Sitting down to consider an entire series of X-Men (X-People?) Origins films, I am reminded of Chaucer, the Middle English scribe whose death kept him from completing nearly 100 promised stories in The Canterbury Tales. With any luck, I’ll be long dead before anyone tries to make another installment in this franchise with the same foolhardy bravado that director Gavin Hood and his team have brought to X-Men Origins: Wolverine.
The film opens with a hint of promise in northwestern Canada in 1845. A sickly young James Logan, who is to become our Wolverine, accidentally kills his biological father (who had just killed his adopted father!) with his newly discovered retractable bone claws and runs off to the woods. There, another boy, Victor, who we just learned is in fact James’s brother, is waiting. They run off together, promising never to separate and to never go back.
As it turns out, Victor is a mutant just like James. He will grow up to become who X-heads will recognize as Sabretooth, though filmgoers will never know that as he is never bestowed a fabulous nom de guerre as our hunky Logan is (Wolverine, rawr). Since their main power is the ability to cheat death, they live on through history, though oddly, United States history. For whatever reason, these two mutant Canucks fight in every major U.S. war of the last two centuries. This confusion is compounded by the question: if they are immortal, why did they choose to stay thirty-five forever? Normally I might gloss over these niggles, but this is an origin story after all; these are the questions we need answers to.
Their extreme abilities are noticed by a William Stryker, who invites them to an elite unit of mutant soldiers. On a special ops mission in “Africa” (geeeeezus can’t you be more specific?), Logan backs down when things get too ugly, what with the killing and torture of civilians and all. This pits him against his bloodthirsty brother, setting off a thin plotline which doesn’t warrant much explanation. From the get go, our feisty protag believes in the powers of good. This, among all the other noise and confusion, is the real problem with this film.
Origin stories are as old as oral storytelling and they have remianed consistenly unchanged. Ultimately, an origin relies not on the acquisition of power or skill, but rather on the choosing to work toward either good or evil. Off the bat, Logan is a good guy, stopping his megalomaniac brother from succumbing to evil within the first fifteen minutes of the film. Why is he so righteous? This is the one question we needed answered but were denied.
To switch off the cerebral deconstruction of the film, I should mention that the action scenes are wholly unappealing. For one, the effects look ludicrously fake, particularly a heavy reliance on green-screened backgrounds. This is the stuff of made for TV movies and it’s insulting to think that audience’s would stand for it. This film is a surefire hit considering the X-Men branding, why not throw a bit of cash into some actual locations?
As for Mr. Hood, whose Tsosti won best foreign language film at the 2006 Oscars, I don’t know that blame for this schlocky film should rest entirely on his shoulders. He is not the first independant director thrust into the fold of a messy studio blockbuster which nearly swallows him whole. Antoine Fuqua (whose Training Day nabbed Denzel Washington his first best actor Oscar) is another filmmaker who was nearly shuffled into obscurity after his disastrous 2004 actioner, King Arthur.
Ever since the success of Spiderman, with niche horror director Sam Raimi at the helm, Hollywood has been seeking out fringe directors for their biggest projects. In many cases, such as in the choice of Alfonso Cuarón (a foreign film oscar nominee) to direct Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, which resulted in, at least in this critic’s opinion, the most beautiful and moving pic in the franchise. Mr. Hood did not prove as adept at honing his skills for a film of this size. This film is clunky at best, cheesy at worst. It feels almost as if no one is driving this caravan, which is where Gavin Hood, who may one day become a great director, has failed us.
As I’m sure you know, X-Men Origins: Wolverine was illegally distributed on the internet a month ago. The cause of that leak is still unknown, at least publicly, but it fits in line with the overall problem with this film: no one is home at the top. The story lumbers along with very little holding it together. Perhaps the leak was an accident, committed by one of the many people involved on this film who were obviously looking the other way as it completely fell apart.