X-Men Origins: Wolverine (henceforth to be known as XOW) is a quite a difficult film to quantify. Not in what it contains and what over-arching genre it fits into – lots of Wolverine and comic-book movie respectively – but in the sense of trying to quantify what, exactly, it thinks it’s up to. It’s a film buried in questionable motive, and this prevents it from truly being satisfying.
The questionable motive in question, if you’ll pardon the overuse of the various conjugations of the word ‘question’, is that of what the goal of inserting this into the X-Men cinematic canon is. Is it to flesh out the backstory of an established character? Is it to introduce more heroes and villains into the current patheon and rogue’s gallery respectively? Is it to just be an awesome, Wolverine-centric action movie that doesn’t really contribute to the core story of the currently trilogy of X-films? The film decides ‘all of these!’ and thus ends up in the rather inevitable stasis of ‘not really any of them’.
But for the most part, this is entertaining stuff. Whilst not neatly slotting into any of the required types of movie, it still competently delivers a Wolverine movie with at least a little oomph. Gavid Hood – whilst seemingly an odd choice for director at first glance – has a decent eye for action, it would seem, and XOW treats us with some of the most spectacular action sequences that we have seen in the series. The final showdown in particular – whilst spectacularly screwing up established canon – is a bold effort to allow us to witness genuinely powerful mutants facing off with each other.
Casting for the most part is good too. Jackman, as always, delivers a layered performance as Wolverine, the man’s performance almost wasted with some occasionally flimsy dialogue. But else where there’s a decidedly creepy turn from Danny Huston as William Stryker, Huston channelling Brain Cox’s performance with a gleefully evil grin. Liev Schriber is wonderfully psychotic as Sabretooth, all aggression and snide comments, he also seems to be a favourite of the writer, getting most of the film’s great lines. There’re a couple of bum notes too – Will.I.Am (or however you spell it) would’ve been put to shame by the 50-pence fella, and the casting for some of the minor mutants, including Cyclops and Emma Frost, leaves something of a sour taste in a comic-book fan’s mouth.
But then there’s the hidden gem of the movie: Ryan Reynolds. With what little screen time he is allocated, he absolutely steals it. Tasked with the role of motor-mouthed, regenerating mercenary named Wade Wilson, he both talks and fights up a storm. It’s only downside is there’s precious little of it, and a disappointing turn of events in the movie more-or-less eliminates any chance short of serious retconning for a return of the character.
This, as it happens, is the movies downfall: it toys far to eagerly with what we’ve already seen. It’s something of a missed opportunity to truly flesh out the back-story of the first three films. On it’s own, it works fine – but when held up alongside the still out-standing original trilogy, it only just holds its own against the weaker third outing, and even then, it barely feels a part of it. The tone is completely different, being an odd combination of more violent and yet somehow less blood-soaked. Gone are the examinations of the mutant problem, in are action scenes and too-short mutant cameos.
This brings us back to the motives of the movie. Is it designed to launch new franchise opportunities? Cutting the Deadpool one short in this one was probably a bad idea if that’s the case. Is it designed to flesh out the back story? Well, how can it be? When it treats the established happenings as mere playthings? Does it want to be an awesome action movie? Well in that, in only partially succeeds, with energetic action sequences too often feeling tonally off.
At the end of the day, this origin story is a missed opportunity to weave itself into the current cinematic X-Men canon. It’s entertaining fare, competently executed with a decent story. You can’t really ask for more from this, the first of what is a burgeoning genre of super-hero movies: the prequel that barely fits in.