Wolverine is cool, Hugh Jackman is cool (or hot, depending on your gender), so a film featuring both focusing on both should be a no-brainer, right? This was clearly the thought of Marvel bosses when they decided to launch into the Xmen Origins film series, currently at least two films, the second being focused on Ian McKellan‘s sublime Magneto.
As it turns out, the film reaches expectations, but goes little further. Wolverine is joined by a cast of fan favourites to make it more than just a one man show, notably Deadpool/Weapon XI (who’s already been given the green light for his own spinoff) and Gambit.
X2‘s evil-nasty-man William Striker returns, this time embodied by Danny Huston, as Wolverine and big brother Sabretooth’s (an excellent Liev Schreiber) way out of an exceptionally long military career. You do stop for a moment to wonder why no one seems to notice these recruits enlist for every major conflict in US history and never move up the ranks…
Confusing continuity aside, the brothers are soon among an elite group of mutants, a word muttered under-breath throughout the film, which serves to outline how early in mutant history we are here, there aren’t going to be evil plots to mutate world leaders for some decades.
The prequel nature of the story lets us see some of the later mutants in their earlier years, such as a young Scott Summers (a.k.a. Cyclops) and a brief cameo from an even-more-digitally-de-aged Patrick Stewart as Professor X. This is all well and good, but does slightly distract from the general story.
The other supporting players in the story perform well overall. Gambit seems tragically underused, tacked on as a means to an end for our protagonist, and despite being very cool and quick to get back at the big bad Wolf after he’s knocked out with a casual elbow to the face, you still feel like the story wouldn’t have missed him.
Ryan Reynolds (NOT Ben Affleck as I stupidly assumed at first) put on an impressive turn as Wade Wilson, combining some excellent comic lines with some devastating katana moves in the opening act , and eventually being transformed into the Sylar equivalent of the Xmen universe: Deadpool. There’s confusion here since in the comic books Weapon XI and Deadpool were too very different characters, but in the film the two have been combined.
Jackman has maintained countless times in interviews the fact that this film should take the character to a place where he could walk off-screen at the end and walk into the bar where we meet him at the beginning of Xmen.
This is unlikely to remain however, since the teasing out-scenes, now an expectation of the Xmen movies, show Logan drinking in Japan trying to remember who he is. The tragedy of amnesia is that it almost makes the entire film pointless, as everything he’s learned, suffered and sacrificed are lost along with his memories, but from a storytelling perspective it’s very handy, since it neatly explains why he doesn’t recognise Sabretooth as his brother in Xmen 1, for example.
The film overall is a healthy blend of action, emotion, mystery and some more action thrown in. It’s a worthy beginning to Wolverine’s tale, and sets itself up nicely for a sequel which could bring to life Sin City scribe Frank Miller’s stories of Wolverine in Japan.
In terms of the ‘Origins’ aspect, it doesn’t take away from the endearing mystery of Wolverine as a character to know what happened in his past that he can’t remember, but the adamantium process, frequently flash-backed in the first two X films, seemed a lacklustre affair compared to the scenes of Jackman covered in blood, desperately trying to escape Alkali Lake amid primal screams.
If you compare this film to the trilogy it bobs around about the same standard as the franchise’s debut, with X2 sailing in front and poorly subtitled The Last Stand trailing, aptly, in third. The effort put into the film, but that and its fairly predictable story are let down by a few jarring visual effects, which at times seem set to appeal the videogame generation.