Well, bub…another year, another X-Men movie. Marvel Studios and Fox continue expanding its X-Men film universe with the addition of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the first in a series of Origins spin-offs designed to focus on specific characters from the X-Men franchise. With the movie already proving to be a box office blast, I’m sure we’ll get all the way to X-Men Origins: Xavier’s Wheelchair before this franchise runs out of steam. So what other film hero could possibly best the Wolverine? How about another team member who goes solo on film? Yes, another “man of metal”…Iron Man, founder of The Avengers (due out in 2011…you’re welcome, Marvel)! So today, sparks fly, metal on metal, adamantium and iron clashing to determine which of hero can hold his own alone?
Hugh Jackman returns to the role that made him an American star in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, directed by Rendition director Gavin Hood. Taking place roughly fifteen years before Bryan Singer’s X-Men, X-Men Origins: Wolverine explores Logan’s journey in becoming an amnesiac mutant with indestructible adamantium-laced claws. William Stryker, the bigoted villain of X2: X-Men United, is back with a plan to genetically-create a “mutant-killing” soldier for the coming species war–a plan that inadvertently creates Wolverine. New to the fray are fan favorites Gambit and Deadpool, each helping and hindering Logan as he tries to track down another familiar face, Sabertooth. Jam-packed with comic book cameos, witty one-liners, and over-the-top thrills, X-Men Origins: Wolverine is a fast-paced action adventure which moves as swiftly and ruthlessly as its main character.
The Defending Champion
Marvel Studios took a risk with Iron Man, taking one of their B-list characters and propelling him to A-list status under the guidance of Jon Favreau and Robert Downey Jr. In Iron Man, billagazillionaire Tony Stark returns home after witnessing the atrocities of the Middle East (and nearly dying himself) and promises to make his company something more than just weapons manufacturers. He builds an impressive suit of armor, chalked full of gadgets to help him fight those who’d abuse his company’s weapons. The film captures the utter spirit of Marvel comic books: light-hearted, though sometimes brooding, with a little action to sweeten the deal. This is a fun universe that is also dangerous, centered on Downey’s amazing turn as the cynical, sexual, sarcastic, arrogant Stark.
I’m not going to waste anytime. I wish I had a pair of Iron Man’s repulser gauntlets to blast the screen with as I watched X-Men Origins: Wolverine. In fact, I wish I also had those gauntlets to blast any of my fellow audience members who laughed and ogled at this film monstrosity.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine is a mess. Rife with continuity errors, plot holes, poor characterization, and cheesy action, the film fails to ever take its talent or characters seriously enough to make for a compelling adventure. Gone are the themes that made X-Men and X2: X-Men United so compelling: prejudice, race war, alienation. Unlike Iron Man, whose themes on technology and greed were simple and clearly presented in a fun and engaging fashion, X-Men Origins: Wolverine simply doesn’t care enough. When it tries to care, we get empty monologues on patriotism and revenge and lame little stories about some lost lover of the moon.
Jackman’s return as Wolverine is tragic. X-Men Origins: Wolverine completes the comedic caricature of Wolverine that X-Men: The Last Stand started, presenting a over-serious but somehow always-witty bad ass with a heart of gold. Gone is the ruthless loner of X-Men and X2: X-Men United. This time around, Logan wanders around trying to find the man who killed and whines about a lost love and deals with family issues. Is he a badass? Nope. The entire movie fails to offer a “savage Wolverine moment” like that of the 5-minute sequence in X2 where Logan defends Xavier’s mansion.
Compare this to Tony Stark, who is engaging and fun while also lonely and conflicted. It’s an engaging mix of characteristics that play nicely into Tony Stark’s rise in becoming Iron Man. It also produces variety, as the Tony Stark in one scene is different from other scenes yet always consistent in his central characterization. We appreciate Stark’s sarcasm as defense mechanism of his trust issues, and as a natural extension of his ego. Wolverine’s always funny, always witty, and always trying so hard to be a bad ass that we’re bored with him in the first few minutes. There’s no variety and more importantly… There’s absolutely no growth as a character!
The change in Wolverine’s character in X-Men Origins is largely medical, as the movie simply intends to show us how Wolverine became an amnesiac prior to the beginnings of X-Men. These new films by Marvel Studios seem to want to establish and expand worlds, showcasing our favorite heroes development into the one’s we know and love. Whatever its flaws, Iron Man does this and does it well. Tony Stark goes from a greedy industrialist to a ruthless armored humanitarian. Wolverine starts out as a conflicted loner and ends as a memory-less loner. Not much of a change; certainly not one that’d move or engage an audience.
