Exploring the thread of Wolverineís forgotten past that Bryan Singer began in the second X-Men movie, X-Men Origins - Wolverine delves deeper into the history of the franchiseís favourite character.
Starting at the very beginning, in the nineteenth century with Loganís questionable parentage and relationship with Victor Creed (Sabretooth), X-Men Origins Ė Wolverine takes a tour through the century and more of life that the character endures thanks to his healing factor, prior to his encounters with the X-Men. Much of which appears to be fighting and running with Creed as the movieís introductory flashbacks stack together quickly to display lifetimes of experiences in mere minutes, so that the story in earnest can begin. Although the initial flashbacks are well done the content of the introduction feels narrow and rushed, we are simplistically told that Logan and Creed are feral, nasty pieces of work who love fighting and thatís why they are what they are. Essentially glossing over the backstory that gets us to the movieís present places the characters in personality straight jackets from the outset.
The main story revolves around the Weapon X programme, which in this movie version is in the hands of one William Stryker, who should be familiar to anyone who has seen the second X-Men movie as a mutant hating military bigwig. Weapon X is a team of soldiers with Ďspecial abilitiesí, read mutants, that do the nasty black ops for America no other team could hope to achieve. If you think of a mutant version of the Dirty Dozen you wonít be far off. Stryker however seems to be playing with a stacked deck, pursuing dangerous goals that disquiet Logan. To the point where, sickened by it all, he walks away to the quiet life. Weapon X however isnít done with him. Queue lots of mindless fighting and pointless explanations.
X-Men Origins Ė Wolverine does have a few things going for it. Liev Schreiber, though not the man-mountain one expects to play Sabretooth, puts in an excellent performance. Mixing feral cunning with a deviant savagery that feeds the uneasy relationship between Sabretooth and Jackmanís Wolverine, Schreiber even adds a degree of pathos to the Sabretooth character and his ultimate goal. It is stylish, smart and well played out for the most part. The filmís action scenes are entertaining though quite over done, thanks in no small part to the healing factors of several characters, forcing the script to come up with unlikely and ever increasing forms of violence. Many of the scenes involve stunning backdrops and environments that create a rich tone for the unfolding events. To be fair, if nothing else it is a good looking movie.
Jackman himself gives a strong performance in the lead role, emphasising the fight within Logan to remain in control of those savage parts of his nature that Sabretooth is clearly indulging. The one-liners are present, as is the physicality Jackman brings to the role. However in comparison with the X-Men movies there seems to be a lack of intensity and edge to the character that is no fault of Jackmanís. Simply the problem with the character of Wolverine, both in comic and motion picture, appears to be that he is more interesting as an enigma, a mysterious wildman, than as a resolved, understandable person. With the spotlight turned on him and his past the character seems to shrink, becoming the altogether familiar action hero albeit with claws. Not a good thing for the movie or Marvelís continued use of the franchise. Specifically if there are to be more X-Men movies on the horizon then this need to explicitly explain and explore Wolverine, that has also been gathering speed in the comics, is counter-intuitive. As too is the need to throw so many characters at the audience.
The balance between satisfying the fans and attracting a more general audience to comic book movies has become a significant aspect in contributing toward their degree of success, both as a monetary venture and a story-telling exercise. To this end X-Men Origins - Wolverine is only moderately successful, using a mixture of familiar and not so familiar characters from the X-Men section of the Marvel Universe and the Weapon X project in particular to satisfy the comic fans. Although the characters differ somewhat from their comic counterparts and arenít particularly interesting in their new versions, there is still clearly an intent there to appeal to the comicís target audience that puts it on the right track. Unfortunately, this is a dual-edged blade, with those viewers unfamiliar with the comic stories suffering difficulties with an ever increasing cast of characters who, shorn of their back history and significance, become no more than pointless cameos.
This is the major complaint about the movie, in trying so hard to appeal to such a wide and varied audience on several levels it fails to be convincing on any. There simply isnít the time in a single movie to successfully cover all the ground the story warrants and by cramming so much in, the movie as a result becomes fragmented and forgettable. Wolverine is more potent as a bit-part player in a larger game, or an ensemble cast without his name in the title.
Ultimately what you get from X-Men Origins - Wolverine is pretty much what you expect, an unsubtle but entertaining enough action movie. For those who enjoyed the X-Men movies, this is more of the same but lacking Singerís intelligent handling of the minority group theme. For comic fans itís a case of occasional high points in an otherwise disappointing movie. Owen Jones