Monday, June 23, 2014

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

Spin off movies under the ‘X-Men Origins’ brand were being mooted even before ‘The Last Stand’. The three characters being talked up for their own movie were Wolverine, Magneto and Deadpool. Deadpool hadn’t played a part in the previous films, so there was a creative clean slate to be worked from.

I would have been happy with a Deadpool origins movie. I would have been, pardon my language, fucking ecstatic with a Magneto origins movie, particularly as a script was announced as early as 2004, with writer Sheldon Turner describing it as “ ‘The Pianist’ meets ‘X-Men’.” It was rumoured that a younger actor would play the role, with McKellan returning for a sequence that would bookend the film.

‘X-Men Origins: Magneto’ never happened. They made ‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine’ instead. And to be fair, it has one thing in its favour: it’s not ‘The Last Fucking Stand’. Although, to be accurate, it does have a hell of a lot working against it. Not least a muddled pre-credits sequence set in 1845 that has James Logan and Victor Creed (later Sabretooth) as half-brothers, family secrets brought to light, the first appearance of Logan’s claws (here animalistic bone-like things), and the antagonistic quasi-siblings on the run. All good dramatic stuff, or it would be if the script gave the sequence time to breathe. As it is, it’s rushed, melodramatic and unconvincing, setting the tone for much of what’s to follow.

What immediately follows it’s a truly horrible montage of the now adult Logan (Hugh Jackman) and Creed (Liev Schreiber) battling their way through the Civil War, the First World War (terrible terrible CGI), World War II (an Omaha beach vignette that’s about as far removed from ‘Saving Private Ryan’ as possible) and Vietnam. Throughout, Creed seems to enjoy fighting and killing a little too much. The Vietnam episode details Creed’s attempted rape of a village girl, Logan’s reluctant defence of him and their joint execution by firing squad. When it’s discovered that they’re completely impervious to a fusillade of bullets, they’re turned over to Major William Stryker (Danny Huston), who’s leading a black ops consisting of mutants: sniper Agent Zero (Daniel Henney), Chris Bradley (Dominic Monaghan) who can manipulate electrical systems, human battering ram Fred Dukes (Kevin Durand), swordsman Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds), and John Wraith ( whose ability is teleportation. After a mission during which Stryker goes to increasingly violent lengths to recover an object of extraterrestrial origin, Wolverine quits in disgust and tries to settle into a normal lifestyle. Six years later he’s working as a lumberjack and – … but what’s that you say?

American troops withdrew from Vietnam in 1975? Yup, that’s right. And Stryker’s already a major at this point looks about 40? Uh-huh. And he’s already heading up an off-the-books research facility instead of “flying black ops in the jungle of North Vietnam” as per his iconic line in ‘X-2’? Well, yes. And doesn’t ‘X-2’ mark a more-or-less linear continuation from ‘X-Men’, which was released in 2000 and described as being set in “the not-too-distant future”? Umm, yeah. So, if we’re generous and assume that ‘X-2’ is set in, oh 2005, and Styker’s in his mid-fifties in that film, shouldn’t he have been about 19 or 20 when he was in ’Nam?

Or I am just being a pedant?

Let’s call it on the pedantry front and move on. But mark this down, folks, as but the first of many continuity fuck-ups that franchise will now insist on doling out. Anyway, where were we? Oh yes, it’s six years later and Logan’s working as a lumberjack and playing house with too-good-to-be-true school teacher Kayla Silverfox (Lynn Collins, cast after Michelle Monaghan dropped out and presumably cast because she looks a bit like Michelle Monaghan; God knows it wasn’t for the acting talent), when all of a sudden Stryker turns up at the logging camp and warns him that someone’s targeting the old team. Logan dismisses him, only for Creed to come crashing back into his life and suddenly Kayla’s in danger.

Long story short, Logan reluctantly allows himself to be experimented on by Stryker as a result of which his bone like claws are replaced by sword-like blades of Sheffield steel adamantium, the properties of which – Stryker assures him – will give him the edge over Creed. When Logan, now fully transformed into Wolverine, goes beserk after the procedure, Stryker panics and orders Agent Zero and a strike team to neutralise him. This, needless to say, ends badly for Stryker’s men, and Wolverine sets out to track down the remaining members of the team in order to find first Creed then Stryker and settle both scores.

While Wolverine braces Wraith and Dukes, Stryker and Creed track down a teenage Scott Summers (Tim Pocock) – i.e. Cyclops – and haul him off to a top secret research facility in order to – … but what’s that you say?

Cyclops was late 20s, tops, in ‘X-Men’? Yep. And even allowing that Logan worked with Stryker’s team for three or four years before he quit (although the film makes it look like he quits after just one mission), the events of ‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine’ can’t really take place any later than the mid-1980s? Sure: can’t argue with the maths. So Cyclops would be pushing forty in ‘X-Men’?

Again, let’s chalk this one up to pedantry and move on.

(SPOILER alert) Where were we? Oh yes: Logan braces Wraith and Dukes. Wraith spills that after Wolverine left the outfit, Stryker had them hunting their “own kind”; Dukes confirms that captured mutants were taken to “the island” and experimented on, specifically that Stryker was trying to combine their powers. Dukes puts Logan onto a mutant called Gambit (Taylor Kitsch), notable for being the only incarcerated mutant to escape from the island. After some initial antagonism, Wolverine persuades Gambit to take him to the island, but not before another attack from Creed during which Wraith is killed. Reaching the facility, Wolverine learns the full extent of Stryker’s treachery – Wolverine was simply a prototype to see if a mutant could withstand the adamantium injection – and finds himself up against Wade, now reborn as Deadpool. Deadpool’s combined powers are the adamantium blades Wolverine has, Cyclops’s ability to shoot fire from his eyes, and Wraith’s ability to teleport. Only Wraith was never at the island, so fuck the audience, fuck continuity, and sit quietly while director Gavin Hood and writers David Benioff and Skip Woods slap you in the face with plotholes, inconsistencies and downright laziness. Oh by the way, he’s Hugh Jackman’s walnut-crackingly firm arse to keep you distracted while they fob you off and take your money. (SPOILERS end. Ditto rant.)

‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine’ has very little to recommend it. Schreiber doesn’t so much over-egg it as make the world’s biggest omelette. Huston is trade-down of epic proportions following Brian Cox’s characterisation of Stryker in ‘X-2’. Collins grins self-consciously at the camera and delivers utilitarian line readings. Tahyna Tozzi, as Kayla’s sister, awkwardly sets up the Emma Frost character (cue discontinuity in the next instalment). Patrick Stewart has a last-minute cameo (Xavier still has the use of his legs; cue more discontinuity in the next instalment); he was digitally manipulated to look younger, but the process was done badly and he looks like the Mekon in those on Dan Dare comics. Even Hugh Jackman’s performance is little more than scenery-chewing; it’s certainly a far cry from the cynical, temperamental yet always human Wolverine of the previous outings.

There are, however, a couple of halfway decent action scenes. The action is shot and edited a lot more clearly than in ‘Last Stand’. The hour and three quarter running time is acceptable. Durand and have a lot of fun with their characters. Like I said, not much to recommend it. But enough to edge away from the rank stench of its predecessor and jingle the requisite amount of tills at the box office to make the next episode viable.

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