By special request, and because I was planning on doing it anyway, here is my review of X-MEN 4: X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE: THE PREQUEL.
Word on X-MEN ORIGINS WOLVERINE has been toxic ever since some prick leaked it onto the internet a month ago. Nerds hated it, critics hated it, my buddy who was looking forward to it as much as I was hated it. I heard nothing but bad news. When I checked the San Francisco Chronicle for a followup on that kook that says her dad was the Zodiac I instead found a WOLVERINE review with the headline “Lower your X-pectations.” So I did. And it was a bummer because I genuinely had been X-cited. I enjoyed the X-MEN pictures… ALL THREE OF THEM. Do you find that shocking? EVEN PART THREE, MOTHERFUCKERS. I am 33% more into X-Men than most nerds.
This one seemed promising because first of all, Wolverine is obviously the second best character of the X-Men movies after Mystique. So it makes sense to do this as a warmup to the real spin-off movie, Brian De Palma’s X-MEN VILLAIN SPIN-OFFS: MYSTIQUE. Second of all, the trailer led me to believe this was gonna be the character transported to an ’80s action movie kind of setup. At the beginning of X-MEN part 1 Logan Wolverine walked in as a Clint Eastwood character. He looked and sounded like young Clint Eastwood and reacted to all the X-Man business with the kind of cynicism Clint would. He even took Rogue under his wing the way Clint did Clyde the orangutan.
So this is a great idea for Wolverine’s X-Men origins to be in the form of an action movie, even if it’s more of a Schwarzenegger than an Eastwood. Logan Wolverine and his brother Victor C. Sabretooth (Liev Schrieber, unethically stealing the role from Tyler Mane) are soldiers who get busted for gutting a superior officer, they survive the firing squad so they get transferred to a secret special forces team of mutants.
This is ingenious because being on a team of special ops badasses is much cooler than being on a team of super heroes. And on a team like this everybody has to have a specialty, you have the demolitions guy, the sharpshooter, etc. When it’s mutants they have special powers instead of specialties, it’s a nice fit. And then Wolverine starts to grow wary of having his body made into a weapon of imperialism, doesn’t agree with his missions or something, so he goes AWOL. But you don’t just leave a family like that, so they come after him. He’s a one man A-Team! With claws!
Unfortunately for me that stuff in the trailer is not really what most of the movie is about, that’s mostly the setup. Wolverine fights in five different wars, but all during the opening credits. The team goes on one mission and it’s kind of cool but not classic material or anything. They do have the ol’ “soldiers on a helicopter giving each other shit” scene which introduces the various members of the team, most importantly Ryan Reynolds as the wiseass swordsman Wade Deadpool (basically his same character from BLADE: TRINITY but with less screen time). There’s also kind of a Randall Tex Cobb type dumb strongman character that I liked, but he’s not as cool when he shows up later wearing a fat suit. Anyway the mission is over quick and then Logan quits.
Later on Sabretooth pulls some shit that really pisses Logan off, so in order to get his revenge he allows the military guys to hook him up to a machine that gives him his metal skeleton. But then they try to betray him so he runs away naked. He announces that he’s gonna kill Victor and Danny Huston’s character Stryker, and as a rule hit lists are always a nice structure for a movie. But this is the rare prequel exception to the rule since we know both characters on the list are gonna survive into the other movies. So it doesn’t have that same thrill.
Stryker sends a Korean soap opera star after him in a helicopter and this is the best part of the movie, a little motorcycle vs. helicopter chase, partly given away in the trailer. But that’s the action movie portion of the proceedings. The rest is more like an X-MEN movie, with Stryker up to his anti-mutant shenanigans, cameos by various mutant characters I guess from comics or young versions of characters from the other movies.
I understand that they’re not necessarily trying to make the kickass action movie I was hoping for, so you can forgive them for not going all the way with that. But I feel like they didn’t go all the way with it being an X-Men movie either. They got the fun of the different characters and powers and what not but part of what’s great about those is the whole issue of the X-Men versus the Magnetos. Magneto goes too far but he’s right about wanting to protect mutants from humans, and Professor X is right that mutants and humans should co-exist, but sometimes he crosses the line in fighting extremist mutants, like when he lets them use the mutant cure as a weapon against Magneto.
