Retro Review: Wolverine

[Just to let you know I’m not dead, here’s another retro review.]

Disclaimer: I am not a follower of the comic books. Though I enjoy superhero flicks, I just can’t get myself to read (or shell out the money for) a comic book. Therefore, my review of the movie will be based on just that—the movie. Besides the fact that my unfamiliarity with the comics disqualifies me from making judgments about the source material, I also believe that a movie should not be rated according to “how close it comes to the comics.” While that’s nice if you can pull it off, a movie should be able to stand on its own two feet. Therefore, I’m reviewing “Wolverine” according to how it works as a film.

The X-Men franchise is a rich industry. Aside from the thousands of comics and TV shows it has spawned, the franchise has also produced three popular movies. As each movie came out, the box office intake for each production gradually increased. So, naturally Fox Studios would want to capitalize on this money-maker. Hence, we have “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.” Taking advantage of the fact that the man with the claws is easily the most popular character from the films, the flick reveals the long-hidden backstory of Wolverine that is only hinted at in the first two X-men films. The question becomes: is this a movie worth seeing?

Many fans were disappointed with the third and most recent film, “X-Men 3: The Last Stand.” Can’t say I blame them. I’ve only seen it once, but I remember it as being a straightforward action-fest that tried to cram as many super-powered characters into the story as possible, sacrificing both character development and a sense of connection. Unlike the first two X-Men films, the third film was not so much about the characters but instead about having…well, a really big battle with lots of superpowers. If you prefer this, then “Wolverine” is for you. If not, you could be in for disappointment.

One of the problems I have with this movie is that it makes the same mistake the third X-Men movie made—try to put as many mutants in it as possible. While this will no doubt please some fans (Gambit finally makes his entrance into the movie franchise), it made the movie feel a little crowded. Though it focuses on the escapades of dear old Wolverine, the film is constantly including characters with powers for no more reason than to wink at the audience and say “now isn’t that cool?” In some cases, it’s acceptable, maybe even necessary, but not everycharacter in the film needs to have some kind of power. It soon becomes tiring, and, regrettably, most characters end up fighting each other, simply to show off what they can do. Indeed, the film is mostly an action-oriented affair—with characters fighting one another simply because they can. Don’t look for too much character development here.

The other major problem I have with the movie is its attempts to introduce plot twists. While a good plot twist can obviously make a movie fantastic, the overabundance of “twists” in this movie becomes superfluous—especially once you figure out that the characters will act the same way with or without the recently introduced change. Case-in-point: Wolverine’s relationship with just about anybody in the movie. On more than one occasion, Wolverine goes into a scene, expecting something (usually a fight). The characters talk, and, suddenly, a bombshell is dropped—revealing that the character Wolverine expected to fight is not who Wolverine thought he was. Then, they fight anyways. Why bother introducing some kind of “twist” if it means nothing to the overall plot? This happens with just about every character – Sabretooth (or Victor, as he’s called in the movie), Stryker, Wolverine, and even Wolverine’s love interest. Sides don’t particularly matter in this movie—every mutant has to fight the other mutant. Why? Well, because it looks cool.

The final complaint I have is merely one about continuity. It’s a problem I have with many prequels that are made after the original movies have been released (Star Wars, anyone?). Basically, my argument is this: if the movie is supposed to reveal stuff that happened before the original movies took place, shouldn’t it be a good idea that it agrees with information already given in those original movies? While nothing is overtly against anything revealed in the original trilogy (thank goodness), there are a few nit-picky issues—such as what actually caused Wolverine’s memory loss (here’s a clue: it’s not what the original X-Men films hint at). Additionally, I’m curious as to why Sabretooth is so drastically different in this movie, compared to the first X-men movie. Does he decide, after over 100 years of life, to finally change his looks (and his personality—did memory loss come with that makeover as well)? Because movies demand that they be “bigger and better” than the previous installment (regardless of its position in the timeline), this movie does pull off some stuff that seems implausible in the later movies.

Despite my overly pessimistic look at the movie, it does have its occasional good points. If you like to watch a lot of frantic, fast-paced action, this movie’s got it. Just about every scene has a decent amount of action in it—super-powered, of course. (Unfortunately, some actions scenes are so over-the-top that they are hardly believable). Nevertheless, visually, the movie is fantastic. There are occasional moments where something looks obviously faked, but, overall, it looks better than the other X-Men films. Some of the environments are especially fun to look at. They certainly found some beautiful scenery to film. Additionally, the movie does have some truly funny moments (I wish Ryan Reynolds had more lines in this movie—he was quite entertaining as the loud-mouthed Wade Wilson). Ultimately, however, the movie comes down to the Wolverine himself. Hugh Jackman, of course, does an excellent job once again taking up the role of the regenerative mutant with claws. His performance is entertaining and fun to watch. In fact, it’s a shame that the other elements of the film work against him, because Jackman is one of the few outstanding features of this movie. In fact, if the movie focused more on his character and less on introducing new mutants and plot twists, it would be something far greater than what it is. And, seeing as this film takes place before the days of his becoming a father-like figure, we get to see the crazy Wolverine—you know, the one that likes to slice ‘n stab everything in sight. If anything else, the film is good eye candy.

So, in the end, “Wolverine” is a bit of a disappointment. It looks pretty, and Hugh Jackman does a fine job portraying everyone’s favorite mutant, but the film stumbles over its own two feet in terms of storytelling. Some elements are completely superfluous, while others simply could be handled better. In fact, the movie itself seems rather unoriginal—it feels like a combination of last year’s “Incredible Hulk” and “X2: X-Men United.” It’s a shame, considering I thoroughly enjoyed the first and second X-Men movies. Unfortunately, it appears that this franchise is a money-maker, no matter how it tells its stories (Wolverine’s first weekend had almost as big an intake as X2—though not as much as the forgettable X-Men 3). Considering that this has prompted the studio into signing on for a second Wolverine movie and a Deadpool spin-off, one can only hope that they learn to tell better stories, regardless of the monetary intake.

But I’m not going to hold my breath.

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~ by digitallysmitten on February 23, 2010.

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