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What's the Big Deal?
X-Men Origins: Wolverine is an action superhero film released in 2009 and was the first spin-off from the X-Men film series to focus on just one of the titular heroes. Based on the Marvel comics character Wolverine, created by Roy Thomas, Len Wein and John Romita Sr, the film details the mysterious origins of the character as well as his time spent alongside a top secret military unit of other mutants and his long-standing rivalry with his half-brother—the villainous Sabretooth. The film stars Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber, Danny Huston, Ryan Reynolds and Dominic Monaghan and was directed by Gavin Hood. Critics slammed the film for its poor use of CG, multiple deviations from the source material, including the ill-fated debut of Reynolds as Deadpool, and its convoluted narrative. Audiences largely agreed, resulting in the film's notorious reputation among Marvel fans. Nevertheless, the film did well at the box office with global earnings in excess of $373 million and it also topped the US box office chart when it was first released. The film would be followed by two more stand-alone films—The Wolverine in 2013 and the critically acclaimed Logan in 2017.
What's it about?
In 1845, young Canadian James Howlett witnesses his father being murdered by their groundskeeper Thomas Logan. Traumatised what he's seen, his body undergoes a remarkable mutation that causes bone claws to protrude from James' knuckles. He then rushes forward and uses them to kill Thomas who tells James that he is his actual father with his dying breath. James flees the scene with his half-brother Victor Creed and discovers that they both have similar powers including powerful regenerative abilities. Effectively immortal, they become soldiers of fortune and battle their way through both world wars, the American Civil War and Vietnam.
It's during the latter conflict that their secrets are exposed after both survive execution by firing squad. They are shortly contacted by General William Stryker who offers them a position on a classified black Ops unit called Team X that only employs mutants such as themselves. Alongside Christopher Bradley, Agent Zero, Wade Wilson and John Wraith, James (now going under the name Logan) and Victor find themselves treading very different paths...
Logan / Wolverine
Victor Creed / Sabretooth
Remy LeBeau / Gambit
Fred Dukes / Blob
David Benioff & Skip Woods*
Release Date (UK)
29th April, 2009
Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi, Superhero
What's to Like?
Frankly, there isn't a whole heck of a lot to like about this jumbled mess. By far and away the best thing about the film is Jackman who, by this time, had become accustomed to playing the angriest Canadian in history. Looking physically jacked and playing the role with a slight hint of mischievousness, Jackman leads by example - from the front and giving it his all. Sadly, his co-stars fail to match him but at least Schreiber turns what might have been a one-dimensional monster role into something a bit more interesting. His sinister interplay with Jackman makes Victor seem like a legitimate baddie and between them, they just about manage to maintain your attention.
The film also manages a decent job of portraying the epicness of Logan's history-sprawling saga with historical scenes that look more impressive than they perhaps should. Yes, the film's budget is a whopping $150 million so it should look good. But personally, I'd have spent a bit longer on the script which doesn't do a great job of linking these big-budget scenes together. Hood's direction isn't too bad but like the film as a whole, it feels as though everyone is just going through the motions with the exception of the two leads. It feels as though the film suffers from a lack of confidence, understandable given the state of the narrative. In truth, only die-hard Wolverine fans will be able to follow the narrative - and they'll pick it apart for the countless liberties taken with the source material. Which brings us to...
- Jackman himself expressed disappointment in the film (which is never a good sign), claiming that the film fell short of his expectations and simply felt like a fourth X-Men film but with different characters. This caused the makers of The Wolverine to specifically avoid making the same mistakes X-Men Origins had.
- This was originally intended to be the first of a number of prequels, each one depicting the origin story of a particular character. The next character to feature would have been Magneto but after the film found itself in development hell after the failure of this film, elements of the proposed film ended up being used in X-Men: First Class and the project was ultimately cancelled.
- Many fans were incensed at the handling of the Deadpool character including Reynolds himself who had been trying to get a Deadpool film made since 2004. After the timeline for the series was reset during X-Men: Days Of Future Past, Reynolds was finally able to bring Deadpool to the big screen in a manner much closer to the character's comic origins. He also took numerous pot shots at this movie and its bungled depiction of the character.
- The film marks the acting debut of hip-hop superstar will.i.am, who was already a big fan of the X-Men comics. His character Wraith shares many traits with his favourite character Nightcrawler, namely teleportation. However, he did end up injuring himself after he accidentally punched a camera during a fight scene.
What's Not to Like?
Ah yes, the film's handling of the source material has been mocked and reviled by fans ever since the film came out. The use of Deadpool is almost unrecognisable due to the almost complete lack of anything resembling the character in the comics - even the look is totally different and it shouldn't be that hard to replicate a character's costume, surely? Coming as it does towards the film's nonsensical ending, it helps to leave a really bitter taste in the mouth for fans. There are also other things that don't sit right such as the utterly unmemorable Kitsch as Gambit - a character renowned for his charm, reduced to a forgettable side-part. The same can also be said for the blatant love interest played by Collins and the talented Monaghan who deserves much better than this, stuck playing an underwritten character that only comic nerds would recognise.
The story tries to be a century-spanning epic but instead feels like it's simply putting an established comics character into period costume for the sake of it. The action scenes aren't anything that we haven't already seen before (mostly thanks to three previous X-Men movies) and while the film has plenty of characters in it, few make any kind of impression - let alone a positive one. The film is all tease and little reveal - the narrative hints at some dark and bloody action with the Team X dynamic but it quickly breaks apart into PG-rated action fare instead of being the adult and gritty film the character deserves. The film is an example of what happens when multiple decisions are cocked up - the tone is wrong, the supporting cast aren't supportive, the direction is uninspired and the plot refuses to reach any sort of satisfactory conclusion. This is a bloated and expensive mess of a superhero film, one that feels like it was cobbled together at short notice to jump on board a bandwagon.
Should I Watch It?
It isn't as bad as other superhero clunkers like Daredevil or The Punisher but X-Men Origins: Wolverine inhabits the same space in infamy simply by getting almost everything wrong. Jackman's extreme physical efforts and Schreiber's dramatic gravitas can't stop the film from being one of the worst examples of the genre, displeasing fans of the comics with its inaccuracies and fans of superhero movies with its very genericness. The later Wolverine-based films are much better, as are the earlier X-Men films but this is a total shambles.
Great For: female (or male) admirers of Hugh Jackman... erm, angry Canadians?
Not So Great For: fans of the comics, fans of the movies, fans of Deadpool, action movie fans, fans of actual wolverines
What Else Should I Watch?
Even these days, when audiences are struggling to stay afloat in the Marvel Cinematic Universe tsunami, the first two X-Men films are still widely held in high regard. The original X-Men combined a great comic book feel with amazing action scenes and a solid-gold cast led by Jackman, Patrick Stewart as Professor X and Ian McKellen as Magneto. X-Men 2 furthered the world of mutants alongside men, bringing in the comic's sense of allegory as well as loads of new characters for fans to enjoy. And despite being much maligned by fans of X-Men, X-Men: The Last Stand remains a solid enough watch and especially compared to this film. But it does feel a step behind its stablemates, which is a shame.
However, the series certainly upped its game in the wake of the MCU's dominance at the box office. With the release of First Class, the series has felt refreshed and re-energised although the conflicting timelines do make coherence a big problem. But sadly, the series now feels lumpen and out-of-date - the recent X-Men: Dark Phoenix - wasn't particularly welcomed by critics and is the lowest-earning film in the series to date. What this means going forward is anyone's guess - maybe Marvel themselves might fancy purchasing the rights back and putting their own spin on these popular characters? I know that's what I'd like to see.
© 2020 Benjamin Cox