By Marco Chacon
May 04, 2009 02:39 PM EST

X-Men Origins: Wolverine Theatrical Review

X-Men Origins: Wolverine Theatrical Review
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Wolverine takes the most popular character from the three successful X-Men movies, and explores his origins before the first movie began; wherein we saw him amnesiac and doing unsanctioned prize fights in a Canadian bar.  Wolverine, in case you don't know, is the guy with the metal claws that come out of his knuckles, unbreakable bones, and the ability to heal from almost any wound.

Where the rest of the X-Men were fairly civilized and sophisticated, Wolverine is rough, brutally honest, and ready to kill.  His mysterious past involved a government project where his bones were fused with the unbreakable alloy adamantium; and he wound up at lethal odds with his former chain of command.

Hugh Jackman reprises his role making the character come alive with his signature charisma and physique. A lot of what is good about Wolverine is Jackman's doing; but there is other good stuff there too, and it deserves to be discussed.

Wolverine takes place in the X-universe.  It is one of the vanishingly few super-universes inhabited by multiple super-powered characters beyond the "one hero and their villains".  The franchise has given us what the other Marvel franchise -- the component elements of which are owned by a different company, the Avengers only teases us with.

You will see some welcome familiar faces in Wolverine and the full title: X-Men Origins hints that we'll see the back-story of some of the others too (we may also get a second Wolverine origin story judging from some of the chatter and the post-credits end scene). The special effects are first rate and the character introductions (most notably the explosive playing-card slinging Gambit) are worth watching for if you care about that.

My experience with Wolverine, though, was uneven--and I can't give it an unadulterated recommendation. The beginning acts give us Wolverine's origin (his history in many wars wisely condensed into the opening credits) and then take us to a Special Forces strike team composed of mutants. This really shines; watching it, I was impressed with the slickness and the interesting cast. There could be entire suites of movies made around the concept and I'd watch them.

The middle act of Wolverine settles down into more familiar territory: there is a love interest, there is a threat to it, there is a revenge story; it is centered on Liev Schreiber playing the character Sabertooth.  Sabertooth was played by Tyler Mane in the first movie, and was probably a different character in the first movie.  Wolverine agrees to undergo the adamantium treatment to be strong enough to take on adversaries that he cannot otherwise beat.  Of course, the government is not to be trusted, and he winds up with numerous foes and a few fellow-mutant allies.

By the third act we are totally in familiar territory with Wolverine confronting his chief antagonists and entering his "final battles".  Here I am no longer able to give the movie a pass.  The movie goes so far out of its way to make Wolverine into a super hero that we get this exchange. 

Gambit (to Wolverine):  "When you said you were going to kill everyone, I thought you were exaggerating."
Wolverine: "Do I look like the kind of guy who exaggerates?"
Me, viewing: "He has killed, by this point, exactly no one he came there to kill, and at most, one person who had no speaking lines; he was totally exaggerating."

It goes further to give us a character who when confronted with a betrayer has imprisoned and experimented on her sister, controlled her for almost a decade, and ultimately done what he can to abuse and kill her,    when she is dying because of his troop's bullets, and he is going to execute her -- when she temporarily gets the upper hand, and when she refuses to do anything to him because that would make her as bad as him.

I remember reading a blurb by author Daniel Keys Moran.  He said he was still waiting for Revenge of the Jedi to come out.  I did a double-take because that came out years ago, didn't it?  But then I realized what he was saying. We got to watch Return of the Jedi, after Lucas decided revenge wasn't an appropriate motivator for a Jedi knight.  I'm not going to go into second-guessing about Lucas here, but I do know that I felt cheated out of a far more adult and somewhat darker movie than the Ewok-bearing film we got to watch.  If we had seen Skywalker, fully trained and out for blood carving his way through the empire to "return the favor" for dominating the galaxy and hunting and killing the noble Jedi, we might have been spared the sequels we actually got.

Wolverine's reluctance to kill in Wolverine is somewhat in keeping with the comics.  Very often writers make a point of him not-killing important people to highlight that he does have a human side; but here, in context, after all of the build-up and the vows of vengeance and the innocent people who get killed along the way?  It seems like it is just playing to its PG-13 requirements rather than following the story to the natural end.

Ultimately, Wolverine is a good opening for the 2009 summer-movie season. It is big enough, loud enough, has sufficient star power, and shows you a few things that are well worth sitting up and watching.  I'm thinking of the paranormal strike team in the beginning, mostly.  It follows this up by not being stupid, so that is a plus.  But there was a point in the beginning when I thought "this is – hey -- this is really cool--" and by the ending, I was firmly back in my seat watching a by-the-numbers film.

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MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 107 minutes
Distributed By: 20th Century Fox

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