Saturday, May 23, 2009

469 - X-Men Origins: Wolverine review

There’s an interesting story in this film, but it’s told entirely within the opening credits. We see Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), a mutant who doesn’t age or retain injuries, participating in a series of American wars. He fights in the Civil War, both World Wars, and Vietnam, and those are just the ones we see. What would cause this immortal man to participate in so many armed conflicts? Patriotism, bloodlust, boredom? Surely he found time to make friends, meet presidents, take lovers, and kill lots of interesting people. But if “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” is any indication, then the title character has the distinction of being the least compelling fictional character around with the most fascinating background.

It’s already difficult to feel compelled by a character that we know can’t die, even within the reality of the film, but the problem is compounded when the protagonist lacks a good reason to live in the first place. One would think that a man who has lived since the 1830’s would have a worthwhile insight or a witty quip here and there, but Wolverine’s got the personality of a paper plate. His expression is limited to a frown, his intellect restricted to the single-minded desire to kill his brother Victor (Liev Schreiber), the only other immortal person he knows. It’s okay, they got along for 175 years or so first, but things went sour after Victor killed Wolverine’s girlfriend. A word of advice for Wolverine: decent women come and go, but you only get one immortal brother. Try and get along.

Through the course of his search for Victor, Wolverine encounters an array of characters from the comics, none of which anyone in the audience that isn’t into “X-Men” will find the least bit worth remembering. It concludes with a battle at Three Mile Island nuclear plant that suggests nuclear plant security is even laxer than some claim. Patrick Stewart cameos as his character from the previous films, with terrible computer imagery trying hard to make him look 20 years younger but succeeding only in generating a creepy synthetic countenance.

The film is a sequel to the “X-Men” movies. Really, it’s the fourth Wolverine movie, because the character had the majority of the screen time in the previous installments, but now they’ve bit the bullet and put his name in the title. In the earlier films, Wolverine was a charismatic presence, a mysterious and slightly edgy figure who couldn’t remember his past. This entry serves as a huge flashback, replacing the tantalizing secrecy with an anticlimactic tale of nonsensical plot developments and 1990’s era special effects.

Directed with staggering incompetence by Gavin Hood, the film supplied me with a number of unintentional laughs, and I’m not the sort who usually finds severe cinematic malpractice amusing. A key scene features Wolverine discovering his girlfriend’s blood-soaked corpse, screaming towards the sky as the camera pans out. Yes, that happens, and if you were in the theater with me, I was the guy laughing uproariously. Sorry if I spoiled the mood.

1.5 out of 5

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