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Saturday, May 23, 2009

Movie Review: Wolverine (X-Men Origins)

This summer isn't shaping up to be a particularly good one for movies, at least not for me. While I didn't despise Wolverine like I did Star Trek, I also didn't think it was that great of a movie. Okay? Sure, but far from what was necessary to do justice to the origin story of the Wolverine character--arguably the favorite of the X-men next to, perhaps, Professor X.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine is, to put it bluntly, a mostly pointless story of how Wolverine became, well, Wolverine. It follows him as a young boy with a troubled and conflicted past to a young man waging a personal war alongside companion/brother Victor Creed (a.k.a. Sabertooth). When Creed's insatiable drive for violence lands both of them in a military prison, and subsequently in front of a firing squad that fails to kill them for obvious reasons, they are approached by a fellow we've met before (William Stryker) who convinces them to join his special team with "special" privileges (which essentially means they can do whatever they want).

Logan, however, decides he's done with that life and skips town, resolving to start a new life without death and murder surrounding him. But apparently you can't just leave the team and expect never to hear from them again, and when Logan's past comes back to haunt him and destroy his life, we find out what happens when the wolverine let out of its cage...
Wolverine isn't a bad movie, per se, but it's not a particularly good one either. I would say it's more along the lines of an okay movie, one which entertains only enough to keep you from leaving the theatre, but not a film that makes you ooh and ahh--although there were some points where I verbally indicated that an event on the screen must have hurt. Wolverine's flaws are partly due to the fact that it is a prequel and partly due to some rather mediocre computer graphics.

The problem with prequels, and especially with the Wolverine story, is that we already know what's going to happen. We know that Logan meets up with the X-men at some point in the future and that all his lost memories--or at least most of them--are eventually unlocked--you find out which ones he never finds out in this movie. So, it seems somewhat pointless to have a story that tells us how he became Wolverine when we kind of already know. That isn't to say that his origins aren't important, just that this suffers from many of the problems that plagued the Star Wars prequels as stories. And it's more so with Wolverine because we were given an enormous amount of detail in the X-men movies.

The plot for Wolverine is pretty easy to follow, though it does get a tad convoluted towards the end. I don't think this is necessarily a problem, though I think the writers could have dug deeper into the ethical issues within the story--but it's an action movie, so I guess I shouldn't expect deeper storylines. I do think the ending itself is somewhat questionable; we needed, in my opinion, more to go on to understand and accept what happens.

Probably one of the most glaring issues with Wolverine, however, isn't the story, but the computer graphics. There were far too many moments in which questionable computer graphics were used, often at times when one could easily have put the actors on strings and achieved a far better result. There are times when Wolverine's claws look almost like someone had fabricated them for a video game rather than for a film, which would have been fine if we were playing a video game rather than sitting calmly in a theater.

I'm not sure where the folks behind this film moved away from the relatively competent CG work of the X-men movies, but the departure here is a monumental failure. When the audience becomes painfully aware that they are looking at computer graphics and not something that is either real or pretty darn close, you start losing credibility, particularly because the more we're exposed to such things, the more we start to lean away from that leap of faith moment that allowed us to buy the premise of the story itself. So, why the filmmakers half-assed the computer graphics in this film is beyond me. Ten years ago, this would have been top notch, but now it looks like a bunch of amateur filmmakers were trying to make an awesome fanfilm. To me, there is no logical reason for any major Hollywood production to have such weak visuals; the technology is readily available and affordable.

But beyond this, the film is a mixed bag. The cast are good in some respects, and questionable in others. Liev Streiber was surprisingly effective as Sabertooth; he was menacing, wicked, and kind of scary. I had been concerned that he wouldn't pull it off, but I think he was, perhaps, the best choice for the character. Other good choices: Kevin Durand as Fred Dukes/The Blob, Dominic Monaghan as Bradley, and Will i Am as John Wraith. Taylor Kitsch as Gambit left a little to be desired; yes, I think he managed to capture the character fairly effectively, but his accent was off and needed some fine tuning, some enhancing to give it enough of that Cajun flavor.

Where the cast gets questionable, however, are in its selections for Stryker and Deadpool. As much as I like Ryan Reynolds, I am also a bit sick of him. He essentially plays himself in everything he's in, and it was impossible for me to separate his rendition of Deadpool from his character in Blade 3. The fellow who played Stryker never came off as evil as the fellow who played him in the X-men movies and was largely forgettable. Most of the other actors, unfortunately, can be forgotten in this film, and that's really a sad thing when you realize that some of them are actually integral to the story. So be it.

There were also some serious continuity issues with the film, though I suspect that only attentive viewers will notice or care. For example, it is supposed to be extremely painful when Wolverine's claws push through his bones and skin, yet we get almost no indication that he ever feels pain when this happens. Other issues are with Deadpool, who is supposed to be a masked figure with a disfigured face; but here we get a pretty-faced Reynolds. Perhaps I'm just nitpicking, but I found that they bothered me throughout the film.

All in all, I don't consider Wolverine to be a terrible movie. While there are moments that I hated, there were also plenty of moments that I really enjoyed. The opening credits were, for me, enjoyable, and I really hope we see more of the Blob in the future. I don't know if I would recommend seeing this movie in the theaters. While it's always better to see a movie on the big screen, sometimes a film isn't worth the cost of the movie ticket (this is why I'm adding a new feature to my movie reviews: value). I saw it as a matinee and I don't think I would pay matinee prices for this movie again. It's okay, but certainly not worth $7.00. But, if you like action, this has plenty of it and will probably keep you entertained throughout.

Direction: 3/5
Cast: 2.5/5
Writing: 2.5/5
Visuals: 1/5
Adaptation: N/A (I don't know enough about the comics to adequately voice an opinion here)
Overall: 2.25/5
Value: $4.00

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