While Iron Man may not have had enough action, X-Men Origins has too much and it’s not quality action. Instead of embracing the raw brutality of Wolverine’s powers, the creative team behind this film simply made the action so over-the-top-90s-Die-Hard that Wolverine should’ve just not had the claws. Explosions are coupled with Logan strutting away and characters have a variety of slowed-down-look-how-cool-we-are moments that just get repetitive and boring. Iron Man embraced the uniqueness of Iron Man’s powers, of a man in an iron suit full of gadgets. Iron Man has flares, air brakes, repulser rays, mini-bombs…
One thing that Iron Man clearly has over it’s challenger is editing. X-Men Origins is an editing mess, a hodgepodge of scenes that serve only to get Wolverine from point-A to point-B. There is a variety to the editing of Iron Man, a rhythm that like good music seduces the audience into the film world. X-Men Origins’ flat editing makes an already boring character more boring.
But X-Men Origins: Wolverine’s largest flaw is one innate to itself and perhaps has nothing to do with Iron Man. As a prequel, it just doesn’t work. This film is not a re-boot, it’s a prequel. However, it’s a prequel that completely sabotages the established histories of X-Men trilogy. A lot of this results from attempting to shoehorn fan favorites into the film. For example, Wolverine and Sabertooth (one of Magneto’s henchmen in X-Men) are revealed to be brothers in this film. Yet in X-Men, Sabertooth never recognizes or speaks about Logan being his brother. The animalistic, quiet portrayal of Sabertooth is not honored in X-Men Origins, and the relationship purported is never logically explained against the backdrop of the franchise.
Another pathetic example of this is the inclusion of Scott Summers so early in the franchise. Also, Charles Xavier makes an appearance…despite the fact that his efforts would’ve prevented the entire movie’s central plot to begin with. And since X2 established that Xavier knew Stryker and his son, a large plot hole lingers as to why Stryker was able to kidnap these students and why he didn’t give Wolverine more information in the later movies. At the end of X-Men, Xavier points Wolverine in the direction of Alkali Lake and not the Three Mile Island where this film’s climax takes place–the place where Logan loses his memory. William Stryker is seen to be a murderer, and murderer that within fifteen years will have the ear of the United States President somehow. After being shot in the head on Three Miles Island, Wolverine wakes up with no memory of who he is and is met by Gambit (a pathetic-forced character if there ever was one). However in X-Men, when Wolverine goes to find his memories, he never thinks to go back to Three Mile Island or to Gambit…what the hell? And you think there would be some clues; what with that whole nuclear reactor crumbling to shreds and clear evidence of mutant experimentation down below this facility.
Oh, and that fifteen years that takes place between X-Men Origins and X-Men…well, ignore that. X-Men Origins is full of high-end modern LCDs and gadgetry. Character ages don’t match up with the rest of the trilogy. Instead of embracing the uniqueness of Wolverine’s journey through the 70s and 80s, Gavin Hood and Co. neuter any uniqueness for…well, budget reasons maybe? Either way, this is just one of many the continuity errors riddling X-Men Origins.
Because of this, audiences will find themselves scratching their heads at X-Men Origins, wondering how it fits into the franchise, contemplating the huge character and mythology changes. And while this at least gives us something to do in a movie that could even bore a PBS telethon host, it’s just too much work…it’s also depressing to watch a horrible film attempt to maim the detailed and elegant mythologies of Singer’s two X-Men films.
What is even more tragic is that screenwriter David Beinoff’s (25th Hour, Troy) first pass on this script was a strong depiction of a loner hero seeking revenge, introducing many Marvel favorites while fitting quite seamlessly into the X-Men franchise’s canon. Then, Skip Woods comes along to re-write the script, bringing with him all the skill and talent that made 2008’s Hitman such a wonderful piece of cinematic trash. It’s shameful really.
This one is won by default. Welded by director Gavid Hood and screenwriter Skip Woods, adamantium is far from indestructible. This time, iron dices adamantium, and no amount of healing ability is going to save X-Men Origins: Wolverinefrom the well-directed fun that isIron Man.