Superhero Month: "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" Review

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Superhero Month: "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" Review

-- Rating: PG-13 (Intense sequences of action and violence, some partial nudity)
Length: 107 minutes
Release Date: May 1, 2009
Directed by: Gavin Hood
Genre: Action/Adventure/Sci-Fi

For a superhero franchise, there's nothing quite like a good origin story. They all get around to it sooner or later. Some are better than others, and among the standouts in the genre is "X-Men Origins: Wolverine." Wolverine has always been a favorite of the X-Men fanbase, partly for being indestructible and partly for answering the universal human desire for gigantic blades that erupt from one's fists. When it came time to tell his story on film, no length was too great and no effort was spared. Wolverine is awesome, and "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" does him justice.

It's rare that an origin story should encompass more than a single human lifetime. Batman, after all, seems to be only around age forty, while Superman doesn't seem to be much older, and Spiderman is practically a kid. Each of these origin tales can be told as a straightforward biopic. "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" presents the writers with a special challenge, as their hero is over two hundred years old and has had quite an eventful life. Trying to squeeze all of that, plus a fully fleshed-out plot, into something like a reasonable run time can't be easy.

Fortunately, the writing team of David Benioff and Skip Woods proves to be more than equal to the challenge. The dialogue of "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" is crisp and relevant, the pacing is spot on, and each scene flows naturally into the next. The movie has no large disruptions or major discontinuities in the flow, and the audience is never left wondering how a major plot point developed without the appropriate exposition beforehand. All this is no mean feat considering the high expectations of legions of extremely well-informed fans who come to "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" able to recite chapter and verse of the X-Men franchise. To deliver an effort that lives up to the expectations this audience brings is an accomplishment worthy of note.

The script is brought to life by a talented cast of Hollywood veterans who all arrived at the project knowing exactly what was expected of them and who generally took their roles seriously. Hugh Jackman, who seems to be in a contest with Neil Patrick Harris for the title of Hollywood's most talented actor, brings such a dark energy to the role of Wolverine that at times it seems he might get fed up with being a mere character in a movie and take out some of his frustrations on the first row of the audience. Liev Schreiber has his work cut out for him in playing Wolverine's brother Victor. Fortunately, he has obviously studied the role at some length and delivers a stand-out performance in scene after scene.

Gavin Hood certainly shares the credit for the performances in "X-Men Origins: Wolverine." To his role as director he brought an unparalleled ability to dig through the words on the page and communicate his vision to the actors. This talent has served him well in the past on such films as "Tsotsi" and "Rendition," both of which share a similar dark tone with "X-Men Origins: Wolverine." Hood seems to have instinctively grasped the brothers' dynamic that was at the heart of the movie and wisely brought it to the forefront of the film he was trying to make.

The other elements of "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" flow together as seamlessly as the acting and the directing have. In a moody genre piece such as this, lighting is going to play a role almost as prominent as if not more so than many of the actors. A brightly lit biopic of Wolverine would have been disastrous and left the audience with the undefinable sense that something, somewhere, had gone terribly wrong. Donald McAlpine seems to have grasped this and cast each shot with what could almost be called an active shadow effect. The result is a dark, brooding power that seems to build throughout the film until finally being released in the movie's climactic showdown.

When all of the elements of a film come together smoothly, it is truly a thing to behold. Favorable coincidences like that don't happen randomly but are instead usually the result of careful planning and the courage to make hard decisions early on in the production. To that end, executive producer Richard Donner is to be praised for having what it takes to manage what was no doubt a very difficult and demanding film. While "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" isn't the last word in the X-Men franchise, it certainly has earned itself a prominent place in the films' canon.

Rating: 3 out of 5