Sunday, May 03, 2009

Review: X-Men Origins: Wolverine

X-Men Origins: Wolverine - While not without its flaws, this film is an entertaining action-oriented prequel to the X-Men films, featuring the most popular X-Man, Wolverine.

Beginning in 1845 and ending in 1979, the film explores the backstory of mutant superhero Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and his relationship with his older half-brother Victor aka the future supervillain Sabretooth (Liev Schreiber), and their involvement in the Team X black ops squad created by Colonel William Stryker (Danny Huston).

Director Gavin Hood (Tsotsi, Rendition) gets as much as he can out of the script with several well-conceived big action set pieces and capable performances from the main cast. There were reportedly major disputes between Hood and studio executives about the tone and direction of the film, and executive producer Richard Donner (director of Superman: The Movie) spent time on the set to smooth over the tensions. The creative differences may explain the uneven tone of the finished film, but Hood still proves capable of delivering exciting action scenes that fans will enjoy.

The screenplay by David Benioff (Troy, The Kite Runner) and Skip Woods (Swordfish, Hitman), while faithful in broad strokes to the character's comic origin, suffers from rushing from one action scene to another while leaving characters and sub-plots undeveloped. Benioff's original draft had some good buzz attached to it and was reportedly more character driven, so the contributions of Woods and three other uncredited writers may represent what the studio wanted more than what the director wanted. It's satisfactory as far as summer action flicks go, but there was room to do much more. Still, it's not the disaster that X-Men: The Last Stand was.

The productions values are high, with contributions by cinematographer Donald M. McAlpine (Moulin Rouge!, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe), production designer Barry Robison (Rendition, Nim's Island), costume designer Louise Mingenbach (X-Men, X2: X-Men United), and composer Harry Gregson-Williams (Shrek, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe) leading the way. The CG visual effects are good and effectively add to the action scenes.

What really makes the film work are the performances of Jackman and Schreiber, both individually and together, providing some depth lacking in the script. Jackman's portrayal of Wolverine through four films has been iconic, and this has been true even when the scripts were lacking, and he carries this film with grit and determination. Schreiber delivers the goods as Victor, so alike his brother in some ways but also so very different. Where Wolverine struggles to control his dark side, Victor embraces his. I would have liked more screen time devoted to the dualism of these two characters and their relationship.

The rest of the cast is adequate to the task at hand, including Huston as Stryker (an older version of the character was played by Brian Cox in X2), Black Eyed Peas' singer will.i.am as John Wraith, Lynn Collins as Kayla Silverfox, Kevin Durand as the Blob, Dominic Monaghan as Bolt, Taylor Kitsch as Gambit (although his Cajun accent is weak), Daniel Henney as Agent Zero, Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool, Scott Adkins as Weapon XI, Tim Pocock as a teenaged Scott Summers (the future superhero Cyclops), Max Cullen and Julia Blake as an elderly couple who help Wolverine, Troye Sivan and Michael-James Olsen as young Wolverine and young Victor, and Tahyna Tozzi as Kayla's sister Emma (possibly Emma Frost). There's also a fun cameo that I don't want to spoil for anyone, but fans should love it.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine sacrifices character development and plot coherence for action, but despite its flaws it manages to be an entertaining start to the summer film season. If you like Wolverine and you like action, this film should satisfy you.

[3.5 out of 5 stars]

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