X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) – Movie Review

wolverine origins

The problem with making a film about the origin of the mutant super-hero Wolverine is that he was never meant to have an origin. He was created as a throwaway character for an issue of The Incredible Hulk, then got picked up as a supporting character for the revamping of the X-Men. No one really thought he was important enough to have his own origin, but he became one of the most popular comic book characters of the last 30 years. That led to a series of attempts to graft a powerful and moving beginning onto a character that was only intended to be a badass with a cool gimmick. But instead of a simple but profound start like “Strange visitor from another planet” or “With great power comes great responsibility”, Wolverine got an origin that became increasingly convoluted and overwrought as more and more was added to it over time. That’s reflected in this movie, which actually crams at least three distinct origin tales into 107 minutes. Throw in the traditional “summer movie” boatload of explosions, gunfire and combat and there’s not much room left for a good story.

I mean, you know that scene where someone kneels over the body of a dead loved one and screams “Nooooooooo!” to the heavens? This movie has two scenes like that. It has a shot of Wolverine walking into the camera as a huge explosion goes off behind him. There’s a character who is clearly established as being a mass murderer, but then the film suddenly decides that being a mass murderer isn’t that big a deal. Not to mention that this is the first time I’ve ever seen a movie that literally stops to explain its own ending 15 minutes before it actually happens.

All that said, this isn’t a bad film. The action sequences are all pretty good, the acting is better than you usually get for this sort of thing and while the story is kind of a mess, it makes enough sense that you’re not left sitting in the theater thinking that every character in the movie is an idiot.

In fact, this is the rare action movie where the acting is probably the best thing about it. Ryan Reynolds and Kevin Durand are legitimately funny as mutants Deadpool and The Blob. Hugh Jackman is brilliant as usual. Danny Huston as William Stryker and Liev Schreiber and Sabretooth give probably the best performances of the film. It’s not always easy to play a younger version of a character already portrayed by a fine actor, but Huston makes Stryker just similar enough to the man from X-Men 2 and is able to give him a little more depth. Schreiber brings real emotion and a sense of legitimacy his furry mutant. His Sabretooth isn’t just a prop for Wolverine’s story, but a living, breathing character in his own right.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine tells a story that was never meant to be told. It doesn’t do it very well, but that it can do it at all without being a total disaster is something of an achievement. This movie doesn’t have a personal element that ever rises above the cliché and it has none of the broader moral or societal points that were found in the X-trilogy itself. This is just a big, dumb, fun “summer movie” and I suppose there’s nothing wrong with that.

 

6 out of 10 stars

……………………………….

Advertisements

X2: X-Men United (2003) – Movie Review

x2

With nine films thus far and at least two more on the horizon, all released over a near-twenty year window, 20th Century Fox’s “X-Men” film franchise is something of a wonder in today’s world of near- constant reboots and remakes. While it has by no means been a smooth ride, the fact remains that the long-running series has been a widely beloved and infinitely important one, especially when placed into historical perspective. Director Bryan Singer’s original entry was one of the first major comic-to-film adaptations that convinced studios and audiences alike that comic-book movies could not only be mature and enthralling, but could be certified hits once again after the genre seemed to die-out in the 90’s. And thus, a franchise was born and has stuck around ever since, through thick and thin.

It’s almost a surprise, however, that one of the best entries in the entire saga came so early- 2003’s follow-up “X2.” With Singer once again at the helm, the film is in every conceivable way an improvement over his excellent first film- it’s more thoughtful, more daring, more exciting… I think one could even reasonably say that not only is it arguably the greatest film in the franchise- it just might be one of the best comic-to-film adaptations of all time. Yes, it’s that good.

Some time after the original film, a brainwashed mutant called Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming) is sent on a mission to try and assassinate the President of the United States under the guise of being a martyr for Mutant Freedom. Despite the mutant being stopped, the troubling event gives Colonel William Stryker (Brian Cox) the political edge and backing needed to get approval for an “investigation” on Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters- but his investigation is actually an invasion, as he storms the school, taking many students hostage and forcing the remaining X-Men to flee. At the same time, Storm (Halle Berry) and Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) are sent on a mission to collect Nightcrawler and learn his motivation for the attack, Cyclops (James Marsden) and Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) are captured by Stryker’s mysterious bodyguard (Kelly Hu) and the shape-shifting Mystique (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos) helps her former leader Magneto (Ian McKellan) escape from his high-tech prison. Soon, the remaining mutants (including Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, Anna Paquin as Rogue and Shawn Ashmore as Iceman) are forced to team up with their former adversary to try and stop Stryker’s scheme to use Charles and his powers to wipe out all of the mutants on Earth.

