Release Date: May 1
Director: Gavin Hood
Writers: David Benioff, Skip Woods
Cinematographer: Donald McAlpine
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Danny Huston, Liev Schreiber, Will i Am, Taylor Kitsch
Studio/Run Time: 20th Century Fox, 107 mins.
Vague, listless shot at superhero mythos
Low concept and lower impact, X-Men Origins: Wolverine is the kind of relentlessly generic studio spectacle that only kind souls would consider a real movie. A very minor work in a comic-book canon that has taken on a new life in recent years, the film arrives in loose pieces—some serviceable, others totally incoherent. It is, by its final moments, the sort of listless movie fans fear and general audiences endure on idle summer nights year after year, mostly just because it's there.
The movie pitches itself as a prequel to three other X-Men movies, an opportunity to hearken back (it opens in 1845) and provide an expedited version of Wolverine's life story, with a heavy emphasis on the parts where things blow up. Of course, Wolverine’s past has already played out in the other movies, so this rehash is driven not by actual curiosity but by commerce.
But then all blockbusters are created to make money—even very good ones like The Dark Knight—so that’s not really the problem. Besides, X-Men as a franchise was already severely banged up by X-Men: The Last Stand, the third entry released in 2006, which traded the introspective restraint of the imperfect original movies for a breathless exercise in burning through FX dollars. In truth, all Wolverine really needs to do is provide the title character an opportunity for photogenic swagger with a familiar emotional backdrop and popcorn action to sell tickets.
This, alas, does not seem to be within the range of Gavin Hood, the movie's director. An American-trained South African filmmaker who established himself at home and eventually claimed a Best Foreign Film Oscar for Tsotsi in 2006, Hood returned to Hollywood to make the anti-torture parable Rendition in 2007. On Wolverine, his largest production yet, he seems distinctly out of his element. The action sequences are particularly galling, tossed together with slow motion and set design that looks as if it would crumble with a single touch. And the movie strangely assumes our familiarity with the X-Men and at the same time behaves like every flicker of superpowers is a complete novelty—an off-kilter tic that will leave many dumbfounded.
There remains for our consideration an almost sad effort by Hugh Jackman and nimble new supporting players to rise above the muddle. Jackman, who made a name for himself with this franchise, occasionally gets in a line that sticks, and if only for a moment he provides a glimpse at the movie Wolverine might have been. Before long, though, it’s off to another nameless locale for more cement-crashing, grudge-exacting inanity.
A decade ago, just before the original X-Men opened and began to suggest the creative revolution ahead for the comic-book movie, X-Men Origins: Wolverine might have been passable as a superhero vehicle. Luckily, we’ve come a long way.