Friday, May 1, 2009

Review: X-Men Origins: Wolverine (***1/2)

Directed by Gavin Hood
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Danny Huston, Liev Schreiber, Ryan Reynolds, Lynn Collins, Dominic Monaghan, Taylor Kitsch, Kevin Durand, Will i Am, Scott Adkins, Daniel Henney, Julia Blake, Tim Pocock, Troye Sivan, Max Cullen, Patrick Stewart, Michael-James Olsen.
2009--107 minutes
Rated PG-13 (violence, partial nudity)

"X-Men Origins: Wolverine" is nothing if not the biggest surprise I've had at the movies this year (tied with the unexpectedly masterful "Knowing"). The trailers were largely lacking and made the movie appear campy instead of intriguing. Lo and behold, it's completely the other way around. An enthralling entertainment at best, "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" had potential to be a disaster, but instead, director Gavin Hood has crafted the second-best entry in the installment, after 2003's unbeatable "X2," and certainly rights the wrongs made by Brett Ratner in 2006's disastrous "X-Men: The Last Stand." Whereas the latter film was simultaneously turgid in pacing and too short in length (104 minutes), this film, only three minutes longer at 107, makes the most out of it and presents visually dazzling action sequences and surprisingly effective character developing for the title superhero.

As a child, Jimmy Logan killed his father. This accidental murder is a chilling first five minutes, provocative and insightful about Jimmy's future path. His brother, Victor, practically raises him, until they join a possibly criminal pact of vigilantes--among them, Deadpool, Bolt, Blob, Agent Zero, and Wraith--who do anything and everything, including killing innocents, to get what they need. That is, until they cross the line from Jimmy's point of view, forcing him to leave the group.

Fast forward six years. Jimmy lives happily in the Canadian Rockies with wife Kayla, until she is brutally murdered by Victor as a way to get back at Jimmy for leaving the group (don't worry, as I'm not ruining anything). This pushes Jimmy to the edge, and he teams up with former group leader Stryker, who presents him the option of injecting adamantium, a super-hard metal, into his bones and body. Jimmy, now called "Wolverine" and practically indestructible, joins forces with former team member Wraith and villain-turned-ally Gambit to bring down Stryker, Victor, and whoever else gets in his way.

"X-Men Origins: Wolverine" impresses in a big way, with cleanly plotted storytelling and a distinct visual style that works in a completely different way than its predecessors. Also helping matters is a great cast, led by a fiercely felt performance by Hugh Jackman as Jimmy Logan. Jackman has never been better thus far in this role, which has understandably been drawn out to feature length after years of being shoved to the side in a supporting part. Aiding Jackman are supporting performances, by Liev Schreiber as Victor and Danny Huston as Stryker, that are meatier than they may appear at the outset. Schreiber comes up with the best performance in the film, oozing menace and sarcasm as Victor. Huston perhaps has less to do (simply act suspiciously throughout the film), but that's necessary, as the audience is never certain of his intentions. Smaller roles leave a deeper impression than normal, most notably an especially on-target Ryan Reynolds as the lightning-fast Deadpool.

The film is not perfect. The choice to include famed "X-Men" character Gambit turns out to be nothing that special, even if Taylor Kitsch plays the character well. Gambit is, sadly, extraneous and not nearly as much of an impact as the others who help out Wolverine through the course of the picture. Also, the CGI work is a bit iffy in spots and somewhat takes away (though not much) from the razzle-dazzle; for a perfect example, take the trailer's money shot of Wolverine hanging out of a jeep and ripping his claws through another jeep. The shot is amazingly bad, but all is forgiven as the scene loses none of its armchair-gripping suspense. The finale, however, is absolutely flawless in its integration of action and effects work.

In the end, "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" is no more than a great actioner for the Friday night crowd, but it has something deeper at work in its thematics and characterization. Wolverine was never the most likeable hero, but with Hugh Jackman's brilliant performance and David Benioff and Skip Woods's near-cerebral take on the character, he's now at least understood. It's a tragic story that surrounds Jimmy Logan/Wolverine, and director Gavin Hood has embraced that story full-on, despite a few flaws, with pathos, intelligence, and pure, action-laden fun. If Hood stays, these origin stories may be huge fun to watch.

1 comment:

Actionman said...

Nice review, I still want to check it out.

Did you see Hood's other films? Rendition (underrated) and Tsotsi (excellent).