From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

X-Men Origins: Wolverine — The Greatest Story Never Told?

After the disappointment that was X-Men: The Last Stand, I held no high hopes that X-Men Origins: Wolverine was going to be a great movie. So I went into it with a few specific expectations:

  1. I wanted to see a lot of Hugh Jackman shirtless or clad in a tank top at best through most of the film. I also expected him to spend a lot of it sexily sweaty and basically justify the money spent on this film by his sheer hotness.
  2. I wanted to see Liev Schreiber in much the same way. And, if at all possible, I wanted him to stand very close to Hugh a lot so their combined hotness could make up for the many deficiencies in plot.
  3. I wanted Gambit to be awesome (and hot) since he was always one of my favorite X-Men and I hated that he didn’t end up in the previous three movies.

And that’s it. I had no expectations of a good plot, interesting characters, or any kind of depth. If you go into X-Men Origins with a similar mindset, you’re not likely to be disappointed. I wasn’t.

I got plenty of bare-chested, sexy sweaty Hugh Jackman (and bonus naked Hugh in a field) and Liev did oblige me by increasing the hot quotient on screen as much as the script allowed. Gambit didn’t quite make it to awesome status, but he did manage “pretty cool”.

Even though I can say pretty definitively that X-Men Origins was better than X-Men 3, possibly even better than X2, it still fell short in many areas, including the origin story itself. When we learn the tragic circumstances of Logan’s childhood in the first five minutes of the movie, it all happens too fast. Sure, we want to get to the good stuff (Hugh without a shirt!), but would it have hurt them to give maybe fifteen minutes of screen time to that opening scene? There was a whole comic series devoted to it, after all. I will say that when I read the graphic novel I felt the story wasn’t very compelling. But compared to the movie, it’s a masterpiece.

Following from this, we’re treated to a montage of Jimmy (aka Logan, aka Hugh) and Victor (aka Jimmy’s brother aka Liev aka Sabretooth?) testosteroning their way through various wars. Both brothers have fancy claws and healing powers and a propensity toward being kinda animalistic. But, of course, Logan is noble and restrained and Victor gives in to wanton excess.

If you weren’t aware that Victor was meant to be the bad guy in this film, you sure knew it when you saw him drag some (I assume) Vietnamese woman into a hut to (I assume) rape her and then kill an American soldier who attempts to stop him. I was actually impressed by how the credit Logan n’ Victor montage so effectively painted their stereotypes in a short amount of time. It saved us from anything like characterization.

Next up we meet a “special team” of people put together by Col. William Stryker – a sort of proto-X-Men but without the charm. I have to admit that when I saw Dominic Monaghan, will.i.am, and Ryan Reynolds in the credits I knew I was in for something “special”. Dom was tragically underused, will.i.am tragically overused, but Ryan hit the Goldilocks zone with some impressive early sword work and swagger followed by an offscreen “death”.

The real point of all this is to set up the eternal struggle between Logan and Victor which stems from the epic revelations during the credit montage – Victor has to prove his superiority by going to extremes of violence while Logan struggles with the blood on his hands and his familial obligations to a crazy man. Watch as Logan makes more and more sad, confused, and appalled facial expressions as the “special team” goes in with weapons and actually uses them on people. Watch as Logan cannot take it anymore, walks away from the bloodthirsty team and his brother, then settles in the Canadian Rockies with a raven-haired beauty. Watch as Victor shows up a few years later to just ruin it all!

Unfortunately, what we lost due to the exciting credit montage was any sense of why Logan and Victor stayed with each other for so long in the first place. The whole “we’re brothers and we have to stick together” bit only works in the short-term. If we’re going to be emotionally invested in their brotherhood, their yin-yang struggle, their rivalry, and emotional punch of their parting, the audience needs more than a montage and pithy dialogue to cement it.

The movie is liberally peppered with fight scenes that will appeal to many a fight scene geek. You get a good mix of fisticuffs, snappy dialogue, and CGIed mutant powers. Most of these many fights aren’t terribly necessary, mind, but this is an action movie. If everyone solved their issues by talking it would be a Kevin Smith joint.

People who love fight scenes and mutant powers will probably like this movie. People who want to see hot guys showing off their hot bodies while being broody and angst-filled will probably like this movie. People who wanted some justification for the hot mess that was the last 30 minutes of X2 will probably like this movie.

But if you’re a huge fan of the X-Men comics, of the Wolverine origin story in particular, of non-cliched uses of female characters, or of logic and reason in storytelling, you may hate this movie.

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