X-Men Origins: Wolverine is zapped into obscurity by the twin phaser-blasts of Trekstalgia and JJAbramitude, I would like to point out that the movie doesn’t actually suck.
I don’t know why I care. Big-budget summer blockbusters don’t weep for me; why should I weep for them? What’s Hecuba to me, or me to Hecuba?
Still, there was a lot of Wolverine hate fogging up the internet in the last week. A fair sample is the AV Club review (and the AV Talk segment that followed). If it hadn’t been for some dissenters, like the wide-ranging, always shrewd Ryan Harvey, I probably wouldn’t have bothered to see the movie at all. But I think it is worth seeing, for anyone who liked X-Men and its sequel, anyway.
More maundering, speckled with caveats and spoilers, after the jump.
Of course, it’s not Shakespeare–it’s not Ingmar Bergman–it’s a comic-book movie. Possibly The Dark Knight and Watchmen changed expectations for the ambitions suitable to a comic-book movie, at least in some people’s minds. If so, I think that’s a bad thing. Those two exceptional movies were pretty good, in their individual ways, but how much pontification on the human condition can we stand from people wearing spandex? Didn’t we fight a war to be free from that sort of oppression and, if not, could we please start one?
I should add that I wasn’t crazy about the whole idea of this movie. It’s not like the world was in dire need of an X-Men movie that focused on Wolverine: that pretty much describes all three of the previous outings in this series. Why a Wolverine 4, then? Obviously, because the producers figured they could make money by doing the same thing again–a typical Hollywood stratagem that does not typically result in good movies.
Still, on balance, I thought X-M O: W was pretty good. It begins with two violent deaths–two men who can each claim to be the hero’s father, one of them killed by the hero himself. (If you want to interest a classicist in a movie this is a pretty good way to start, but I don’t know how significant we are demographically. Actually, I do know, so never mind.) The credit montage, nearly as good as Watchmen‘s, follows Logan/Wolverine and his brother Creed/Sabertooth as they fight through a century (and then some) of America’s wars. (Why they’re fighting in the US Army is never explained. It’s true Canada was slightly less bellicose than the USA over the same period, but they did participate memorably in WWI and WWII, for instance.)
Some discipline problems (killing a superior officer a little bit) land the mutant brothers in the stockade, where they are recruited by Col. Stryker for an elite mutant strike force that does weird unexplained things. (That’s not a complaint: Stryker has reasons for not briefing his soldiers on what they are doing or why.) Logan gets tired of participating in war crimes without even a war to justify them and leaves the group to settle down as a lumberjack in the Canadian Rockies with
Portia Kayla Silverfox, a Native American schoolteacher who tells him stories about a wolverine falling in love with the moon. (Don’t worry; it doesn’t take up too much screentime.)
It turns out that Creed/Sabertooth is hunting down former members of Stryker’s group and killing them. Logan is warned by Stryker, but this does not keep Kayla from being attacked and killed by Sabertooth. With Logan’s refrigerator now stocked with the requisite woman (or is it?), he is now properly launched on a mission of vengeance against his half-brother and former comrade-in-arms. After he tries and fails to defeat Creed, he accepts a Faustian bargain from Stryker which will lead to the adamantium-boned Wolverine we know from a long line of previous movies, TV shows, action-figures and comic books. Stryker (naturally) fails to control Wolverine. After the hero’s escape from Stryker’s lab and his discovery of Stryker’s longstanding project to use mutant powers as a weapon to eliminate mutants themselves, he goes to defeat the villain, reconnect with friends and family, and live unhappily ever after bereft of his memories. The reader will understand that this plot skeleton, in the cinematic flesh, is festooned with fight scenes, explosions, brutal murders, and heart-warming human drama. (Well, humanish.)
It’s an odd story, told oddly. There are three preludes, by my count, before the story proper begins, and that story is itself a prelude, designed to set up the situation at the beginning of the first X-Men movie (which worked fine without any such setup). Still, the story moved briskly; it went some interesting places; the characters’ actions were well-motivated; the moral impact of the violence (of which there is a lot in this type of movie) is not muted. And I was intrigued with the way they subverted some of the old comic book clichés (e.g. “There’s a woman in your refrigerator!”) by applying others (“Hey, the dead person isn’t dead!”) and then smashing those (“Oh. Now she is, but you don’t remember her”).
This is not a deep movie; this is not a life-changing movie. But it’s not a stupid movie. Stephen Fry, talking about guilty pleasures, famously remarked that some things in popular culture are better than they need to be. (His example was Abba, where your mileage may vary a bit.) That’s a pretty good tagline for the latest Wolverine movie: it’s better than it needs to be. Which is probably why it is making money bone-clawed-hand-over-adamantium-clawed-fist these days–at least until it gets zapped into obscurity by the twin phaser-blasts of Trekstalgia and JJAbramitude, but that’s where we came in.