Given the film’s nature as an ensemble piece, it’s near-impossible to discuss the performances of each actor individually. But to keep it brief, everyone returning from the original is great in their respective roles. Special commendation goes to Hugh Jackman and his continued excellence in the role that helped to define him as a superstar and to Famke Jannsen, who gets a lot more attention this time around. They are by far the stand-outs of the returning cast. I also highly enjoyed Stewart and McKellen, who bring a sense of class and elegance to their roles and are incredible as always. The newest additions are also outstanding. Brian Cox is one of the greatest actors of our time, and his turn as Stryker is quite remarkable. He gives the character both an easily- “despiseable” sense of threat and dread, yet also a nice and subtle sense of pain and pathos. He’s a cruel man, yet he has a past that might explain why he is the way he is. Alan Cumming is just magical as the frightened yet also amusing Nightcrawler, and there’s a lot of great moments in his performance. And Kelly Hu makes for a fun and furious adversary as Styker’s second-in-command “Lady Deathstrike.”

Singer returns to direct from a script by “X-Men” scribe David Hayter and the writing duo of Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris. Singer got his start with hard-hitting thrillers like “The Usual Suspects” and “Apt Pupil”, and I think that’s part of what gives him an edge with the storytelling. He plays the stories straight and gives them a sense of real and honest threat, while also maintaining an emotional core that feels realistic despite the outlandish nature of the story and heavy Science-Fiction leanings of the material. He’s also a very gifted visual artist with a slick and savage sense of composition and flow that lends itself well to the needs of high- concept action. His work on the series has always been nothing less than stunning. The script is very tightly written and juggles the plethora of characters well- everyone has their moment to shine, every major player has a clearly defined role and arc and the pacing is superb. Some wonderful work is done with the writing, and it’s an honest shame that neither Hayter nor the writing partners of Dougherty and Harris were involved in the third entry.

The rest of the production is just marvelous. (Pardon the bad joke) Composer/co-editor John Ottman shapes some wonderful and memorable musical themes that compliment the tone and style perfectly, and he weaves together shots and sequences with a masterful touch. Cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel’s visual palette is cool and visually arresting, and his work is just stunningly gorgeous. Some wonderful visual flair is given thanks to his talent. And production and costume design courtesy Guy Hendrix Dyas and Louise Mingenbach respectively is just fantastic. The film is made with nothing but top-notch work from top-notch artists.

As it stands, “X2” is easily one of the best if not the single best entry in the long-running series. Its phenomenal direction, sharp and thoughtful writing, beautiful production and outstanding cast weave an enthralling and thrilling cinematic experience that still stands tall well over a decade later. It’s up there with the best of the best in terms of comic-book movies.

 

10 out of 10 stars

………………………………………………..

X-Men (2000) – Movie Review

x-men

“X-Men” is a rare treat– a blockbuster that lives up to its hype and a comic book adaptation that hits the mark.

Along with Tim Burton’s “Batman”, this stands head and shoulders above all other superhero movies. It’s a genre that’s usually synonymous with silly, campy, cartoonish crap, but Bryan Singer delivers a long-awaited exception to the rule. “X-Men” is smart, stylish, and very cool… one of the better sci fi/fantasy films of the last decade.

Of course, it helps to have good source material.

The X-Men comics, which originated in the 1960s, are more politically progressive and morally complex than older superhero stories such as “Superman” where the heroes are always right, and truth, justice, and the American Way always prevail. The series is a well-crafted parable about individuality and discrimination. The characters are mutants–struggling to find a place in a society that rejects them. Its primary villain, Magneto, isn’t an evil lunatic– he’s a sympathetic character, a misguided revolutionary playing Huey Newton to Professor Xavier’s Martin Luther King. The iconic character, Wolverine, is a beer-swilling anti-hero who cares little for ideals and fights only to protect himself and his loved ones. The female characters are as powerful and important as the men, rather than being mere love interests.

Rather than making just another flashy explosion-per-minute-special-effects-extravaganza, Singer practices the lost arts of character and plot development. As a result, the movie has a far greater depth than the average big budget summer flick. The acting is also quite good on the whole. Hugh Jackman, who plays Wolverine, is fantastic–a bona fide Clint Eastwood caliber badass. Some of the dialogue is fairly cheesy, but in the hands of Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart it sounds quite convincing. (Stewart has made a career out of making lame dialogue sound cool.)

Hard-core fans of the comics have complained about the omission of several popular X-Men. This is silly. A movie that gave the background on every character in the comic books would be 6 hours long. There will be plenty of time to develop new characters in the forthcoming sequels. Fans have also complained about the casting of Anna Paquin as Rogue. I disagree. Rogue is unable to touch another human being without harming them–she would not realistically act like a confident, sassy warrior. Paquin did a tremendous job of conveying the fear and isolation that such a young woman would feel. She will undoubtedly grow into the part in future movies.

In the end, “X-Men” is a comic book movie. Superpowers are explained with silly pseudoscientific babble, the plot revolves around a fairly ridiculous take-over-the-world scheme, and names like “Magneto” are spoken with a straight face. Don’t read all the glowing reviews and expect Citizen Kane. But don’t underestimate “X-Men” either. It is an intelligent movie that people will enjoy whether or not they are familiar with the comic.

 

8 out of 10 stars

…………………………………