Movie Review: Wolverine
By Matthew Huntley
May 11, 2009
I think my friend Sean put it best when he described Wolverine as "claw porn." After the screening, we discussed how the movie was obsessed with showing off the hero's adamantium claws, but not much else. Too bad it wasn't just as preoccupied with story or character.
It's funny how every time Wolverine clenches his fists, his claws produce a "sheathing" sound effect, despite the fact they're not actually rubbing against anything. But never mind - the underlying problem is the filmmakers seem to consider Wolverine's claws the most interesting aspect of his character, which is where the movie goes wrong.
Out of all the X-Men, I actually consider Wolverine to be one of the least interesting. He may be one of coolest and most bada*s of superheroes, and it'd be cool to be him, but at the end of the day, his mutant powers and background don't make for a very compelling story, at least not in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. And yet, as in all of the X-Men movies, so much focus is placed on him and his retractable claws. Do the filmmakers think this is all fans want to see?
If Wolverine is any indication of how the other X-Men origin stories will turn out, then we're all in trouble. This is a tired, lackadaisical movie with cheap special effects and almost no memorable action scenes. It lacks the essential rush many superhero movies generate with their inherent sense of awe and the empathy we feel as a result of the hero's personal struggles. Wolverine's conflict is dumbed down and feels yanked out of a routine action movie that might have starred Steven Seagal or Jean-Claude Van Damme (when you read about the plot, you'll know what I mean).
The movie opens in the Northwest Territory of Canada in 1865, where a young boy named Jimmy lies sick in bed. Jimmy will eventually grow up to become Logan (a.k.a. Wolverine), but it's this particular night he discovers he's a mutant and learns he has retractable bone claws that extend through his knuckles. I'll not reveal the event that triggers his newfound ability, but Jimmy also finds out he has a half-brother named Victor, also a mutant. Like Jimmy, Victor is impervious to injury and his weapons come in the form of sharp fingernails. Victor will grow up to become Sabretooth, a longtime nemesis of Wolverine.
After an ingenious opening credit sequence, in which see the grown-up Logan (Hugh Jackman) and Victor (Liev Schreiber) serve in every major American war, Victor's insatiable need to hunt and kill gets them both sentenced to death by a firing squad, only the bullets fail to make much of an impact. An army colonel named William Stryker (Danny Huston) offers them freedom if they join his special task force, a team that includes other mutant recruits, including Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds), an expert swordsman with the ability to slice through speeding bullets; John Wraith (will.i.am), who can teleport; Fred Dukes (Kevin Durand), whose giant size and strength eventually earn him the moniker, The Blob; and Chris Bradley (Dominic Monaghan), who can generate and control electricity with his mind.
After Logan witnesses the corruption and devastation Stryker's team causes (the team is on a mission to find a rare element), he goes into exile, working as a lumberjack and falling in love with Kayla (Lynn Collins), who possesses the gift of persuasion. Naturally, Stryker and Victor find Logan and have a plan for him. Without giving away crucial plot details, which you can no doubt assume for yourself, Logan undergoes a scientific procedure that cements adamantium to his skeletal structure, thus turning him into the Wolverine we all know and love. Afterward, he embarks on a mission of revenge against Stryker and Victor.
There are a few decent moments in Wolverine, sure, including the scenes when Logan stumbles upon a remote farm where an older couple (Max Cullen and Julia Blake), not unlike Jonathan and Martha Kent, treat him like their long lost son. There's an amusing sequence when Logan tests his metal claws for the first time and destroys their bathroom sink.
But aside from a few bombastic action sequences, there's nothing about the movie that makes it terribly special. It plays like a routine action picture where even the most expensive scenes fail to invigorate us with much excitement. There's an ambitious helicopter sequence, which has been plugged in all the trailers and TV spots, but it falls flats and merely gives us the feeling of "eh."
What I don't understand is why screenwriters David Benioff and Skip Woods never give Logan any quiet moments of self-reflection, perhaps when he can step outside himself and his situation to ponder his own fate and purpose. The movie doesn't allow time for any personal moments. It's action scene after action scene, which are not very thrilling, and which make Wolverine less complex in our eyes. At least in the previous X-Men movies there was a mystique and curiosity about him that kept us interested in who he was. Now it just wants to show him off, along with too many other mutants like Gambit (Taylor Kitsch), who can manipulate energy with his playing cards, and Scott Summers (Tim Pocock), a.k.a. Cyclops.
Perhaps I've been spoiled by too many good superhero movies recently, including Spider-Man 2, Batman Begins, Iron Man, The Dark Knight and the overlooked Hellboy II. Wolverine just doesn't have the same drama or imagination as those films. Even on its own, it's a mediocre action extravaganza with no emotional hook or real sense of wonder. The filmmakers merely try to ride the image of Wolverine but forget it's a hero's character that makes us want to spend time with him, not his claws or leather jacket. If the filmmakers aren't willing to develop the character within a thoughtful story, why should we care about watching him?