Friday, July 10, 2015

A Bit Wide of the X

I hadn't heard good things about the first stand-alone Wolverine movie, X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Still, Hugh Jackman is certainly one of the better things going in the X-Men franchise, and the recent talk of Deadpool and his upcoming movie had me interested in seeing what that was all about. I decided to give the movie a chance.

Certainly, as I was watching it, I knew it wasn't "good." But I honestly didn't think it was all that "bad" either... until I went to drop it into my Flickchart, where it landed so low it surprised even me. Pondering how that happened, I concluded that the movie has plenty of good parts in it. But it's stuffed with too many of them, giving nothing the time or space it would need to command a truly good experience.

Take, for instance, the fact that Logan and his half-brother have lived for around 150 years. They've seen times and technology change. People they've known have come and gone from their lives, their only constant being each other. They've fought in multiple wars, each for a different cause, and have been changed by those experiences. All of this feels like the basis of an intriguing and introspective story -- one that would still have plenty of the action a superhero movie needs. Instead, this movie doesn't even scratch the surface on that, compressing it all into the opening credits sequence.

The next 10 to 15 of the movie follows the brothers as they join a covert military operation, a sort of "A-Team" of mutants. Here's where Deadpool shows up, along with several other rather interesting characters. There easily could have been a whole movie of this. (Indeed, it makes me very much look forward to the Deadpool movie.) But the film isn't interested in hanging with this thread either, moving on before it really digs into anything that might satisfy the audience beyond visceral thrills.
I'll spare you a blow by blow of the rest of the movie (particularly since many of you have already seen it). It suffices to say that the story bulldozers on like this, introducing tantalizing premises that probably sustained multiple issues of Wolverine's comic book series, only to dump them before truly exploring any of them. The movie is like a child at Christmas, tossing aside one exciting new toy to open the next one.

Because the focus is so high on churning through plot points, character motivations suffer.  Put simply, almost nothing anyone does in this movie makes any sense. Logan wants revenge; that part, at least, is crystal clear. But it's quite murky how his brother Victor (who shared every one of his life experiences) has wound up so different from him (read: evil), why he hates Logan so much, and certainly why he throws away that hatred in the final act to team up. And Victor is only the most conspicuous example of about five characters in the movie that behave solely to facilitate plot twists. Nearly every character with more than five minutes of screen time behaves one way, then does an about face, only to turn again once or twice more before the finale.

It's a shame that cast has been given such an impossible script, because it's really a good cast. Though Logan was a supporting character before this movie, Hugh Jackman is great at taking him center stage. Liev Schreiber serves up a good, animal performance as Victor Creed. Danny Huston is fun twirling his metaphorical mustache as the villain Stryker. Dominic Monaghan and Ryan Reynolds are both tons of fun in their woefully brief screen time, as are and Kevin Durand. Lynn Collins is an intriguing love interest (denied the material to be more than that). I'd say the only weak spot is Taylor Kitsch as Gambit; though even then, I'd blame the script and not the actor. (I was Googling "Gambit" during the movie, because it was not remotely clear to me from what I was seeing just who he was supposed to be or what exactly his powers were.)

I feel like any given 15 minutes of the movie, taken as the basis for a whole movie, could have led to far better results. And because any 15 minutes of the movie were pretty good, I didn't feel like I was hating it while I was watching it. But the whole was far less than the sum of its too many parts. What I expected to call a C or maybe C- instead landed squarely in D+ territory when I went to Flickchart after the movie was done. But in any case, X-Men Origins: Wolverine was a clear disappointment.

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