I have to warn you: I’ve been an X-Men fan since I was a young’un, even going so far as to have an X-Men tattoo emblazoned onto my left arm in college. Regrettably, my choice – a Jim Lee-era black circle with an “X” inside and red filler – can sometimes be mistaken for neo-Nazi chic. Consequently, my wardrobe will forever include sleeves.
Last week, I caught a screening of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and director Gavin Hood gave a very sobered speech prior to rolling the film. In it, he made it crystal clear that the now-infamous leaked version– the one that was critically bashed – was missing about 400 effects shots, an entire score, sound design, and the color timing had not been done, either. In effect, it was a rough cut. I haven’t seen it, though I must admit curiosity after rumors came out that the finished film and the leaked version were virtually the same, in terms of the edit. But I went into it with optimism…
Well, I’m happy to say that X-Men Origins: Wolverine is a prequel as solid as the adamantium coating on Wolverine’s claws. Of course, as fans of the series will tell you, not even adamantium is indestructible.
Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine is still Marvel’s resident badass. I had the chance to sit in on Fox’s online press conference for the film, and Jackman admittedly concurred with many of the fans that the character of Wolverine on film had becoming too “soft.” Agreed. But with this film, he’s back to his old form from Bryan Singer’s films, and this one delves into even darker territory for the troubled anti-hero. And, as this is an origin story, we learn all about Wolverine’s past, which there’s a lot of, given he’s well over the century mark. The opening credits, while not as cool as Watchmen‘s, are an efficient, stylish way of spanning the decades and getting out a lot of back story.
Liev Schreiber is actually a great Sabretooth. He doesn’t look like the Victor Creed that we know from the comics. Wrestler Tyler Mane, who originated the role in the first film had that going for him. But Tyler Mane never did Glengarry Glen Ross on Broadway, people. Schreiber and Jackman have a great sibling rivalry thing going, and the film transcends the summer blockbuster label when these two share screen time.
Relative newcomer Lynn Collins is also a great find, playing Wolverine’s love interest, Kayla, who turns out to be anything but who she seemed. At the junket, Gavin Hood and Hugh Jackman both singled Collins out as having the hardest role in the film, and it’s true. Aside from having the only significant female part, she also has to be convincingly in love with Wolverine… and then convincingly make things complicated. I think she did quite well given the whirlwind back and forth nature of the ending, which did feel a bit rushed.
A lot of people have complained about the entire story being a mess. I don’t need my X-Men movies to have the most fat-free, streamlined story arcs. But that comes with being a fan of the comic, and there were a ton of back issues mined for source material in the film. They tried to fit in a lot, and maybe to the film’s detriment in the eyes of Joseph Campbell purists. But I want my X-Men flicks crammed with Mutants, and we get a lot of ‘em we haven’t seen before: Blob, Wraith, Emma Frost, Agent Zero, and then a couple of guys known as Deadpool and Gambit. (Not necessarily a good thing in the case of the latter.)
And I can say that Gavin Hood’s direction was enjoyable, if melodramatic at times (but hey, what X-Men comics don’t get a little melodramatic?). It was an interesting choice on Jackman’s producer part to bring aboard the guy responsible for the Oscar-winning Tsotsi, and the decidedly non-action’er Rendition. Hood did a highly respectable job with the material, especially with Jackman and Schreiber (who’d probably make a deaf and blind director look good, to be fair).
I’m sad to say I wasn’t a fan of Gambit. No disrespect to Taylor Kitsch, but I think they could have made a more inspired casting choice for Remy LeBeau. Fans have been waiting for a long time to see him on-screen, and about ten years ago, I would have said a jacked up Harry Connick Jr. would have been pitch perfect in the role. I wasn’t convinced with this. And his introduction is not worthy of one of Marvel’s greatest mutants.
And then there’s Deadpool. Wade Wilson is one of my favorite characters in all of X-Men lore, and Ryan Reynolds is the exact right guy to play “The Merc’ with the Mouth.” But they don’t give him a ton to do. Fine, fair enough. Not his movie. However, they took some liberties with the character at the end of the film, in service of the plot over any reverence to the source material, and it kinda stuck in my craw. I don’t want to give anything away, but suffice to say I think non-X-Men fans will be fine with the decision, even if it’s not Deadpool at his most interesting (read: emotionally vulnerable and with his trademark acerbic wit).
The in-camera effects were fantastic, but some of the post VFX were a bit dodgy and distracting. The way the light reflected and refracted off of Wolverine’s claws was suspect. Sometimes they didn’t feel like they were truly attached to his knuckles at times. Obviously, we get a lot of the claws, too, since it’s Wolverine’s flick. And I know how difficult it is to get completely photorealistic, so it’s with no disrespect to the effects artists that I say these things. The one effect that really bothered me was the de-aging of a certain character whose presence I won’t ruin. I couldn’t tell if they had done Benjamin Button-style digital touch ups on the real actor, or if they created him entirely in CG. It was that distracting, and cheapened his appearance at the end, in what could have been a really poignant scene setting up the other three X-Men films in this series’ continuity.
In the end, I walked out of the film happy that I saw it, and I’m seeing it again opening night. Maybe I’m just an easily pleased X-Men fan, who loves to see his favorite characters brought to life in any incarnation. No… that’s not true. I wanted to cry after X-Men: The Last Stand.
– PATRICK SCHUMACKER