Diversions


Movie Review: Wolverine by uncdiversions
May 6, 2009, 9:17 pm
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It’s a shame, really. The X-Men movie franchise had a good, solid thing going for it. “X-Men” and “X2” both stood on their own as fun, respectable films with unique yet consistent flavors. They were self-contained, but combined for a coherent narrative. They were dark and realistic, and infused with the pathos and social critique that has always made the X-Men story so significant. They were true to the comic’s mythology and emotion when it mattered, but they also knew which elements of comic-art don’t translate well to film. Sorry, but Wolverine’s yellow, black and blue spandex just had to go.

Maybe this was a result of Bryan Singer’s vision as director. After all, when he left the direction of part three, “X-Men: The Last Stand,” to Brett Ratner, everything went straight to hell. Incoherence abounded. The tone descended from serious to silly.

There were a few redeeming scenes, of course. Seeing Dark Phoenix blow Professor Xavier to infinitesimal smithereens with her mind was a more intense psychological experience than even “The Dark Knight” could muster. But the large majority of the film was simply unwatchable.

“X-Men Origins: Wolverine” is another sad step down this path. Though the director this time is Gavin Hood (and you know a franchise is running on empty by the third director), the movie is so stylistically similar to “The Last Stand” that it must be judged with it, and not with the first two installments.

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Like “The Last Stand,” “Wolverine” has serious problems with pacing, not giving itself enough time to tell a story that really shouldn’t be rushed, but that also isn’t so large as to require rushing. As a result, the center cannot hold. Wolverine, in a role reprised by the totally ripped and magnificently side-burned Hugh Jackman, delivers dramatic monologues of resignation with one breath and rips and tears at Sabertooth’s throat with the next.

Characters also pop in and out of the story frantically, with little concern for explaining who they actually are. Gone are the days of Singer’s direction, when the back-stories of such intriguing personalities as Rogue and Magneto are handled with care and time. Remember the prologuelogue to “X-Men,” the touching and revealing flashback to the child who would become Magneto, bending the gates of a concentration camp in Poland circa 1944? Yeah, don’t count on it in “Wolverine.” Instead you meet John Wraith. Who’s John Wraith? Don’t worry about it, because here’s the Blob. Who is the Blob? Don’t worry about it, because here’s Gambit. Who is Gambit? Don’t worry about it, because here is Three Mile Island.

What? Three Mile Island? What in the hell is Wolverine doing battling atop a nuclear reactor? In this preposterous plot progression, which gets more ridiculous with each new locale and scene, nothing is off limits. Like Ratner, Hood has failed where Singer succeeded. Neither understood that just because you’re turning a comic book into a summer blockbuster doesn’t mean you can ask people to believe anything and everything.

And though I’m not the first person to point this out, it deserves repeating as a caveat emptor for anyone thinking of spending money on this movie: “Wolverine” employs, straight-faced, some of the most horrible, laughable clichés in the entire vocabulary of film, most of which can only be seen in total camp. Wolverine screaming “NO!” at the sky over the body of his dead lover is topped only by Wolverine holding her in his arms and walking her into the sunset. These are things that people do not put in movies when they want to be taken seriously. And Wolverine’s story should not be taken any other way.

The film is also bathed in a strange white light, like its predecessor. Perhaps they were going for an other-worldly, kinetic comic book color palate, but what it looks like is a world draped by a blue screen, giving the feeling of a permanent and poor special effect. The result, as is often the case with poor blue-screen effects, is a landscape where foregrounds and backgrounds don’t mesh, a visual incoherence to go with the narrative confusion.

I haven’t mentioned the plot of the movie much, because I don’t take it seriously. I don’t take it seriously, because it doesn’t take itself seriously. As happens too often in bad comic books, the story in this movie is just a backdrop for larger-than-life personalities to deliver silly catch-phrases as they shit-kick their way to victory. One of the greatest scenes in the franchise comes from “X2,” when Wolverine, whose memory loss is explained in “Wolverine,” returns to Alkali Lake and sees three scratch marks in a concrete wall. This induces a flashback of his escape from the compound after being turned into Weapon X, where he runs naked, doubled up in pain and covered in blood and mucus, into the northern snow. It was the perfect set-up for a spin-off, one that could have been cathartic and probing. But Hood ruins it in “Wolverine,” re-visualizing the same scene with Wolverine escaping unphased, slashing bad-guys as he exits into a scenic evergreen forest (actually jumping down a waterfall), clean as the butt of just-bathed baby.

In eternal testament to the literacy of the average comic-book reader, Wolverine’s story has always been popular. That’s as it should be. It’s intriguing and compelling, somewhere between an H. G. Wells technocratic nightmare and a Jack London adventure tale. It’s hard to tell if this movie is an outright betrayal of its own hero, or just a failed attempt to translate his character. In any case, it adds nothing to our understanding of Wolverine, and detracts quite a deal from the first two X-Men movies.

– By Diversions Staff Writer Jonothan Pattishall

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