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Dustin Putman

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X-Men Origins: Wolverine  (2009)
1 Stars
Directed by Gavin Hood.
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber, Danny Huston, Lynn Collins, Ryan Reynolds, Taylor Kitsch, Dominic Monaghan, Will.i.Am, Kevin Durand, Daniel Henney, Scott Adkins, Tim Pocock, Julia Blake, Max Cullen, Troye Sivan, Michael-James Olsen, Patrick Stewart.
2009 – 107 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for action and violence, and some partial nudity).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, April 29, 2009.
With Sam Raimi's wondrous, grandly-scaled "Spider-Man" films and Christopher Nolan's complex, haunting "The Dark Knight" raising the bar so high on what can be accomplished in comic book and superhero movies, "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" falls more in line with infamous duds like the Halle Berry-starring "Catwoman" and unnecessary "Daredevil" spinoff "Elektra." Stacked next to those figurative buffets, these substantially lesser efforts amount to spare crumbs on a tablecloth. In forming a prequel to the "X-Men" trilogy—2000's "X-Men," 2003's "X2," and 2006's "X-Men: The Last Stand," all respectable—this sorry cash-in tells a tale that must end with the title mutant experiencing amnesia in order to coincide with the earlier films' narratives. While this is a minor issue in the larger scheme of things, it does paint James Logan's/Wolverine's (Hugh Jackman) back-story as a semi-tragic one that hardly matters. If he is to press on in life without the memory of a gone-rogue brother and an ill-fated love interest, then why should we as viewers bother to care or put a stake in what happens?

Believe it or not, "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" has even bigger problems. The direction by Gavin Hood (2007's "Rendition") is pedestrian, placing no individual stamp on the material. He isn't helped by a screenplay credited to David Benioff (2007's "The Kite Runner") and Skip Woods (2007's "Hitman") that feels rushed, underdeveloped, and formulated on the spot. The amount of crafty ideas that have gone into the film mostly subside by the end of the opening credits—an imaginative, dizzying montage of ageless, immortal mutant siblings James Logan and Victor Creed/Sabretooth (Liev Schreiber) living through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as seen through their experiences serving in the Civil War, World War II, and Vietnam—and all that is left are some been-there-done-that action scenes, some overprocessed green screen work, a lot of hokey drama, and one very nonsensical plot hole.

Approached by government official William Stryker (Danny Huston) to join fellow mutants in a "special team with special privileges," Logan and Creed at first accept the offer. When their missions become too shady and much blood is spilled (being a PG-13, this occurs offscreen), though, Logan cuts ties with everyone, including the morally unsound Creed, and makes a home for himself in the Canadian Rockies. Six years later, he is living a peaceful lumberjack lifestyle with girlfriend Kayla (Lynn Collins) when Stryker returns to offer him a chance to be a part of a top-secret Weapon X program. Not far behind is Creed, who promptly murders Kayla. With the love of his life gone, Logan sets out for revenge against his wayward brother and stumbles upon revelations that will turn all that he has known and believed on its head.

First, the plot gaffe. If Logan is portrayed early on as immortal and invincible—he survives multiple wars and battles, and is even tied up and shot full of lead, only to walk away unscathed—then what is the purpose of allowing Stryker's organization to implant Adamantium, an indestructible metal alloy, into his body? No matter before or after this procedure, there isn't a moment in time where the viewer worries that Logan's life might be in danger. Following a brief childhood prologue and the aforementioned credits sequence, "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" does a compact job setting up the other mutants on the Stryker-led team that Logan and Creed join. From the talkative, lightning-quick Wade Wilson/Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) to the electricity-controlling Chris Bradley/Bolt (Dominic Monaghan), these new characters show promise, and then unceremoniously fade away. Once the setting switches to the Canadian Rockies, the picture meanders until an ending that introduces a famed character from "X-Men" lore to chronologically tie it into the other movies. Individual scenes are passable, like a motorcycle chase involving a pursuing helicopter or Logan's unlikely run-in with a kindly elderly couple (Julia Blake, Max Cullen) who show him compassion and give him a place to stay, but they stand apart from the movie as a whole. Simply put, there is no building of momentum, no "wow" moments, and a nagging sense of prosaic listlessness.

In preparing to reprise his role as the knuckle-clawed Logan/Wolverine, Hugh Jackman (2008's "Australia") has worked out and pumped up. His muscles are more impressive than his forgettable performance—a shadow of what he has done with the character in the past. When Logan discovers the dead body of Kayla and yells/roars while clutching his fists at the sky, the very cliché of it all is enough to roll anybody's eyes. As ally-turned-antagonist Creed/Sabretooth, Liev Schreiber (2006's "The Omen") is more spot-on in his animalistic turn, even when motivation is spotty. Lynn Collins (2007's "The Number 23") comes closest to bringing honest emotion to her part of Kayla, but her relationship with Logan is almost weightless, consequently putting a damper on a few third-act reveals. The rest of the notable cast—among them, Taylor Kitsch (2006's "The Covenant") as Remy LeBeau/Gambit, the lone past escapee of a mutant confinement camp whom Logan looks to for help; Ryan Reynolds (2009's "Adventureland") as Wade Wilson/Deadpool; and Dominic Monaghan (2003's "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King") as Chris Bradley/Bolt—are underused.

"X-Men Origins: Wolverine" is not nearly as visually or creatively inspired as the recent "Watchmen," but the two films share one thing in common: they both leave the viewer cold. The cinema is no place for emotional detachment—every motion picture, good or bad, should at least elicit a response—but "X-Men Origins: Wolverine," with its throwaway action set-pieces, two-dimensional characters and lame script, offers nothing to respond to. Compared to the previous "X-Men" features, even the scope and grandeur feel miniscule. The movie ultimately just sits there, sputtering on fumes, without giving the audience something to invest their interests in.
© 2009 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman