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The Sharpest Thing About Wolverine Are the Claws

  • Christa Banister Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
  • 2009 5 May
  • COMMENTS
The Sharpest Thing About <i>Wolverine</i> Are the Claws

DVD Release Date:  September 15, 2009
Theatrical Release Date:  May 1, 2009
Rating:  PG-13 (for intense sequences of action and violence and some partial nudity)
Genre:  Action-Adventure, Adaptation, Sci-Fi
Run Time:  107 min.
Director:  Gavin Hood
Actors:  Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber, Danny Huston, Lynn Collins, Dominic Monaghan, Taylor Kitsch, Ryan Reynolds

Thanks to the whole mutant factor, the X-Men have always been some of the more interesting comic book characters.

Unlike, say, Peter Parker/Spiderman or Bruce Wayne/Batman who have pretty sweet civilian lives while pulling double duty as the mysterious heroes who save those in peril and keeps evil nemeses at bay (Peter has brains and Mary Jane, who's clearly out of his league, while Bruce isn't exactly lacking for cash flow and has all those nifty gadgets—and the Batmobile—to boot), the X-Men never had it quite so good. Or easy.

After all, in a society where conformity is often king and uniqueness isn't always embraced, they're always the freaks—even if their "gifts" are pretty cool. But even if you're the clear rock star of the pack like Wolverine, those retractable claws, not to mention a particularly volatile temper, don't exactly allow you to blend in and have a quasi-normal existence.

And since those intriguing dynamics inevitably ended up playing out well in two really entertaining, big money-making flicks, (2006's X-Men: The Last Stand was far too lackluster and convoluted to make it a perfect trilogy), why not keep the momentum going, right? So in the grand tradition of oh-so-many movies these days, and just in time to kick off this year's summer at the multiplex, we've got an X-Men prequel of sorts: the story of how Wolverine became Wolverine.

Given the popularity of Wolverine's character, it's the logical choice and a great way of not having to pay several A-listers the big bucks it would require to do yet another full-blown X-Men outing. And with Tsotsi's Gavin Hood in the director's seat, the franchise's continued promise has never looked better.

Unfortunately, promise isn't nearly enough to ensure a top-notch superhero pic. Unlike last year's Iron Man, a perfect blend of larger-than-life popcorn movie with a coherent, intriguing storyline played to perfection by Robert Downey Jr., X-Men Origins: Wolverine is nothing more than a series of decently executed special effects eventually wasted on a predictable script. It's not that leading man Hugh Jackman doesn't fully invest himself in the role, mind you. His impressively bulky frame and latent anger always simmering beneath the surface, even when he's in love with a comely schoolteacher (Lynn Collins), still makes Jackman the perfect choice for Wolverine. But sadly, the screenplay that's riddled with cameos of characters that show up and disappear without warning or much consequence, doesn't really deliver.

The film's first third is serviceable enough, however, with a semi-intriguing set-up. Back in 1845, James Howlett (with a last name like that, he was destined to be Wolverine, right?) is a perpetually sick kid with a less-than-perfect family. In a drunken rage, his birth father assaults his mother and only seconds later, brutally kills his stepfather, while James, suffering with a fever, lays in his bed upstairs. Instead of being scared that his father might pursue him next, James is so overcome with rage that bony claws emerge from his forearms and instinctively, he plunges them into the killer's torso, becoming a killer (albeit one with more noble intentions) himself.

Meanwhile, his older brother Victor (played perfectly by Liev Schreiber) also possesses rather unique appendages in the form of nasty, yellowing fingernails that also make perfect weapons and the ability to move very, very quickly. Wanting to shield his little brother from capture, Victor and James retreat to the woods. Thankfully, another ability they have-to heal quickly and not age-helps them on the battlefield as they fight in the Civil War, World Wars 1 and 2 and even Vietnam later on.

But there's a clear distinction between the brothers that's made early that ends up fueling the rest of the movie. While Victor enjoys killing for sport, James clearly doesn't crave violence and bloodshed and actually feels bad for the sins of his past.

This distinction becomes increasingly more important when they're invited to join Stryker's black ops team. Sensing an opportunity to use the brothers' special powers for his evil endgame, (in one instance, he commanded his troops to annihilate an African village full of innocent people—a plan James eventually thwarts), it doesn't take much for Stryker to get Victor onboard.  But James, who eventually christens himself Logan, is ready for a new life that doesn't involve killing people without questioning why.

When Logan eventually finds contentment in his career (he's a simple lumberjack, happily living in a remote corner of British Columbia) and his burgeoning love life, however, you automatically know it's going to be short-lived with guys like Victor and Stryker on the loose. And it doesn't exactly take a rocket scientist to figure out what eventually motivates Wolverine to switch back to the dark side because you've seen it coming from a mile away.

It's almost insulting how clearly—and neatly—everything is spelled out for you. And that's something that no amount of really cool special effects can change, because there's really no reason to root for any of these characters—mutants or otherwise—which is a shame given their intrigue. Even the writers of the other X-Men movies understood the value of painting in shades of gray and throwing a few twists in the mix, something that would've made Wolverine far more memorable.

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol:  Social drinking is depicted in a couple of bar scenes. 
  • Language/Profanity:  Some coarse language, although not pervasive, including three instances where the Lord's name is misused. Also, Wolverine makes a rude gesture with his middle finger.
  • Sex/Nudity:  Wolverine emerges from a laboratory fully nude, but only his backside is revealed.
  • Violence:  The Dark Knight has definitely expanded the range-and amount-of violence that is allowed in a PG-13 movie, and this movie takes full advantage of that. But because it's comic book violence, it doesn't feel quite as real somehow because most of it is actually bloodless. Nonetheless, there are multiple shootings (of innocents, too), stabbings (those claws have to be used for something, right?), body blows, deadly fires and a decapitation. Wolverine also undergoes a painful process to become indestructible that's certainly not for the faint of heart. In the opening sequence, there's hand-to-hand combat fighting that underscores Victor's ruthless nature and Wolverine's inclination not to kill for sport.

Christa Banister is a full-time freelancer writer, specializing in music, movies and books-related reviews and interviews and is the author of two novels, Around the World in 80 Dates and Blessed Are the Meddlers. Based in St. Paul, Minn., she also weighs in on various aspects of pop culture on her personal blog

For more information, including her upcoming book signings and sample chapters of her novels, check out her Website.