Tuesday, May 5, 2009

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

X-Men Origins: Wolverine answers many questions raised by the first three X-Men films. How old is Wolverine? How did he get his metallic skeleton? What happened to make him so bitter? As you might expect, some of the answers are more compelling than others. While the X-Men trilogy boasted complex characters and explored relevant social and political issues, Wolverine never achieves such depth. It’s a typical summer movie: a good-looking vehicle for big action scenes and cutting-edge special effects. As an X-Men fan, I was hoping for more.

Still, the action thoroughly entertains, and picks up immediately. The film opens in 1845 as a young James Howlett (who later becomes Logan/Wolverine) runs away from home with his brother, Victor. Both are mutants who possess heightened senses, superhuman strength, and accelerated healing/slow aging. The brothers choose to embrace their mutant natures and become fierce outcasts, and the opening credits follow them through nearly 130 years worth of warfare, culminating in their participation in the Vietnam War. When a mysterious government agent, William Stryker (Danny Houston) appears and offers them the chance to join a top secret team, the brothers embark on a journey that will change them both forever and ultimately pit them against each other.

Everything described above happens in the first fifteen minutes, and that’s part of what bothered me about the film. The pace was so accelerated that I didn’t have time to soak in the characters and the story, which was not true of the other X-Men movies. The mythology of X-Men has always concerned itself with its characters’ psychological profiles and the political relevance of the setting, but Wolverine never lets up on the action. I would have enjoyed spending more time in the past, seeing how the beginnings of the mutant phenomenon shaped World events. As the credits raced over a century of American history, I felt ripped off. If Wolverine fought in the Civil War, ravaged the trenches of World War I, and stormed the beaches of Normandy during World War II, I want to see it. 

The action scenes kept me engaged, and Hugh Jackman plays the character so well that it’s hard not to have a good time. Strangely enough, for a film so watered down, it isn’t very accessible for newcomers. The film takes for granted that you already know about the lore, the characters, and the events to come (X-Men 1-3). If you don’t, prepare to find yourself confused. Still, the action scenes take center stage. Casual viewers seeking a summer movie thrill won’t be disappointed, but the fans of the franchise probably will. It’s fun to see some cameos from favorite characters like Emma Frost and Gambit, though they don’t do very much. I hope that if filmmakers produce more Origins stories (I’d love to see X-Men Origins: Magneto), they get back to the roots of what drew us in to begin with. This time around, the heart and soul just aren’t there.

Click here to view the trailer

For the Parents:

MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, and some partial nudity.

The violence is comic book violence, meaning there’s next to no blood, but plenty of intense shootings, slashings, explosions, etc. The partial nudity is completely asexual, as Wolverine runs naked out of the facility where his metal claws are surgically installed.

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