In an effort to milk the cash machine dry, studios are coming up with fairly new and elaborate methods of sustaining their tent pole franchises. A tent pole is any film that a studio expects to make a boat full of money by selling tickets, spawning sequels, selling DVDs, selling toys, etc., etc. Generally, tent poles involve superheroes and special effects and hit the multiplexes in the summer, when all of the kids are out of school. Fox hit the payload a number of years ago when they created "X-Men" along with Marvel Comics. Two sequels followed and now they have started a new line of films called "X-Men Origins". Presumably, the idea is to create a film exploring the myth and creation of each of the individual members of the X-Men. Whether this works or not (an entire film telling the story of Storm doesn't seem to hold as much interest as say an entire film telling the story of Wolverine) remains to be seen. But the first film is out and it is pretty good.
Hugh Jackman returns as Wolverine and the story begins when he is a child growing up in Canada in the mid 1800s. Logan seems like a sickly child, living with his mom and dad in a palatial home. One night, as a snowstorm rages, there is a fight and Logan stumbles downstairs to find Victor's dad fighting with his father. When Logan becomes mad, he retaliates and kills Victor's dad with his bone talons. Victor learns that he and Logan are brothers and befriends the younger boy, taking him to safety in the forest. In an interesting montage, we watch as the two brothers fight side by side in the Civil War, World War I, World War II and Vietnam. They learn early on that they are virtually indestructible and want to put that and their blood lust to some good. During the Vietnam War, Victor and Logan end up in the brig and General William Stryker (Danny Huston) shows up, ready and willing to rescue them. The General is confident they will make an excellent addition to his team or mercenaries who will carry out very different types of missions. Victor fits in with the new team just fine; Agent Zero (David Henney) is Stryker's second in command and has the ability to control guns, Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) is your average smart aleck guy along for the ride until he starts to brandish the swords strapped to his back, Bolt (Dominic Monaghan, TV's "Lost") can control things, machines, people's thoughts, with his mind, Fred Dukes (Kevin Durand) can take a punch and John Wraith (Will I. Am) can make himself disappear and reappear in a different place. This is Stryker's mercenary force and Victor is all about brandishing his teeth and claws and running like the Sabretooth he is into battle. But Logan has had enough of the murder and blood lust and begins to have second thoughts. Years later, Logan is now living as a lumberjack in the Canadian wilderness. Very happy, he has found the woman of his dreams, Kayla Silverfox (Lynn Collins). Just when Logan thought his life would be peaceful and idyllic, Sabretooth and Stryker reappear to shake things up again. This leads Logan to participate in Stryker's new experiment, and allow him to introduce a strange metal, adamantium, to his bones, making Wolverine virtually indestructible. But Stryker has ulterior motives. When Wolverine learns of this, he escapes and teams up with Wraith to find Gambit (Taylor Kitsch, TV's "Friday Night Lights"), a New Orleans gambler who can control things moving through space. He thinks Gambit may be able to help him put an end to Stryker's experiments.
"Wolverine" is an interesting film, and it has a lot of great action scenes, but there are problems.
I always find it interesting when a high profile, big budget film like this is directed by a filmmaker who has experience on much smaller films; the director, Gavin Hood, first became known for the Oscar nominated South African film "Tsotsi". It was a very good film exploring the lives and relationships of a number of people who live in the slums of South Africa. But I would be surprised if it cost $1 Million Dollars. "Wolverine", on the other hand, cost more than $100 Million Dollars. Like "Pineapple Express", a big budget comedy directed by David Gordon Green, Hood brings a unique sensibility to the material, concentrating a lot of time and story on the relationships in Wolverine's life. This helps to make the film more interesting than a lot of summer movie fare. And this type of situation happens so infrequently in big budget summer films that it warrants mention, which is a sad statement for me to make. Because of the sheer amount of dollars spent on these films, you might expect them to spend an inordinate amount of time making sure the screenplay is perfect, the characters believable, and the story suspenseful. But in many, many cases, most of the money is spent on the action and special effects leaving every other aspect of the film to flounder and flop.
Hugh Jackman became an A Lister playing Wolverine, and he continues to give his portrayal of the character everything he has. In "Wolverine", we see a slightly different aspect of the character. As a young man, as he fights beside Victor, we see that he is fighting to satisfy a bloodlust, he is putting this need to a good use fighting for our country in many, many wars. It is interesting to see this and fit it into the puzzle of the three "X-Men" films and realize this is what Professor Xavier has been trying to help Logan control for so many years.
It is also interesting to see Logan truly in love with Kayla. As he thinks he has escaped General Stryker and his team, he is truly happy trying to live a normal life with this lovely woman. They live in a little cabin in the woods. She is a teacher, he is a lumberjack. Sure, he has nightmares, but his life is good. This becomes all the more poignant when you consider his later relationship with Jane Gray.
This idyll is soon threatened. Stryker shows up with Agent Zero and warns Logan about someone killing former members of his crew. And Victor has also gone rogue. Soon Victor shows up and tears Logan's life apart. This leads Logan to seek revenge and accept an offer to participate in one of Stryker's experiments. Victor is virtually indestructible, but Stryker has a new metal compound that he wants to fuse to Logan's skeletal structure, making him all the more indestructible and deadly. And Wolverine is officially born.
Live Schreiber is very interesting as Sabretooth. Logan's brother, Victor suffers from a similar mutation in that his fingernails can become claws and he grows fangs. This, and his catlike run, make him Sabretooth. But Victor is different from Logan in that he seems to have no remorse when he kills. This makes him more ruthless, more villainous and harder to control.
Schreiber seems to have a lot of fun with the role and really sinks his teeth into the character. (Har, har!)
Danny Huston also does a good job of portraying General Stryker. Suitably villainous and mysterious, he is working on a project that provides the backbone to the film. He takes the team to Africa when he hears of the discovery of a rare metal substance. Each of the team members has a unique ability and all come into play when they try to storm the compound of an African Warlord. When the warlord realizes his men have been outnumbered and out skilled, he offers the piles of diamonds on his desk. But Stryker wants what appears to be a worthless hunk of metal. It is adamantium.
Taylor Kitsch plays Gambit, a New Orleans gambler who has the ability to control the movement of objects. He pops up late in the story but quickly becomes Wolverine's ally and helps him throughout the remainder of the film. He has a coupe of unique powers to offer and these are neat to watch.
I have a few complaints with "Wolverine". First, in a film labeled "Origins", I was sort of expecting to get at least an indication of what caused Wolverine to have this mutation. Why does he have bone claws coming through his knuckles whenever he gets mad? Why is he seemingly indestructible? I can understand why this was left vague in the "X-Men" films. But in a film exploring the origins of a single character, we have time to at least touch on this item. Also, since we quickly learn Victor is his brother, and has a similar mutation, I feel it becomes even more important to learn why they have this mutation.
My other complaint is that many interesting people are introduced and then simply disappear or seem underutilized. During the scenes with General Stryker, we meet all of the members of his team and see how they utilize their unique powers to help Stryker achieve his goals. When the film picks up a number of years later, we find Bolt (Monaghan) now working at a deteriorating carnival using his powers to unimpress the paying patrons. A brief throwaway line a few minutes later clues us in to the fate of Deadpool (Reynolds). Deadpool is an interesting character and I would like to have seen him in action more.
So "Wolverine" is fun, filled with action and shows some promise for Jackman. But it also sidelines some of the characters too quickly and doesn't give others enough time to shine.
A side note, they are already working on a "Wolverine" sequel and a separate film detailing the origins of Deadpool. I wonder if that film will be called "X-Men: Origins: Wolverine: Origins: Deadpool".