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X-Men Origins: Wolverine

Fox // PG-13 // September 15, 2009
List Price: $39.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted September 22, 2009 | E-mail the Author
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The secret origin of Wolverine -- revealed! Oh, wait, they did that in X2: X-Men United. Um, so...the secret origin of Wolverine -- revealed again!

Yeah, as if you couldn't guess from the title, X-Men Origins: Wolverine belts out the origin of Wolverine...y'know, from the X-Men. The movie opens by rolling the Wayback Machine to the 1800s in Not-Quite-Canada. Turns out that little James Howlett can make bony claws poke out between his knuckles, and following the Obligatory Tragic Childhood Backstory™ -- something about his father killing his other father, and that means the other-other father has to die too -- we get to see him scream, run at someone, then yell at the sky as a camera on a crane swoops back a couple hundred feet. That sets the stage for the rest of the movie, which is...well, Wolvie screaming, running at someone, then yelling at the sky as the camera pulls back. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Anyway, even though James Howlett is down two fathers, he kinda-sorta makes up for it by winding up with a half-brother. They can both heal inhumanly quickly, they both have superhuman senses, they're both near-immortal, and in the same way that James has retractable, foot-long bone-claws, his brother Victor can make his fingernails grow, like, another inch. Okay. Anyway, even though they're proto-Canadians, the montage-y title sequence shows Vic and James (now played by Liev Schreiber and Hugh Jackman) fighting in a parade of wars for the U.S. With each battle, Vic succumbs more and more to the animal within, and James...doesn't. Over in Da Nang or something in the '70s, Victor decides it's about time to rape one of the local villagers. A few other soldiers get in the way, and James -- not sure what's going
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on but wanting to protect his invincible, practically immortal brother anyway -- slaughters everyone in sight. The two of 'em wind up in front of a firing squad, but it doesn't really take.

Col. William Stryker (Danny Huston) fishes the Muttonchop Brothers out of the clink. He gives 'em a choice: they can either stay locked up as criminals -- poked and prodded like animals by the U.S. government -- or they can join an elite black-ops squad of mutant soldiers. Kinda goes without saying that Vic and James opt for Door #2. So, the roster of the Brotherhood of Military Mutants includes Ryan Reynolds, a reallyreallyreally good sniper, two dead schlubs from Lost, and that guy from the Black Eyed Peas. After their PG-13 siege on an African warlord's stronghold and a sleepy Nigerian village to track down a meteor rock, James decides he's not cut out to be a seasoned killer after all. His brother stays on the black-ops payroll while James changes his name and scuttles away to play lumberjack in the Great White North.

Six years later! Now going by the name of Logan, he's pulling $18K a year chopping down trees and has saddled up next to a cute Canuck school teacher. It's a simple life, sure, but he's least until RorschachStryker waltzes back in and tells him that someone's gunning for masks. Logan shrugs it off until he stumbles onto the lifeless body of his girlfriend, cueing up yet another in a long line of arms-outstretched-gutteral-primal-screaming aerial shots. Turns out that Victor's the bandleader behind this hit parade, and no one has any hope of taking him down except Logan: I mean, he's the best there is at what he does, and what he does ain't very nice. Even still, he has to suffer an agonizingly painful, half-billion dollar medical procedure that Stryker just happens to have prepped and ready to go. The man he once was is dead: now all that's left is Wolverine, and with an indestructable adamantium skeleton and molded razor-sharp blades that have somehow taken the place of his round, misshappen bone claws, he's ready to exact his revenge. Oh, but just in case you've forgotten what happened the last go-around with Stryker, he has his own finger-wagglingly sinister agenda, and the Weapon X program isn't the only mutant experiment he has on tap... ::cue ominous sting in the score::

Well, at least now I can say that X-Men: The Last Stand isn't the worst X-Flick anymore, so I guess that's gotta count for something. X-Men Origins: Wolverine (and I'm not going to use that mindnumbingly stupid title and just call it Wolverine from now on, okay?) is movie-making by committee: a bunch of marketeers had a poster and a release date, and they churned out whatever they could to carpetbomb a few thousand theaters in time. Borderline-nothing about it works.

