Saturday, May 2, 2009

Wolverine will rule the box office......and it kind of sucks

Well, I've just come back from seeing X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and I keep asking myself one thing over and over; how did they manage to fuck up one of the most effortlessly cool characters and stories in modern comics history?

Let's take a look at the good things first of all.

There's a reason why this role made Hugh Jackman a big star. Jackman gets the character; his thinly concealed rage, his desire to prove to himself he's more than the violence, his nobility, his romantic qualities, the way he exudes "badass" with almost no effort or posturing. The fact of the matter is, the film relies totally on Jackman's talent and understanding of the role, because the script sure as hell contains none of this. In fact, it strains throughout to communicate these qualities with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer, and therefore it all feels forced and over-simplified, and ultimately rings false. Look at the scene on the train with Rogue in the first X-Men film; there's nothing even approaching that level of simple effectiveness or heart here.

Ryan Reynolds is his usual charming self, creating a fun and interesting character that is sorely missed when he disappears after ten minutes. Dominic Monaghan invests his miniscule role with some real pathos and some hidden depths, but this is never explored in any way, and he is gone too soon as well. The first ten minutes or so are good fun, following Wolverine and his early years as some sort of government operative, but after one or two scenes of this, it's over.

Everything else doesn't work at all. The story is total mess. When Wolverine debuted in the X-Men comics, he was a sawed-off obnoxious thug with a big mouth and impulse control issues. Over time, he grew into an anti-heroic, grimly effective killng machine struggling to find his place. He finally became the tough but noble masterless samurai-like figure that we all know and love. Along the way, much his past was shrouded in mystery, even to him, and this, I believe, was a central tenet of his massive popularity. Like Eastwood's Man with No Name, the less we know, the more fascinating he is.

In the late 80's at the height of his popularity, a mini-series depicted how Wolvie got the adamantium skeleton and claws. Titled Weapon X, it was a strange, moody, bloody and brutal story, and is justly legendary. Twenty years later, Origin was released. It was another mini-series that depicted Logan's childhood and very early years. It depicted him as having been born in the 1800s, and showed his decline from aristocratic boy to feral beast. Once again, it was brutal and atmospheric.

These stories are clumsily mashed together, with every mutant that we didn't see in the previous X-films clumsily sewed into the plot to create a sanitized hodegpodge that makes little to no sense. Popular comic characters like Gambit (who I have always hated anyway) and Deadpool are introduced for really no other reason than fans have wanted to see them. Other characters are added just so they can show some cool powers and are then promptly killed off or otherwise disappear. Wolverine's relationship with Sabretooth, one of the most visceral, intense, complicated and bloody in mainstream comics, is reduced to an ill-defined sibling rivalry where two guys with claws repeatedly gut each other without drawing a drop of blood. At no point after the first ten minutes was I vaguely intrigued, nor did I truly despise the film. It is so middle of the road and bland that I found myself amiably drifting from episodic moment to moment, and when it was over, I merely shrugged and left.

To me, the classic Wolvie is the one with little to no back story at all. He should be a mysterious, damaged figure; a guy trying to uncover his past and finding that the more he learns, the more pain he feels. The single story most responsible for elevating the character into one of the top figures in comics was an early 80's mini-series where he goes to Japan and has to prove his honour to the father of the woman he loves. The father happens to be an organized crime lord. Wolverine winds up fighting hundreds of ninjas, bedding a Japanese hit-woman, taking on most of the Japanese underworld, and finding some peace as he proves to himself that he's a man, not a mindless animal. Wouldn't you like to see Hugh Jackman fight 100 ninjas?

Oh, well. This flick will make money, for the first weekend, at least. Maybe in the next flick we'll get something worthy of the character, and the actor who plays him.

No comments: