Fox // 2009 // 107 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Jim Thomas // October 5th, 2009
"I'm the best at what I do...but what I do best isn't very nice."
X-Men made Hugh Jackman a star overnight. X-Men 2 upped the ante even further. X-Men: The Last Stand had more than its share of weaknesses, but Jackman wasn't one of them. Desperate to extend the franchise, Fox decided to ride a proven winner, into the ground if necessary, and thus we have X-Men Origins: Wolverine.
Once upon a time there were two little mutants with serious impulse control issues. Little Jimmy inadvertently kills his father, and he and his half-brother Victor run away. All growed up, they fight in five different wars, but Jimmy (Hugh Jackman, X-Men) becomes weary, while Victor (Liev Schreiber, Scream) becomes a borderline psychopath -- albeit one with a wicked black leather duster. They join a special ops outfit run by Major Stryker (Danny Huston, The Constant Gardener), along with several other social malcontents: sharpshooting Agent Zero (Daniel Henney, My Father), Ginsu knife fiend Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds, Blade: Trinity), teleporting John Wraith (will.i.am, Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa), Fred Dukes (Kevin Durand, 3:10 to Yuma), whose body (and appetite) is indestructible, and Chris Bradley (Dominic Monaghan, The Lord of the Rings), an Energizer bunny with a drinking problem. It's laughs a plenty, but Logan tires of keeping Victor in check, so he walks away, with Vincent yelling, "We can't just let you walk away!"
Now Logan's a lumberjack and he's OK, he cuddles with Kayla (Lynn Collins) all night and he works all day. Stryker shows up with a job offer, but Logan isn't interested, until Victor kills Kayla. Now Logan wants revenge, and so he lets Stryker graft adamantium into his skeleton, making Logan one bad (Editor: Shut your mouth!). Now it's on, but when Logan is just about to finish off Victor once and for all when he's interrupted by Gambit (Taylor Kitsch, Snakes on a Plane), who stops Logan from killing Victor in order to confirm that Logan really wants to kill Victor (swear to God).
This leads to a showdown with both Victor and Stryker at "The Island," Stryker's secret research facility, where there are revelations and beatdowns a plenty.
The plot itself has some serious problems; nevertheless, the movie works for two reasons: The strength of the performances, and the passion and intelligence with which director Gavin Hood approached the film. Jackman turns in a strong performance, but Liev Schreiber practically steals the movie out from under him. Schreiber has relatively little dialogue, but with a glance, a gesture, a slight sneer, he speaks volumes. Ryan Reynolds manages to combine his wit with a surprising intensity; his office assault at the beginning of the film is a staggering achievement, even more so since he did all of his stunts in that sequence. Even the minor characters, such as Gambit, work well (Gambit also gets some of the best lines).
The middle act allows the movie to breathe, and that's where the movie works best -- we see characters, not just cardboard figures. The sequence with the Hudsons is nice, and in many ways reminiscent of Martha and Jonathan Kent (in the comics, the Hudsons are much younger, eventually becoming superheroes themselves). The chemistry between Jackman and Lynn Collins is easy and unforced.
20th Century Fox sent a screener disc, so your mileage may vary. Video has strong vibrant colors, though the picture was a little soft in some of the forest sequences. The 5.1 surround track is great fun, with the strong bass presence you expect to accompany major property damage. There's a good set of extras. Lone directors generally produce boring commentary tracks, but Hood really steps up. Particularly interesting is the way that Hood explains what he was thinking with regard to staging a scene, or casting a part, or even dressing a set. You may not agree with some of his decisions, but you can't deny the passion and attention to detail that he brings to the work. The other commentary, with producers Lauren Shuler-Donner and Ralph Winter, is OK, but not as interesting as Hood's. There are a handful of deleted scenes; Hood refers to most of them during the course of his commentary so that you can more easily place the deleted scenes in context.
While the script has strong dialogue at times, the plot itself is exceptionally uninspired, particularly in its unholy quest to shoehorn as many characters into the film as possible (Our Motto: Leave No Franchise Stone Unturned). The opening assault on the African compound is quite telling in this regard. Stryker's got a team of soldiers at his disposal, yet at every turn, exactly one person is sent into the fray. You pile your entire team into an elevator to go up to the top of a tall building, instead of using the stairs. What happens if they drop a few grenades down the elevator shaft? What if one or two soldiers ignore Deadpool and start spraying bullets into the elevator? Yeah, some of the team's powers would have saved them, but they wouldn't have saved Stryker. Obviously, the answer is that they wanted to give each character a moment to shine, but things makes no sense from a tactical perspective. Also, as noted earlier Gambit's intervention in the fight between Logan and Victor makes no sense whatsoever. Similarly, the end of the movie is much too busy, with too many characters and too many question marks. The biggest: Just how does Stryker know that shooting Wolverine in the head with an adamantium bullet will destroy his memory? Answer: Because it is necessary that Wolverine lose his memory.
My only remaining complaint is that every time Jackman had a shirtless scene I had to pause the movie to hose down my wife.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine almost manages to overcome a weak script on the strength of the acting and the passion of the director. It's prepackaged fun that has just enough depth to keep you interested. It made money and, more importantly, set up some additional franchise characters, which is pretty much all they were trying to do anyway.
Writers David Benioff and Skip Woods are found guilty of writing a script with infinitely more flash than substance. On the other hand, director Gavin Hood, along with Hugh Jackman and Liev Schrieber, are commended for injecting a surprising amount of passion into the proceedings.
Review content copyright © 2009 Jim Thomas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 107 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Deleted Scenes
* Wikipedia: X-Men Origins: Wolverine
* Wikipedia: Wolverine