It's kind of astonishing to read that Wolverine reportedly had north of $150 million at its fingertips. There really aren't any large-scale mutant powers this time around, and an awful lot of the effects are flat-out embarrassing. This is a nine-figure flick, and yet Wolverine's claws visually can't even stack up to the original movie that came out almost a decade ago. The joke going around is that his claws --
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especially in one shot where he's staring at 'em in a bathroom mirror -- look like the Singing Sword from Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, and depressingly, that's really not all that far off. Wolverine is saddled with some of the worst compositing in just about any summer blockbuster I've ever suffered through, with the actors looking more like Colorforms lazily laid on top rather than an organic part of this world. Even basic cable sci-fi week in and week out eclipses some of the effects work in this $150 million-plus action flick. There's a surprise cameo at the end that's been retouched with CGI to make one actor look a couple decades younger, but it's done so howlingly ineptly that the poor bastard is barely recognizable as human anymore. If it didn't qualify a spoiler, I'd absolutely have posted a screenshot here so I could poke even more fun at it, but them's the breaks.

The movie's called Wolverine and all, but it does squeeze in cameos from a bunch of other fan favorites like The Blob, a teenaged Cyclops, The White Queen, Silver Fox...wait, did I accidentally type "fan favorites"?...and Gambit. Yup. Gambit. As in "Chere, you bes' believe dat I gon' be t'rowing dat playin' card at you" -- the N'awlins thief in pink armor and kneehigh metal boots who throws exploding cards at people -- made it in here. Friday Night Lights' Taylor Kitsch gives up pretty quickly, at least, losing the accent and even his facial hair halfway through his introduction. I like Ryan Reynolds and all, but aside from one scene where he snarks in an elevator and deflects a few hundred thousands bullets by flinging around his swords, he never really has a chance to go all-out as Deadpool. C'mon, he's supposed to be the Merc with a Mouth, but by the end of the movie here, he's completely mute, has no will or personality of his own, isn't even decked out in his iconic costume, sports a completely different array of powers, and has swords coming out of his arms. He's transformed into &*(#ing Baraka from Mortal Kombat II, although at least that means he's capable of kicking some ass. The dude's controlled remotely from a PC, and it doesn't even have some sort of point-and-click interface. You have to type in words like "decapitate" as if this is "King's Quest II" or something. What's the point in even calling him "Deadpool"? C'mon, put on Hulk vs. Wolverine: that's Deadpool. How surreal is it that a low-budget, direct-to-video cartoon completely outclasses a $150 million summer blockbuster on every level? Hulk vs. does a much better job hammering out Wolverine's backstory, and it's definitely a hell of a lot more violent. Wolverine's teeming with action and all, but it's been neutered to score a PG-13. I mean, you don't want your movie about an unhinged psychopath with oversized razors coming out of his hands to accidentally cut anyone or whatever.

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about Wolverine plays like a first-draft by a 14 year old on the Newsarama forums or something. The fight scenes quickly start to feel interchangeable. The writing's so clichéd that you get an "I feel so cold!" death scene, the helpful farmer with a dead son whose clothing just happens to be the right size, and even a guy slo-o-o-wly walking away from an oversized explosion. There's a sticky sense of desperation to be cool: Deadpool slicing a bullet in half, Zero reloading clips mid-air, clumsy wire-fu for pretty much every second of every fight scene... I mean, there's a bit where Wolvie leaps off a motorcycle onto a jeep or something, blasts a helicopter with a machine gun on the roof, leaps up to lop off the chopper's rotors with his claws, and then does one of these numbers. Wolverine wants to be badass but is so cartoonishly, deliriously over-the-top that it's kind of tough to take seriously, even as a double-digit IQ popcorn flick. The cast really does give Wolverine their all, but it's not nearly enough to salvage this sort of room temperature material. I mean, Sabretooth has sharp, curly fingernails, cute wittle incisors, and leaps around the room on all fours. Not even a talent like Liev Schreiber is gonna seem all that menacing like that.