I like that it’s a series where I care about some of the bad guys more than some of the good guys, and that acknowledges there is some grey area even though its comic books and good vs. evil and shit. And part of what I liked about part 3 that nobody gave it credit for was the parallels it had with various issues involving race and sexual preference. The kid whose dad can’t accept that he has wings, the mutant hero who is willing to be “cured” of what makes her unique because she’d rather fit in. It’s mostly a silly movie about different super powered guys strategically using their powers against each other, but it also has these little things worth thinking or feeling about. That makes them stand out from the other super hero movies.
WOLVERINE has none of that. I do like the story of these two brothers who are kind of out for each other’s blood but also kind of aren’t because they always remember they are brothers. And they get caught up in this military conflict. I think this would be a good enough story if it was tying together a bunch of knock-you-on-your-ass set pieces, but it’s not, most of the big scenes are only okay and some of the effects look pretty cheesy. Therefore, it needs to excel at the soulful side of things, so you can say “well, the action scenes aren’t that spectacular or anything but it’s not really about that, I was really moved by the relationship between these two brothers” or whatever. But they didn’t really go all the way with the drama either. And to be honest I’m not exactly sure what Victor’s motivation is, he’s just mad at Wolverine for quitting the military or something. I don’t get it.
So it’s not really the great action movie or the great comic book drama. They were going more for the comic book crowd but I ended up liking it better than they did, even though it wasn’t great. The lesson for studios is for now on to cater all movies to my tastes. Those whiners aren’t gonna like it anyway so just make it COMMANDO with claws. thanks guys.
It’s a pretty half-assed script. The one smart touch I can think of is that (SPOILER) Logan finds his lover dead and mourns over her body, but it later turns out she wasn’t really dead. Then he finds her actually dead but this time doesn’t feel anything because he doesn’t remember who she is. Other than that most of the ideas are pretty obvious, or presented in a too-obvious way. Like, he’s gotta lose his memory by the end of the movie, right? I was worried they would do some corny brain-wipe machine. Instead he gets shot in the head with adamantium bullets. His brain can grow back but it’s just cells, he’s not gonna retain all his memories. That was a cool way to do it, but did they have to have Stryker announce that he would shoot him in the head in order to remove his memories? Wouldn’t it be cooler and more believable if he shot him in the head trying to hurt or kill him, and the memory loss was a side effect?
And then there are just the little touches like why do they give him new dog tags right before beginning his operation, what kind of hospital protocol is that exactly? And if (SPOILER) Professor X was nearby ready to airlift the kids to safety why didn’t he show up earlier and help out? Especially since he’s not in a wheelchair yet. The fucker was probaly out playing chess somewhere, missed all the action.
But maybe we can blame the director more than the script. It seemed like a brilliant idea not to hire from the usual list of names, but instead get the director of the best foreign language film Oscar TSOTSI. But then I never saw that movie so maybe it would’ve shown that he’s not really the guy. He seems competent and at times good but since he fails to bring depth to the drama or deliver on the more visceral stuff this would have to be considered a strike out. I read on Wikipedia that Alexandre Aja (THE HILLS HAVE EYES remake and HAUTE TENSION) was one of the directors trying to get the job, I kind of wish that would’ve happened, that might’ve been interesting. He definitely knows how to do chase scenes. But maybe he wasn’t really up for it, I don’t know. I also read on Wikipedia that on the old TV sitcom Mr. Belvedere the title character was a struggling mescaline addict who in the last episode married an African tribeswoman. In my opinion that is not an accurate description of the show so Wikipedia may sometimes contain incorrect information.
I do still like Hugh Jackman in the role, and he’s channeling Clint Eastwood more than ever. I definitely think he studied the old Clint movies. He has the same kind of stoicism, same kind of smile, same kind of wry comeback or exasperated complaints. He’s got a couple funny Clint type lines and a great moment where another character says a corny hero line and he sighs “Oh Jesus.” He’s a working class Clint character like Philo Beddoe, driving an El Camino and carrying a chainsaw and ax to work (because he’s a lumberjack). He’s not an underground fighter though like he was in the beginning of part 1, and doesn’t really seem like as much of a tough guy, come to think of it.
