The idea of a prequel to the X-Men films made nine years after the original was always a shaky one and X-Men Origins: Wolverine has a lot of problems.
For those of you not familiar with the universe of these films, they are live action adaptations of the Marvel comics which feature mutants (that is humans with special powers).
The first two – X-Men (2000) and X-Men 2 (2003) – were directed by Bryan Singer and were really rather good, with an array of interesting characters, exciting action sequences and ideas you don’t normally get in comic book movies.
The third film in 2006 sadly let the team down as Singer had chosen to direct Superman Returns and Brett Ratner was given the gig.
However, the undoubted star of this hugely successful franchise was Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, the snarly mutant with an ability to heal himself, an unbreakable skeleton and claws that shoot out of his fists.
You may have forgotten that he only got the role at the last minute because Dougray Scott injured himself during Mission Impossible 2 and shooting delays meant he couldn’t do the film.
Hugh took his place and a movie star was born as he was great in the role and connected with a lot of fans and the general public at large.
However, with nearly all successful franchises the decline in quality starts to kick in around the third film and the fact that Fox wanted to make an X-Men spin-off one of their summer tentpoles suggests that things are a little desperate.
I can’t think of a spin-off movie that has been successful and given that Marvel’s recent attempts in this arena includes the awful Elektra, things didn’t bode well.
But the reason Wolverine (let’s just call it that from now on) doesn’t work is two-fold: the central concept doesn’t work and it is executed poorly.
The plot is essentially the back-story of the Wolverine character and his time with Team X, before getting his adamantium skeleton.
If you remember Brian Cox’s character from X-Men 2, this is essentially the story of the flashbacks from that film.
And here lies the problem, because we have to get to grips with the fact that an older Jackman is playing a younger Wolverine.
Now, this shouldn’t matter because – as fans will no doubt remind you – his character doesn’t age due to his regenerative powers.
Only, it does matter because the whole film is set in the 1970s and (presumably) 1980s and hardly any concession is made to these in terms of period detail.
There is an interesting title sequence (referenced in the trailer) that plays around with the idea of Wolverine and his brother Victor (Liev Schrieber) fighting in battle throughout history but the rest of the film kind of shirks the time issue.
But worse than this is the fact the Gavin Hood is clearly the wrong director for this sort of material.
Although his Oscar-winning Tsotsi won the Best Foreign Film Oscar and got him the attention of studios, he really doesn’t have the chops for this kind of film.
Some people may overlook the challenges of big-budget productions and assume directors for these are interchangeable but it does take a certain set of skills to mix story, character and visuals into an exciting mix.
Hood was reportedly the choice of Jackman, who is a producer on the film, and he seems caught between doing a character piece and a straightforward superhero film.
Unfortunately the story is hamstrung by the inevitability of where it is going, but more importantly it suffers from undercooked ideas, flabby pacing and action sequences that never come alive.
In addition, the visual effects are disappointing for a film of this budget and scale. There are times when the match between live action and CGI is poor and this really matters when it gets to the big sequences like the climax.
Another striking fault is the waste of a really fine supporting cast as Schrieber, Danny Huston and Lynn Collins are all excellent actors given wafer thin roles.
The new mutant characters are also pretty poor – you know you have problems when one of them is a teleporting will.i.am (!) and another is basically a large fat guy.
All of this is a shame because Jackman is still engaging as Wolverine but the wit and charm have been toned down from the earlier X-Men films and despite a darker story, never really goes to a more interesting place.
Much of the buzz on this film throughout the production has been negative with reports of Fox and Hood at loggerheads during the shoot and it culminated in a leak of a full length workprint on the internet a few weeks ago.
Beacuse it is the first summer blockbuster with a multi-million dollar marketing campaign, it is almost guarenteed a huge opening, but I’d be surprised if it doesn’t drop off fairly quickly when Star Trek hits theaters the following week.
If this is indeed the case, Fox may claim piracy had an effect on box office but the convenience of that excuse hides the more telling reality that this film is the reheated remanants of former glories.
> Wolverine at the IMDb
> More on the X-Men series at Wikipedia
> Reviews of the film at Metacritic