What's supposed to pass for a sense of humor -- y'know, "I think there's a naked man in the barn!", Wolvie accidentally carving up a farmer's bathroom, Logan turning into B.A. Baracus whenever he steps foot on a plane, and the black-ops squad stuck listening to Muzak on an elevator -- is D.O.A. There's really no logic to anything that happens, from the plot point of adamantium bullets sprinkled with magical-fairy-memory-loss dust to flying a rickety prop plane from New Orleans to Pennsylvania all the way to an adamantium bonding process that takes about as long as checking your blood pressure at Walgreen's. References to the other three X-Men flicks are awkwardly scattered around to shoehorn it into continuity. One of the runners throughout the movie is a story about the wolverine god giving flowers to the moon or whatever, and even though I rewound it a couple of times to figure out what the hell they're talking about, I still have no idea. Ack! I would say that I can't put into words just how awful Wolverine is, but looking at how much I've rambled on so far, I guess I can. Oh, but you do get to learn where Wolvie got that iconic leather jacket of his! I forgot he had one, but kind of like the mystery of Jack's tattoos on Lost, the burning question you've been waiting to have answered for years is finally revealed!!!!

Lazy, plodding, unimaginative, not really bothering to deliver a whole heckuva lot of anything... Wolverine botches pretty much everything, not even managing to work as a mindless popcorn action flick. Completists might find it worth a couple of clicks on Netflix anyway, but...yikes. No, not recommended.

Wolverine really isn't as inhumanly sharp and detailed as you'd probably expect out of a $150 million summer blockbuster, but there's not exactly any lingering doubt that this ought to be a more than worthy upgrade over the DVD release. The scope image does soften more than expected when the camera eases back, and crispness and clarity can vary from shot to shot, especially during the clumsy, unconvincing compositing. Still, most of the closeups do look phenomenal. In fact, the 1080p video can be too revealing at times, highlighting just how weak and unconvincing the effects work is at its worst.

Aside from the stylized grittiness of the title sequence, the texture of Wolverine's grain is generally tight and unintrusive. There's really not all that much in the way of depth and dimensionality; black levels tend to be fairly weak, and contrast looks flat and lifeless for the bulk of the film. There aren't any glaring technical flaws that I could spot -- no hiccups in the AVC encode or any speckling or wear throughout the movie itself -- but Wolverine still winds up looking pretty good rather than the sort of format-selling demo reel I waltzed in expecting.

The 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio track on Wolverine struck me as seeming a good bit tamer than the other three X-Flicks. This Blu-ray disc doesn't belt out that same sort of colossal, reference quality sound, but it's still a solid lossless track just the same. Bass response is uneven -- some scenes felt as if they should've packed much more of a wallop -- but it definitely can be thick and meaty: the eight-ton Blob tumbling over, the startling amount of havoc wreaked in its last couple of minutes, Gambit when he jumpin' off dat buildin' wit his staff chere, Cyke's optic blast searing through brick and mortar like a katana through a tub of Country Crock... There's a strong sense of directionality too, although Wolverine's less impressive in that sense seeing as how the stack of powers are so low-key this time around. The hundreds of thousand of shots fired throughout the flick fill every speaker, and the sound design in the helicopter chase in particular is impressive, even if I could've used a little more heft to the low-end. The clumsiest misstep is how awful the recording of a few short stretches of dialogue can be. There are several scenes where the moments in between words are rendered cleanly and clearly, but as soon as an actor opens his mouth, their readings are mired in hiss and background noise. This isn't even close to being a constant headache but is more than a little distracting when it does creep in. This lossless track is a strong effort but isn't altogether exceptional.

