And now we plumb the depths.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine is the anxiously-awaited follow-up to 2006's enormous disappointment, X-Men The Last Stand. Considering the totality with which The Last Stand closed (it doesn't get much more final than Wolverine gutting Jean Grey), it was decided that a much easier method of vacuuming money out of peoples' pockets was to release a prequel, detailing the origins (heh) of the most famous X-Man of them all. Surely the ambiguous tale of Wolverine, complete with a number of familiar faces and darker themes, would be a great time, and make up for the dull ending of the trilogy?
How you go about messing up a film where Hugh Jackman kills things for 107 minutes is beyond me, but that's what we have. Instead of the ferocious, angry thrill-ride that Wolverine should be synonymous with, we are treated to a little too much family drama, way too much monotonous talking, and plot that manages to subscribe to all the formulaic clichés and innovate just enough to get on my nerves.
As it turns out, Wolverine's life has been intertwined with war and conflict for his 100+ year life. Having served in both World Wars and Vietnam among others, James Howlett (pre-Logan) left combat behind for the love of a good woman. However, the mutant-populated unit with which Wolverine served in Vietnam comes back to haunt him, as does his former best friend Victor (Liev Screiber, one of the film's few positive traits). Twists and turns ensue, as we are treated to the story of how Wolverine became the weapon we all know today.
The first problem with this film is that it exists. I mean, sure it's natural to want a film detailing the ambiguous backstory of Marvel's most popular mutant, but the minds behind this garbage fail to realise that Wolverine's character is as interesting and beloved as he is, precisely because of his ambiguous history and nature. Pulling the curtain back on why he has a relationship with William Stryker, why he has a relationship with Sabretooth, why he has so much anger, and just how he ended up in Alaska at the start of X-Men is a move that ruins much of what keeps fans so invested in the character.
Of course, despite everything wrong from a narrative and scripting perspective, any Wolverine-centric film has at least one redeemable quality, and that's Wolverine himself. Hugh Jackman, at the time of the film's release, had been playing the character for nine years, and his confidence within the role is considerable. He has an able sparring partner in Liev Schreiber, who appears to know the total kitsch in which he is appearing. Schreiber and Jackman's chemistry is very much appreciated in what is already a tired mess. And speaking of Kitsch, Taylor Kitsch is a surprise as the beloved Gambit. I never would have expected the former male model to hit the ground running with Gambit's casual swagger and laid back nature. The one other semi-bright spot in the cast is Ryan Reynolds (I know), who gets to be a promising Deadpool for mere minutes in the film, before plot contrivances ruin the character entirely.
As a CGI-fest, you could do a lot better than Origins. There are a few action set-pieces that impressed (a helicopter crash and smoke stack confrontation in particular), but even they are smothered by the excess of melodrama that permeates the film. For every standard action sequence (the series has seen better), there comes an abundance of wretched attempts at comedy, or pointless drama. There comes a scene where Wolverine must confront Blob. Now, Blob has never been a great character, but his portrayal here is baffling, and Jackman's over-use of "bub" is cringe-inducing. Undoubtedly, this is the worst-written X-Men film of them all.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine is the kind of film that I would give a 0/10 to, if I were so inclined. As a reviewer, I tend to reserve the very low scores for films that truly have nothing to offer - lousy performances, poor writing, tepid narrative, and terrible action. This film doesn't conform to all the criteria, but it's the kind of bottom line-driven, lazy excuse of a film that gets under my skin in just a way that a 0/10 would feel necessary.
However, the optimist in me can see that the cast is surprisingly strong here, and some of the (mostly-poor) special effects-driven action is entertaining. Even then, X-Men Origins: Wolverine is the kind of poorly thought-out, rigorously unenjoyable film that someone with no interest in X-Men thought fans want of a Wolverine film. For everything it gets right, it gets ten more wrong, and the hurried, breakneck pace of it all makes it one of the harder X-Men films to swallow, even at a mere 107 minutes.
Save your time, save your money, and skip this film. The team behind the following X-Men films certainly did.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine gets a 3/10.