thought a performance by the man who so wonderfully was alluded to in John Hillcoat’s Australian western The Proposition(2005) before showing up a while into it only to live up to and exceed the expectations of his arrival, could be this…boring?
Who in their right mind could’ve predicted this film would be boring? Nevertheless, I found myself wanting to fall asleep by the time it was over. After the astonishing quantum leaps forward of superhero films such as Batman Beginsand The Dark Knight, Iron Man and Watchmen, this is a major step backward.