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Hugh in a tank top, Hugh out of a tank top, Hugh in nothing at all.  That could’ve easily been the tagline for this first spinoff from the successful X-Men series and I’ll bet Fox might’ve tripled whatever their weekend grosses.  Sure, they’ve got a bit of a sure thing showcasing the beginnings of most popular X-Man character and the true draw of the films, but why hedge bets?

X-Men Origins: Wolverine is an amalgam of various comics dedicated to Logan and the story of where those pointy things that pop out of the backs of his hands come from.   For the uninitiated or non-comic book geek, the answer is pretty surprising as it begins in the mid-nineteenth century.  In the Northwest Territories of Canada, we first meet a small boy named James.  A violent family tragedy shocks the sickly child, who reacts with feral viciousness and his tiny knuckles are transformed into bone shard daggers.  The only one who understands James’ condition is Victor, an older brother with some interesting physiognomy of his own.  The two run away from their idyllic lives to become immortal fighting machines.  Why they’re immortal, I dunno, let’s go with it.  The siblings are the heroes of every great American conflict; the Civil War, both World Wars, and Korea.  Finally in Vietnam, Victor lets their incredible power go to his head and begins machine-gunning innocent civilians for fun and making free with their women.  The brothers’ naughty behaviour finds them on the wrong end of a firing squad – a move that seems more symbolic than practical with the whole they can’t die thing - when their talents are given dark and nefarious purpose by a shady military man called Colonel Stryker.  Stryker has amassed a mercenary squadron of similarly gifted running buddies for the bone-shard brothers and they don’t think twice about mowing down a village of poor Africans to find a very special stone that will eventually be very meaningful to James.  Finding this whole genocide bit somewhat distasteful, James turns his back on his cronies and embraces the Great White North.  He’s a lumberjack and he’s okay, until Stryker hunts him down and after some unfriendly persuasion, including the murder of a loved one, gives Jimmy a total makeover.  We are shown the adamantium alloy injection that turns the bone claws into steely knives and already immortal, turns our hero Terminator tough.  Redubbed Wolverine (- which is also explained), the fuzzy Canuck wreaks pointed revenge on the fools who screwed up his bid for a normal life, including his big bro, and coincidentally saves a bunker full of young mutants being held for Stryker’s dodgy experiment building the perfect beast.  The result of Stryker’s mutant patchwork, another immortal called Deadpool, is then activated and set against our cigar-chomping hero.

The comic fans will enjoy the direct refs to some of the storylines and inclusion of more characters, including cameos of youthful versions of Emma Frost, Cyclops, Toad and Banshee.  There is the aforementioned Hugh Jackman cheesecake to appease the ladies; director Gavin Woods has taken a page out of Baz Luhrmann’s bible on how to make the best use of Hugh Jackman in a film and included a multi-angled scene of Jackman sans culottes, escaping Stryker’s laboratory.  Wolverine’s signature pointed DA is also retired for this film, leaving Logan in soft-looking - yet very butch – bouncing and behavin’ layers.  The action sequences are pretty neat; the fights are given a nice edge with exciting Hong Kong-style wire-fu and judicious use of Gladiator-like quick camera edits to compliment the physical absurdity of what these comic book characters can do.  There’s some great banter between Jackman and Liev Schreiber, nicely cast as Victor, the sibling who will grow up to become Sabretooth, Wolverine’s arch-enemy.  Schreiber’s droll wit brings unexpected urbanity to the vicious, long-nailed mutant who is perfectly happy to tear the throats out of women and children just because he can.

Wolverine is undeniably entertaining, but it’s also dumb as the day is long.  The script, which features some real humour occasionally {Stryker imploring Logan to rejoin his team, “Your country needs you.”  Logan: “I’m Canadian.”}, has some real howlers throughout:  You practically expect to hear creepy pipe organ music accompanied by a wolf’s howl and crash of lightning when Stryker caresses a pistol and says, “The only thing that’ll destroy him {Wolverine} is an adamantium bullet.”  This is a great big lie; it’s a silly and unnecessary setup for why Wolverine shows up in the original X-Men with no memory of his past.  This adamantium bullet nonsense is only revealed after Stryker sends a troop of bad guys to cut down the now “indestructible” Wolverine with machine guns, missiles and other loud, explody things, resulting in the loss of life to assorted assassins, innocent bystanders and everybody in the vicinity, except the target.  Still, it’s a great excuse for a really fun motorcycle chase around all the flying bullets and fireworks.  Later, a blind young Cyclops is leading the escaped mutants out of the bunker and chooses a direction down two corridors: “How do you know?” one wise mutant asks.  “I just know” responds the previously non-telepathic Scott Summers.  Oy.  There’s nary a surprise or unexpected plot twist through the film and clichés abound: “That would make us no better than you,” a character is actually able to convince Logan not to Ginsu a prone, deserving enemy with that cheese.  A lot of the mythology set up in X-Men {2000} and X2 {2003} is undone by this movie: In the original film, Sabretooth is a dull-witted, hairy brute.  Here he is intelligent, somewhat groomed and downright witty - oh and also, he’s Wolverine’s brother! - which is never hinted at in film one.  The whole mutant lab at Alkali Lake is seen by many mutants including a last-minute viewing by Professor Charles Xavier himself (- a Patrick Stewart cameo as the scariest mutant ever, CGI Botoxicus), yet in X2, no one seems to connect this important landmark to Colonel Stryker.

Gambit, Gambit, Gambit:  While certainly not the biggest foolery in the movie, there’s been a lot riding on the appearance of this comic-book fan favourite.  For this prized character, the devil-may-care Cajun with the ability to blow up stuff with his hands an actor called Taylor Kitsch was chosen.  Gambit’s accent is probably best known thanks to the popular X-Men cartoon from the early 1990’s, a shade off of Pepe Le Pew, but distinctive nonetheless.  Kitsch’s vague attempt lasts all of 3 minutes and in subsequent scenes (Gambit can fly a plane?!) all I could hear was Joe Piscopo’s signature Saturday Night Live line, "I'm from Joisey! Are you from Joisey?" I have no idea how they went from Gambit’s swamp-deep accent to deepest Newark.  Kitsch is very pretty and seems well aware of the fact, pouting and posing when he should have been chewing scenery as this fun character.  The entire inclusion of Gambit in this film seems superfluous and only to have occurred to bolster up the X-fandom, he’s not central to the plot and his one showdown with Logan isn’t particularly spectacular.  Oh well, maybe next time.

Inconsistencies abound, and much of the film is straight-up silly, yet I’d take ten Wolverines over the hot mess that was X-Men: The Last Stand {2006} any day.  In all its completely visceral, popcorn-glutting, over the top action; an earnest performance by Hugh Jackman, who officially owns this role, and the fortunate inclusion of a slumming Liev Schreiber makes X-Men Origins: Wolverine a terribly fun ride. 


~ The Lady Miz Diva

April 30th, 2009



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