Shiny Shelf


X-Men: Origins: Wolverine

By Mark Clapham on 02 May 2009

It’s about a decade ago, it’s Friday night on Channel 4, and comic book shop employee and wannabe artist Tim Bisley is drawing a poster for a sale at the store. He’s asked what he’s drawing. He answers:

‘It’s Wolverine slashing prices with his adamantium claws.’

The day after that episode of ‘Spaced’ was broadcast, I was in London at some geek thing or other – I think it was related to ‘Doctor Who Magazine’ – and mentioned this to a couple of other people. None of us could quite believe it. Someone mentioned Wolverine’s adamantium claws on a sitcom? Talk about hardcore geeky references.

Enough prequelising, back to 2009. Jump cut to ironic twist: while the man in the street might not know the exact name of the fabled, near indestructible metal coating Wolverine’s skeleton, mentioning the character and his lethal claws would be a pretty mainstream pop culture reference. He’s a movie star now, brought to fame by the first ‘X-Men’ movie, his clawed fist prominent in the marketing for two sequels, and now heading up his own prequel movie, which had a healthy opening Friday at the US box office. What a difference a decade makes.

While Wolverine may not be as big a noise in cinemas as he is in comics (where he stars in a frankly stupid number of Marvel titles per month and has the equivalent star power of Tom Cruise playing James Bond in Middle Earth), he’s become the breakout character from the ‘X-Men’ movies in the same way that he’s the most popular mutant in comics. This isn’t a transition that should be taken for granted: watching ‘X-Men: Origins: Wolverine’ (see, I had to get around to mentioning the subject of the damn review at some point), is a reminder of how key Hugh Jackman’s portrayal is to the success of the character on the big screen: Jackman brings a wry humour and hidden depths of wounded sensitivity to comics most over-exposed blary badass, qualities that not only make for an appealing movie lead but have looped back and enriched the characterisation in the comics. If original pick for the part in the first film Dougray Scott hadn’t been delayed by the extended shoot for ‘Mission: Impossible 2’, we might be watching ‘X-Men: Origins: Marrow’ instead. As it is, this is undeniably Jackman’s movie, and he keeps a hold of it in the face of a scene-stealing supporting cast.

And the movie does have a lot of other characters in it: this isn’t just a solo show, a cheap spin-off like ‘Elektra’ or a revenge movie which could have any violent protagonist in the lead. Slipping ‘X-Men’ into the title isn’t just a marketing exercise, this prequel is firmly rooted in the ‘X-Men’ universe, filling in a lot of backstory for the core movie series and introducing a lot of new mutants (although not necessarily New Mutants) and other key characters, like ‘X2’ villain Stryker. Director Gavin Hood has gone for acting heavyweights (and not just for the Blob, ho-ho): the younger Stryker is played by Danny Huston, stepping into the unenviably vast shoes of Brian Cox and admirably filling them, Ryan Reynolds is suitably snappish and hinged as Wade Wilson, and there’s even a poignant little turn from that Hobbit out of ‘Lost’ as the electricity-controlling Bolt.

However, biggest and oddest casting is sensitive, clever indie movie performer Liev Schreiber as Victor Creed, aka Sabretooth. A role previously taken by a wrestler in Bryan Singer’s original ‘X-Men’, Victor Creed isn’t exactly the kind of nuanced character part Schreiber usually plays: he’s a big, savage, hairy brick shithouse. What Schreiber does is embrace that savagery, but also give the character just enough nuance – Schreiber’s Creed is an intelligent monster, not one controlled by bloodlust but someone who is totally aware of his brutality and chooses to embrace it. He’s a good match for Logan’s Wolverine, which is a good job as the two spend a lot of screen time together.

Sabretooth is only one of the characters who accompanies Wolverine for stretches of the movie – while there are busy scenes, the fact that this isn’t a pure ‘X-Men’ movie means it doesn’t have to serve an ensemble, and we follow the lead character as he’s accompanied by other characters who drop in and out of the stories (those drop-outs usually being fatal ones). It allows for a film that’s a lot less hectic than the overblown, heartless ‘Last Stand’, although it’s far from a character piece. Director Gavin Hood keeps stuff blowing up, and even has time to include that staple of the modern action movie, the fight scene that’s edited too choppily to tell what the hell is going on.

Plot-wise, ‘Wolverine’ balances its action, storyline and character well, with some well-executed set-pieces and enough twists to avoid the prequel curse of just filling in the blanks with exactly what you’d guess, while still ending up where the story needs to end up. It’s a solid, entertaining basis for a Wolverine movie, which takes the lead character on a little character journey and delivers the requisite ‘splodes and gags along the way. The dialogue is less than inspiring for a lot of the film, but is delivered well and lacks the obvious howlers that blight most action movies. Interestingly, while it’s possible to date most of the action via historical context, the movie is coy about just how far in the past the film is set, with very little period detail. Guess the studio don’t think the kids are ready to go and see a film set in their parents’ childhoods.

Fundamentally, if you would like to see a movie about Wolverine, then unless you’re massively averse to Jackman’s portrayal and the movie X-verse in general, you will probably like this movie about Wolverine. Choppy editing aside, Hood has assembled a great cast, gets the most out of them and delivers a film with exciting action scenes and a solid character base. It may not be as good as ‘X2’ (undoubtedly the film franchise’s peak to date) but it provides a credible companion piece to it.


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By Mark Clapham

Mark Clapham is a Devon-based writer and editor. You can find out more about him at the egotistically named markclapham.com.




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