An English descriptive audio track is also offered alongside Dolby Digital 5.1 dubs in Spanish and Portuguese. The list of subtitles includes streams in English (SDH), Spanish, Portuguese, Mandarin, and Cantonese.

The packaging boasts that Wolverine is a two-disc special edition, but that's kind of misleading: one of 'em is nothing but a digital copy for use on iPods and other portable media devices. Everything that anyone actually cares about is on the same disc as the movie itself.

  • Audio Commentaries: Wolverine piles on a pair of
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    commentary tracks, kicking off with one by director Gavin Hood. He's exceptionally likeable and keeps a steady stream of discussion bubbling along, but looking down at my notes, I really didn't find myself jotting down that many highlights. Hood notes how tough it is to score a PG-13 rating if there's any blood or intense violence, the toe-squeezing version of Morse code he had to cobble together when an underwater speaker failed, just how much thought went into why Wolvie's bone-claws were shattered on a railroad track, and he even takes a stab at explaining where this unXaviered Scott Summers got his filtered lenses...something about a mutant optometrist, and I'm pretty sure he was being serious too.

    I actually found myself liking the second commentary -- this time with producers Lauren Shuler Donner and Ralph Winter in front of the mic -- a bit more. Dunno if that's because it's a little higher energy or what, but some of the notes they lob out include trying to avoid using licensed songs in the X-Franchise, that it's cheaper to arm the set with genuine Indian-imported guns than to mold fake plastic ones, and being a bit skittish about Sabretooth carving his trademark smiley faces so close to the release of Watchmen. As energetic as this commentary is at first, though, it burns out around halfway through, and the pace is much more sluggish from there.

    Both commentaries are okay, but neither of them are essential listens.

  • Ultimate X-Mode: This Blu-ray disc piles on four other features that run throughout the movie, most of which focus on picture-in-picture video as Wolverine unspools. In "X-Connect", Lauren Shuler Donner and Gavin Hood spell out some of the connections between Wolverine and the first three X-Men movies, such as the very different looks of Sabretooth over the course of the series, the recurring imagery of Logan's dogtags, and a brief cameo by a younger spin on Stryker's son. "The Director's Chair" features Hood again but isn't just a visual version of his audio commentary. All of its footage was recorded expressly for this extra, and intriguingly, Hood latches more frequently onto character moments than any visual effects spectacles. Some of the highlights...? Deservedly defending the artistic license that Wolverine takes with the Marvel mythos, taking particular care to discuss the upending of Deadpool, the psychological underpinnings that go along with opening the movie in the 19th century, some chatter about the Howlett family tree, his interest in the film portraying the post-traumatic stress of soldiers after returning to the homefront, the two distinct units filming in parallel, a peek at an exploding helicopter, and...hey! Why exactly Hood's crew is cutting down a fake tree in an actual forest. By far the best of these four features, "The Director's Chair" also includes a bit of behind-the-scenes footage -- some with an extremely personable production diary bent -- along with stills from the shoot. "Pre-Visualizing Wolverine" opens with an introduction by Hood and serves up hand-sketched storyboards and 3D animatics for several key sequences. Last up is "X-Facts", a pretty typical trivia track.

    The disappointment, really, is that these four running features are individually fairly sparse, and I think they would've had much, much more of an impact if they'd been pieced together into one colossal extra.

  • Live Lookup: So, here's a scenario: let's say you pop in Wolverine, and halfway through the black-ops squad's flight to Nigeria, you get that nagging feeling that you know you recognize that guy with the oversized, rubbery arms from something. Sure, you could wait patiently for the end credits. If someone else is in earshot, you could bug them to see if they can scratch that itch, or you could pause the movie and hit up the Internet Movie Database. I know this is starting to sound like an infomercial pitch or something, but seeing as how this sort of thing really does happen to me a lot, I'm definitely a fan of the Live Lookup concept. This feature identifies every actor in each individual chapter -- or the movie as a whole, if you want to navigate that way -- and queries the IMDb in real-time for his or her filmography. After mashing just a couple of buttons, you'd know Kevin Durand is the guy playing The Blob, and it turns out you recognize him from his stint on Lost. The interface is clean and intuitive, it's flexible enough to let you choose if you want to focus more intensely on the movie or on the IMDb text, and it complements the usual scene selection feature extremely well. It's a great concept, and I'd love to see something like this become standard issue on Blu-ray.

