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May 2, 2009

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Movie Review – X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)

by HELEN GEIB

X-Men Origins Wolverine (2009)

Hugh Jackman returns as Logan a/k/a Wolverine in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, a prequel to the X-Men movie series and his character’s origins story. See it for the character, Jackman’s performance, the action, and the cool mutant powers. Wolverine kicks off the summer movie season in style.

The story draws a straight line backwards from X-Men to tell how Logan acquired his attitude, adamantium skeleton, mutant name, and amnesia. It begins with a brief prologue introducing him and his older brother Victor as children in early nineteenth century Canada. You may remember from the prior films that Logan doesn’t age or sustain injury like a normal human. We learn immediately that his brother doesn’t either, through a really well-executed montage sequence showing Logan and Victor fighting side-by-side– and Victor’s gradually increasing bloodlust and savagery- in the Civil War, the World Wars, and Vietnam.

After a post-Vietnam stint as covert military operatives, Logan can’t take the bloodshed any longer and calls it quits. The military wants him back for anti-mutant medical experimentation and Victor wants him back because they’re brothers, they were inseparable for 150 years, and brothers look out for each other forever. The anti-mutant program supplies plot twists and turns and plentiful action sequences while the brothers’ fraught relationship is the film’s dramatic center. The unbreakable fraternal bond is the defining relationship of Logan’s pre-amnesiac life, compelling in itself and a window to the character’s essential emotional and moral seriousness.

It is probably too strong to say that Jackman’s performance makes the movie, but it would certainly be much less of a film without it. His star-making performance as Wolverine in X-Men made an indelible impression and his charisma and command of the character are undimmed. Liev Schreiber as Victor a/k/a Sabretooth has a commanding physical presence and dramatic intensity to match Jackman’s. I don’t know whether another Wolverine/Sabretooth movie match-up is in the works, but if it was to reunite Jackman and Schreiber, then I really hope so.

Danny Huston is Logan’s nemesis William Stryker. Other mutant characters are played by Will.i.Am, Lynn Collins, Taylor Kitsch, Ryan Reynolds, Kevin Durand, Daniel Henney, Tim Pocock, and Dominic Monaghan. The men all have flashy powers and mostly wear flashy clothes. It should make Marvel happy to know that that combination always leaves me wanting more. (Remy a/k/a Gambit, here played by “Friday Night Lights” heartthrob Kitsch, adds a sexy Cajun accent to the mix; he’s welcome to come back for his own origins story.) Reynolds and the oddly named Will.i.Am make the greatest impression taken independently of their characters’ mutant powers.

The final stars of the film, more significant than any of the supporting cast aside from Schreiber, are the phenomenal special effects and stunts. It would be exhausting to catalog all of the great effects and stunt work, but special mention must be made of Wolverine’s retractable claws.

Wolverine is well directed by Gavin Hood. The film’s pacing is brisk and even. The action sequences are exciting and comprehensible (too often not the case in contemporary Hollywood blockbusters) without losing sight of their dramatic purpose. Hood also understands when the outsized comic book story calls for an outsized visual gesture.

3 stars


3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Rishi
    May 4 2009

    You definitely liked this film better than I did. I thought the brisk pacing was a detriment and wanted the film to spend more time with the characters. I especially didn’t like how the film basically covered the first 100+ years of Wolverine’s life in an opening-credits montage sequence.

  2. Helen
    May 4 2009

    Wolverine’s early life seems like it would make a great movie in its own right, but it doesn’t have any connection to the other X-Men films. “Wolverine” exists to tell the part of his backstory that explains his appearance in “X-Men” (the adamantium, amnesia, rift with Victor). The sketched-in treatment of the early years is a consequence, or casualty if you like, of working within the parameters of an established franchise.

  3. Nir Shalev
    May 7 2009

    I agree with Rishi on this one.
    Coming off of Tsotsi, a phenomenal character driven drama (that I studied in film school), Gavin Hood here made an origin story rather paper thin.
    We all saw the second X-Men film so we know about Wolverine’s adamentium skeleton and Stryker, but the 10 second revenge plot that initiate its reasoning, and the amnesia at the end, I thought were soap opera quality.

    Short and straight to the point was a bad idea this time around. But others disagree.

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