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Sunday, May 3, 2009

X-Men Origins: Wolverine (*1/2)

Snickety Snikt!

“Mr. Stryker, this is turning into a disaster!”

You don't say, General Whatever-Your-Name-Is? Excuse the general, he's a little late to the party. He joined X-Men Origins: Wolverine when everyone's favorite muttonchop-sporting mutant had already submitted to having his bones (and bone claws) laced with indestructible adamantium. Just getting Wolverine, the man they call Logan but called “Jimmy” by his brother Victor, not yet known as Sabretooth – now I'm getting distracted; try again – just getting Wolverine into the infamous Alkali Lake laboratory seen in the first two X-Men movies, where he is turned into “Weapon X” (“X. Roman numeral for ten,” Stryker helpfully explains. Although what a coincidence the ex-Weapon X later joins the X-Men. I'm getting distracted again…) required plot and logical gymnastics that would shatter Mr. Spock's Vulcan brain (sorry, getting ahead of next week's review.)

Okay, start from the beginning. X-Men Origins: Wolverine, based initially and then diverting wildly from the Marvel Comics graphic novel “Origin”, explains that Wolverine was born as a boy named Jimmy (James Howlett in comic book canon; never said in the film) in the Northwest Territories of Canada. In 1845, in the first of many confusing, poorly defined plot points, his father is killed by a man who turned out to be his real father, whom young Jimmy then murders when he sprouts his mutant power of bone claws. 

Young Jimmy, cared for by the similarly-powered young Victor, flee their Canadian home and spend the opening credits fighting together in the following wars: The American Civil War, World War I, World War II, and Viet Nam. Somehow, these two Canadian farm boys with overgrown facial hair and the nasty habit of slashing people with nails and claws couldn't stop themselves from enlisting and fighting on the American side of every major conflict of the 20th century. (Which side the Canadian brothers fought for in the Civil War is never explained. Nor is how the US government somehow missed the fact that these two guys have been re-enlisting while remaining the same age for over a century.)

Eventually, Jimmy tires of this life of fightin' and killin', and of the name Jimmy because somewhere along the way he adopted the name “Logan”. Logan walks away from his outfit – a cabal of superpowered mercenary cut-throats run by Col. William Stryker. “Six years later” (from what year? We're 130+ years from where the movie started), Logan has settled into a quiet life back in Canada with a new girlfriend, whom he's surprised to learn has some unexplained powers of mental persuasion. She seems cool with the claws and that he's been alive for 150 years. 

But the life of the noble lumberjack is not to be for Logan. His brother Victor has been running around killing their old squad-mates, and then pays the girlfriend a fatal visit. Logan is driven by berserker rage to find and extract revenge on Victor. How fortunate that Stryker reappears with his crazy plan of grafting alien metal onto his bones and claws, turning Logan into Wolverine, the ultimate, unstoppable weapon. X.

Oh man, all that typing and that just barely describes the first act of one of the sloppiest superhero movies to stain movie screens in quite some time. X-Men Origins: Wolverine throws as much Marvel mutant X-crement as it can onto the screen, trying to see what will stick. We're talking Blob, Wraith, Deadpool, Cyclops, Emma Frost, Gambit, Toad, and a ghastly cameo by a famous (alive, because this a prequel) professor whose last name starts with X. Does all of that sound awesome to you, true believer? It isn't, because it's all done in the stupidest, most meaningless manner possible. Aspects of Wolverine's comic book persona are awkwardly worked in; one character even calls Logan “shorty”. Never mind that Hugh Jackman is about 6'4”, a foot taller than his pencil and ink counterpart in the yellow and blue spandex.

After escaping Alkalai Lake, a naked Wolverine (gotta bring the ladies into the theaters) co-ops Superman's origin and is found by Ma and Pa Kent. This elderly do-gooder couple blah and blah about their absent son (no, not Clark), and give Logan his trademark leather jacket and his first motorcycle before being hilariously – sorry, I mean tragically – disposed of. From there, Wolverine goes on a road trip across America. He drops by Las Vegas, has a comedy boxing match with the Blob, then heads down to New Orleans for a card game with Gambit, who takes him to Three Mile Island, where Stryker has holed up creating his newest ultimate weapon, the amalgam mutant, which he hopes will kill his other ultimate weapon who's coming to kill him. Got all that? 

Wolverine looks and plays like a TV movie. Pivotal events are so badly conceived, staged, and directed, it's laughable. For instance, after chasing Stryker across the country and finally confronting him to X-tract his revenge, a big switcheroo reveal occurs that reverses the pivotal moment of the first act. Wolverine is so stunned by this nonsensical plot twist, he forgets about his revenge entirely and just walks out of the building. Stryker then goes right back to work on his mutant killer – until another switcheroo with another character occurs. Only after hearing a woman scream does Wolverine suddenly decide to get his revenge after all. He springs into action after shedding his cumbersome leather jacket and outer shirt to free up his ripped guns with the three machetes attached to each hand. 

Prior to this Wolverine and Gambit can't decide whether they're allies or not. In typical Marvel Comics fashion, they fight first before deciding to team up, whereupon Gambit conveniently produces a seaplane to fly Wolverine to Stryker's hideout. At which point Gambit then conveniently disappears until he's needed to do something, then he disappears again, then shows back up, then leaves. He's done. Call him when there's a Gambit movie, chere. (Please, don't.)

The shambles of a screenplay sabotages every chance for Jackman and his fellow cast members, including Liev Shreiber and Danny Huston, to be anything resembling actual characters. Logan and Victor's entire relationship consists of them snarling at each other, then requiring running starts so they can charge at each other to tussle inconclusively (because neither man can die or even be harmed thanks to their mutant healing factors.) In one shouting match, Victor demands the same adamantium Logan received. Stryker says no, he won't survive it. How does he know that? How does anyone know Wolverine's healing factor is more potent than Victor's? Important conversations between the characters are reduced to sound bytes so that everyone is left as one-dimensional straw men driven by whatever fleeting motivation the plot requires them to have at that moment. 

By the third act, half the characters randomly betray each other while the story contorts to laboriously place each key surviving character where they need to be when the first X-Men movie begins. Another character dies in definitive fashion, except no, he's inexplicably not dead. (Because there could be a spinoff, man.) Also, Wolverine has to lose his memory by the end because he was an amnesiac when we met him in the first X-Men movie, so that has to be explained. Explanation: adamantium bullets. Bang, you dead? Nope. Bang, you amnesiac.

Through it all, Jackman flexes, poses, leaps, growls, snarls, smirks, gets naked, and even cries a little, to no avail. Poor Hugh Jackman heroically uses up every ounce of his macho Aussie charisma (for the fellas) and sex appeal (for the ladies) to try to make us care about Wolverine. If we do care at all about Wolverine, it's because of the goodwill Jackman built up through the first two X-Men movies. Since then, that goodwill has been squandered by two sequels that have been X-cruciating to sit through. X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine have been like two sets of adamantium claws gutting the quality of the X-Men movie franchise. If Stryker has any of those adamantium bullets left, I'd gladly take two in my skull so I can forget the last two X-Men movies ever happened.