  • Deleted and Alternate Scenes (10 min.; HD): Most of this ten minute reel is gobbled up by an alternate version of a key confrontation near the climax, careening off this time into a completely different memory wipe. Shorter snippets include a pint-sized version of Storm rearing her head in the siege on the Nigerian village, Victor hitting up the boxing ring, and an alternate tag that played over the end credits of some copies of the movie theatrically. Gavin Hood chimes in with optional and insightful audio commentary, noting that Storm wasn't trimmed out for the usual pacing reasons and explaining why the motivation behind the memory wipe is so different this time around.

  • The Roots of Wolverine: A Conversation with Stan Lee and Len Wein (16 min.; HD): If you
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    already know that Stan Lee created the X-Men and that Len Wein's the writer behind the original take on Wolverine, chances are you won't be caught off-guard by any of the information they lob out in this conversation. At the same time, though, I like both of 'em enough that I don't mind hearing some of these same stories again: quite a bit of background about why Lee dreamed up the concept of mutant powers, Wolverine making his debut squaring off against the Hulk in the Great White North, the appeal of the mystery that swirled around the character for decades on end, and why exactly he was such a prime candidate to saddle up next to the X-Men. It's kind of neat to hear them both marvel at just how long Chris Claremont's run writing the book was, and Wein fields a few frequently asked questions while he's at it, including what he thinks about all of the changes made to the character over these great many years, whether or not Wolverine is a mutant in the truest sense, who came up with the word "adamantium", and if Wolvie's a genuine human being or an artificially evolved critter.

  • Wolverine Unleashed: The Complete Origins (12 min.; HD): This featurette swirls around the movie's title character, including a concept that was originally set in Japan, wanting to unleash a take on Wolverine that's more feral this time around, Jackman's grueling diet and training regimen, shaping the different iterations of Wolvie's claws, and re-envisioning the adamantium tank from X2.

  • Weapon X: Mutant Files (54 min.; HD): This barrage of microfeaturettes sticks to the same general formula as "Wolverine Unleashed", again mixing insight into each character with peeks at how the movie came together. Some of the intros are too corny by half ("Fear can be stronger than love!"), but most of the material scattered around here is pretty solid: Liev Schreiber doing most of his stunts in his explosive turn as Sabretooth, why William Stryker is so deftly able to manipulate mutants, Will.i.Am searching YouTube for "badass" to prep for the part of the teleporting John Wraith, the producers mulling over whether or not Kayla Silverfox should have any powers, the jiggling CG fat and extensive makeup prosthetics behind The Blob, Taylor Kitsch holing up in a hotel room and throwing cards for hours on end, Agent Zero marking the first metahuman in the X-Franchise to rely on weapons, Ryan Reynolds' stunt double doing all of Deadpool's wire-fu without any wires at all, and fleshing out the diamond effects for Kayla's no-way-in-hell-she's-her-sister Emma. These minifeaturettes can be selected individually or viewed all at once.

  • The Thrill of the Chase: The Helicopter Sequence (6 min.; HD): Well, the Wolverine crew didn't actually launch any missiles, but they did blow the holy hell out of a fullsize barn. "The Thrill of the Chase" piles together a slew of behind-the-scenes footage for Wolverine's highest octane action sequence.

    Fox Movie Channel Presents - World Premiere (6 min.; SD): The only standard-def extra on this Blu-ray disc is a promotional clip for the flick set against the backdrop of its world premiere. It's kinda neat that the location for the premiere -- Tempe, Arizona, for anyone keeping track at home -- was voted for online.

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