I liked Liev Schrieber in the role, would’ve been nice if there was a little more to it though. I was bummed when they replaced Tyler Mane, because I like that guy and wanted to see him in a role that was a little more challenging. But actually I don’t think there’s a whole lot of depth to the character in this version either, I don’t think Mane would’ve had much trouble pulling it off. Oh well, some day he’ll get a good one.
The guy I really was excited to see in the movie was Scott Adkins, the excellent British martial artist from such Isaac Florentine DTV joints as UNDISPUTED II, SPECIAL FORCES, THE SHEPHERD: BORDER PATROL and the upcoming NINJA, where he plays a ninja. In case any of you are not familiar with his kicking and flipping I have provided this handy embed of highlights. (Warning: cheesy song. Volume control is advised.)
It had been previously reported that Adkins played a character named Weapon XI. Turns out that’s what Ryan Reynolds turns into after an operation – in other words, he’s the stunt double for a big fight at the end. The weird thing is that Adkins looks kind of like Ryan Reynolds and would make a good double for him (and probaly did some of the swords and stuff at the beginning) but Weapon XI is under makeup where the resemblance doesn’t matter. Oh well.
He does get some moves in but nothing as memorable as in those straight to video movies, and one of his powers is to teleport. I don’t know if I’ve ever brought this up before, but I believe teleporting is one of the least cinematic super powers. I never saw that movie JUMPERS but it really struck me when that came out – sure, to be able to zap yourself into a bank vault would be cool in real life, but to watch it in a movie is just not cool at all. The idea of a movie is to see somebody do something. It is not to see a guy standing in one place and then in the next frame – HOLY SHIT! – standing in a different place. The whole point is getting from point A to point B, you don’t just want to see the two points separately. That’s anti-movie.
So having that power helps him in the fight but sure makes the fight less exciting. They hired this guy for all the kicks he can do but then he keeps disappearing. You can’t kick somebody when you’re disappeared.
For the best super powers award I’d have to go with the girl whose skin turns into bullet-proof diamonds. That looked pretty cool. Not a major character but hopefully she will show up either in another X-MEN ORIGINS picture or in a video on the arm of Ghostface Killah or somebody.
Also, almost forgot to mention this, but I gotta say it’s sad that Stryker was not held accountable. Not only does he pour a half billion dollars into Logan’s skeleton, he also has these adamantium bullets. And those make sense to use against Wolverine, but he tries to use them on his girl too! Are you kidding me, man? In this economy? Oh yeah, but this is a prequel, which explains why the guy apparently went on trial for murder but was still in charge of a major military program in the 2000s. He’s like all those Iran-Contra criminals that ended up in the Bush administration.
By the way, there are two different post-credits scenes, and of course I got saddled with the shitty one. Mine just tells you that Wolverine moved to Japan and became a drunk in a hotel bar. So the sequel could be a crossover with LOST IN TRANSLATION. I don’t know man, Japan is cool and everything. If Wolverine is gonna join the drifting scene I’m all for it. But the idea of these types of post-credits scenes is supposed to be to imply something exciting to keep you wanting more. Like some ninjas jump out and he pulls out the claws and it goes to black. Go watch the end of BLADE for more information. (The other ending is about the Ryan Reynolds/Scott Adkins character, maybe setting up another movie. I would call it X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE ORIGINS: DEADPOOL.)
I would call this a disappointed review more than a negative one. I enjoyed watching it but I just can’t be passionate enough to write the “come on guys, it’s not that bad” defense. It’s true though, it’s not that bad. It’s ridiculous for people to be talking about this as a terrible movie when it’s in the same genre as DAREDEVIL, FANTASTIC FOUR, BATMAN FOREVER, BATMAN AND ROBIN, GHOST RIDER, SPAWN, and other ugly, moronic movies. It’s never that embarrassing, that stupid, that laughable or boring. But there’s the other side of the coin too, that this is the genre that gave us IRON MAN and THE DARK KNIGHT just last summer. So we can expect better than this.
I’d still like to see more of these movies. But how bout some more elbow grease next time, mutants.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.