Summer Movie A-Go-Go: “Wolverine”
Well, that slow Sunday afternoon I was expecting came along, and so away to the movies I went. And I bring good news! Despite what you may have heard, X-Men Origins: Wolverine is not that bad. Of course, when we talk about a “bad” Marvel movie, we’re thinking of Daredevil, Elektra, Ghost Rider…y’know. BAAAAD movies.
Wolverine’s just Not Very Good. Which may in fact make it even worse. I’ll explain in a second.
So what does it get right? Well…Hugh Jackman is in it, and even at his most dour and weepy (and yes, there is the “cradling a dead lover and shouting NOOOOOO!!!! at the sky” moment), it’s still Jackman. So Wolverine’s got both the swagger and screaming that you expect. And the introduction to two potential spin-off characters, Gambit and Deadpool, works pretty well, even if Deadpool rather arbitrarily becomes a fifth-act mega-villain who’s not the least bit interesting but does manage to destroy Three-Mile Island (yeah, that’s what did it, apparently). And the action sequences are really lovely – elegantly choreographed and not-choppily-edited fight scenes and explosions, which is often, sadly, a lot to ask for from an action movie.
But ultimately, it’s just not much FUN. It aims for operatic drama, but mostly tacks convoluted plotting, half-assed quasi-Indian symbolism, and silly melodrama onto what really should’ve been a tough-guy military/revenge thriller (living weapon quits army life; is drawn back into it through duplicitous means; goes for revenge – simple, right?). It also absolutely murders its pacing by trying to explain everything in the Wolverine mythos, needed or not.
For instance: before getting to that scene from the trailer of Wolverine riding a motorcycle towards an attacking helicopter, there is a whole sequence revealing why he likes motorcycles, and where he got his rad leather jacket. These aren’t even the same motorcycle and jacket he had in the first X-Men, because they’re both abandoned by the end. So an extended bit of this movie offers the secret origin of a couple of throwaway props.
The fourth-act introduction of a mutant internment camp is there only so they can be rescued by Wolverine and mentally directed to safety by a weird, plastic CGI stand-in for Patrick Stewart. Why? Presumably to explain an old throwaway line about Xavier maybe knowing more about Wolverine than he admits – while adding a needless subplot to an already overlong movie.
And oddly, one continuity glitch that really should be addressed – how did Sabretooth go from being a vendetta-minded sociopath to the savage near-mute who barely seems to recognize Wolverine in the first X-Men? – never gets touched on. Maybe Liev Schreiber will show up bigger and hairier and dumber in the next movie, I dunno.
Which might explain this one’s flaws. After all, it’s not just a movie in its own right – it’s a prequel/sequel to the X-Men franchise, the set-up to a Wolverine franchise, AND a seeder for potential spin-off movies for Deadpool and/or Gambit (both played ably by Ryan Reynolds and Taylor Kitch for five minutes apiece). That’s a lot for one movie to live up to – hence the overblown aims of importance.
But “importance” is a dangerous aim for a superhero movie. You might get a Dark Knight…or you might get a Superman Returns. “Fun” should really be the goal of a superhero movie. At best, you’ll get Iron Man, which succeeds because entertainment is its real pursuit. At worst, you get Ghost Rider, which is utterly silly and occasionally bizarre, but it doesn’t for a moment take itself seriously, so can still bring a smile to a jaded face (well, mine, anyway).
Even the Bad Marvel movies have a kind of madcap spirit (Punisher shooting a guy out of the air with a rocket launcher; Nic Cage laughing as his skull combusts; Bullseye killing an old lady with a peanut). By only being Not Very Good, Wolverine goes into the same box as the Ang Lee Hulk movie, the first Fantastic Four, and the third X-Men and Spider-Man movies. They’re better crafted than the crap movies, but too self-serious to be all that entertaining.
Save your money for the rental, is what I’m saying.