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X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE

Review by Mark Wiechman

Stars: Hugh Jackman, Liev Schrieber, Danny Huston, Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins
Director:  Gavin Hood
Audio: English Dolby 5.1, French and Spanish Dolby 2.0, English, French and Spanish subtitles
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Features: See Review
Length: 107 minutes
Release Date: September 15, 2009

“I’m the best there is at what I do, but what I do best isn’t very nice.”

Film ***1/2

In the late 1970s, I spent many lovely days in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia walking a mile or two so that I could get the new X-Men comics from the 7-Eleven.  They were usually only thirty cents each, and in that era there was no better fantasy saga than the Jean Grey-Phoenix story.  Wolverine was just one of the guys back then, but with time he became the obvious favorite of the group with his savage fury aimed at the bad guys.  I think the X-Men movies gave us just enough information about him, leaving us wanting more, without turning into just a Hugh Jackman showcase.  Now with Wolverine he gets a great showcase, and we finally get a more complete action story, with the ongoing question that has energized stories since ancient times:  what makes one a hero or a villain?

I am confused as to why some reviewers have said that the movie does not reveal much about Wolverine’s origins.  We are not told what caused the mutation possessed by Logan, later known as Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and his brother Victor Creed (Liev Schrieber), but presumably they were born with it, which is the obvious definition of a mutant. We seem them as youths in the Northwest Territories of Canada, a sparsely populated and wild region in the 19th century.  They come from a broken home, and young Logan commits the Oedipal act of accidentally killing a man who turns out to be his own father with his bony claws.  Victor is even more animalistic. 

Over the next century, the brothers are unstoppable war machines, and the opening credits do something rather original in showing them fighting in every American war.  But eventually the authorities catch up with them when they survive a firing squad without even a nick.  They  and they are drafted into a special paramilitary team of other mutant-soldiers by a younger Stryker (Danny Huston) as he continues his quest to build the ultimate mutant, combining all the powers of the mutants seen so far.  Can Wolverine defeat him?  Who will come to his aid, now that the crew has fallen apart?  And you won’t believe what island in the northeastern USA is Stryker’s lab. 

Many reviewers have criticized the movie as unrealistic and not true enough to the comic book original.  I wonder how many of these viewers ever watch Disney or Pixar movies and question their “artistic value” or realism.  This is an adventure movie, and although much of it is scientifically implausible, the emotions and motives of the heroes and villains is very real, and the special effects have become so believable that even a skeptic like me can’t tell CGI from the real thing anymore. 

It isn’t Shakespeare, but it has moments of terror and humor rather than an hour or two of half-baked crude jokes and repetitive story lines so rampant in modern cinema.  The action is almost non-stop and exciting, with several plot twists and surprises, and manages to dip in and out of the landscape of the other X-Men films without duplication.  Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine is a wounded, angry wolf of a man in search of answers, and while he may be almost invulnerable physically, his emotions are pushed and pulled in different directions so that we empathize with him no matter what he does.  The name fits his persona even more than his animalistic physical dominance.

It is in many ways a prequel that surpasses its predecessors because it solves riddles that arose along the journey.  Working on his  own he can finally unleash the badass that Wolverine really is.  In the extras Grant explains that he finally looks and acts the way that Wolverine should, partly because he has played the part for so long.  Much of it was also owed to Grant’s unending physical regimen of diet and hours of a grueling workout regimen.    He was faster and learned the routines faster than nearly all of the stuntmen on the production, which ties into his stage performances on Broadway. 

The movie smartly drops in many other mutants, some of whom only stop a bullet of two, and vanish, others such as Gambit (Taylor Kitsch) we get to know better.  He is a very unusual mutant who loves to play cards and his superpower seems to be slamming down his cane to the ground  causing earthquakes, and he is also nimble enough to rus up and down the walls of New Orleans.  Even Wolverine’s true love, Kayla Silverfox (played by the stunning Lynn Collins) turns out to be a mutant.  The continuing theme of mutants, freaks in cages, powerless despite their powers, resonates strongly, and we learn why Kayla was really with Wolverine to begin with and how he loses his memory of all that came before.

Wolverine even rescues a young Scott Summers, better known as Cyclops, from school before Stryker can get him and use him for his powers. Which leads us to Professor Xavier and his special school, which is where the whole saga began.

Video ****

I saw this in the theatre, and it’s all here, crisp and perfect.  No discernable flaws or problems I can see.

Audio ***1/2

I hoped for DTS but this mix is pretty darn good, less music this time around but you can hear everything clearly and the fight scenes in particular just leap out at you from all sides in 5.1.

Features ***

Nothing revolutionary here but definitely worth viewing.  “Roots of Wolverine:  A Conversation with Stan Lee and Len Wien” allows us more time to probe the mind of Stan Lee, creator of just about all of the Marvel heroes of the modern era, one of the most ingenious (and congenial) minds of the twentieth century.  We learn that Wolverine was originally going to fight the Hulk, not as a hero for the X-Men. Len Wein created the new X-Men in the 1970’s as an international group, and thus Wolverine was Canadian.  Lee avoided having to explain how a character got their power; they were just born with it, which simplified the task enormously for him.   

Arguably the new X-Men were even better than the originals as Stan Lee acknowledged.  The book was bi-monthly for years because it was a mediocre seller until the new crew came along with Storm, Wolverine, and Phoenix.  They discuss female readers, changes in writing such as Chris Claremont writing X-Men for 17 years. 

“Wolverine Unleashed:  The Complete Origins” is the obligatory behind the scenes documentary.

There are also deleted scenes with commentary by director Gavin Hood and commentary during the movie by Shulla Donner and Ralph Winter.  

I reviewed the two-disc set with digital copy.  The digital copy comes on its own disc, you merely insert it and iTunes should open, then upon entering a code the movie copies itself with no other prompting.  It should work with other programs but iTunes opened and asked for a code with no other prompting, so I recommend that program. 

Summary:

Hugh Jackman is at the top of his game for his solo movie, physically and theatrically.  Frankly there are not very many manly yet vulnerable heroes in modern cinema anymore.  Wolverine is Dirty Harry with steel claws and animal senses.  We learn how he loses his memory of where he came from and how he became truly invincible, yet he still loathes himself.  Fascinating.    The X-Men series is probably done now, and it goes out with a bang and a roar.

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