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Marvel Movies Project: X-Men Origins: Wolverine

Movie poster for X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009).

Hugh Jackman is back for a fourth go-round as Wolverine in X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009). As the title suggests, this film focuses on Wolverine’s origins, which were previously hinted at in X2. Here, we see younger versions of several familiar characters as Wolverine becomes “Weapon X” and gets his skeleton upgraded from bone to adamantium.

Our story begins in northern Canada in 1845 because it turns out Wolverine is really that old, as is Sabretooth, apparently. In a surprise twist, Sabretooth, here going by his real name, Victor Creed, turns out to be Wolverine’s brother: in this version of events, it is revealed that Victor’s father is also Wolverine’s real father, even though Wolverine’s fake father is played by an actor who bears an uncanny resemblance to Hugh Jackman. Alright then.

After fathers real and fake both end up dead during a household dispute, Wolverine and Victor go on the run together. They become brothers in arms as well as in blood, and fight together in several wars: the US Civil War (despite being Canadian), World War I, World War II (they probably knew Captain America!), and finally Vietnam (again despite being Canadian). In Vietnam they meet Stryker — familiar to the audience from X2 — who invites them to be a part of an elite team of assassins, all of whom have “special skills,” which is to say they’re mutants. Wolverine becomes increasingly uncomfortable with the group’s activities and ultimately quits.

One of the countless pieces of useful life knowledge I’ve picked up from TV and the movies is that you should never join an elite team of assassins because chances are good that someday someone is going to decide it’s too risky to keep you alive. Indeed, this is what happens: Victor starts killing off the members of his old crew one by one. Wolverine has established a new life for himself back in his old Canadian stomping grounds: he’s a lumberjack, and he’s ok. But when Victor shows up and kills his lady love, Wolverine agrees to a deal with Stryker that will turn him into a stronger soldier and allow him to get revenge on Victor. And the rest is history.

The cast of X-Men Origins: Wolverine is large and includes some fairly big names, both real and fictional. A few well-known mutants — notably, Scott Summers, Emma Frost, and (surprise!) Professor X — appear briefly. In terms of celebrities from the real world, there’s multi-platinum recording artist will.i.am as John Wraith and Ryan Reynolds, here making his second attempt at a comic book movie, as Wade “Deadpool” Wilson. Poor Ryan Reynolds. Of all his superhero-related efforts, this is probably the best if only because Blade: Trinity and Green Lantern are both so wretchedly awful. Personally, I hate Deadpool in any form so I did not enjoy his performance here.

Also in the cast are a couple of actors known and beloved by certain audiences for their roles in iconic series: Dominic Monaghan — Merry in the Lord of the Rings movies and also Charlie on Lost — and Taylor Kitsch, who will always be Friday Night Lights‘ Tim Riggins to me. At the time Wolverine was released, I was really excited about the prospect of Riggins in an important role in this movie. It was disappointing, then, to find out how little screentime he actually has.

Most of the cast’s roles, in fact, are little more than cameos. But given the calibre of the people involved, it feels like this film was cast as an ensemble piece. Perhaps because of its association with the team-oriented X-Men movies, it was also marketed that way to an extent, with some of the posters featuring multiple characters. In reality, it’s almost a one-man show, with only Liev Schreiber (Victor) and Danny Huston (Stryker) coming anywhere close to matching Hugh Jackman’s screentime (oddly enough, Huston didn’t feature on any posters). To be fair, a one man show is what the title suggests.

But the result of having all these characters floating around not doing much is that the film suffers from a bit of overcrowding. It’s not as bad as X-Men: The Last Stand because all the minor characters are presented as, well, minor characters. Wolverine‘s problem is more comparable to the introduction of Gwen and Captain Stacy in Spider-Man 3: why hype the known names if you’re not going to use them?

Still, the movie is entertaining enough in a mindless sort of way. More notable from my perspective than the movie itself is the fact that I saw it being filmed. I was a student at the University of British Columbia when Wolverine was filming in Vancouver. The part about 10 minutes into the movie where Stryker’s team attacks a compound in Nigeria to find out where the adamantium comes from was filmed on campus, right outside the building where I had all my classes.

Image from X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009).

They built a shantytown set like you see in that image (although in reality it wasn’t as big) outside the building. My friend and I wandered around trying to find out what was going on and she discovered it was for Wolverine. Then one night I was coming home from pub trivia and I saw a big crowd gathered around the area, which was all lit up. I went over to watch and I saw them do a few takes of some soldiers shooting at an unknown something represented by a green screen. Sadly, no stars were present. I did not get to see Hugh Jackman. It was pretty cool to see a Marvel movie in the flesh, though.

Marvel Movies Project: X-Men: The Last Stand

X-Men: The Last Stand movie poster

X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) saw a major change for the X-Men franchise: Bryan Singer, who directed both X-Men and X2, left the Marvel Universe and went over to DC to do Superman Returns, leaving Brett Ratner to take over. Singer did such a great job on the first two films. I think it’s fair to say his voice was missed here.

The film picks up an unspecified amount of time after X2 left off, with the team still dealing with Jean’s death. Cyclops in particular is pretty much broken after losing his true love. But then … surprise! She’s not really so dead after all: she reappears mysteriously, kills Cyclops quite unceremoniously (he just disappears from the movie so James Marsden could go with Singer and play the nice guy in Superman Returns), and returns to the X-Mansion where she and her immense power become film’s focus.

We see a flashback to the time Professor X and Magneto (played by heavily airbrushed versions of Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen) first visited Jean when she was a child, at which time her power amazed even them. Then we learn that Jean has a split personality, caused by the Professor’s attempts to create roadblocks that prevented her from accessing her full powers. This raises some interesting questions about the morality of mind control. More generally, control and the violation of free will are the major themes of the movie. Wolverine, who has strong feelings on the subject thanks to his own past, is appalled by what the Professor did to Jean, but the Professor strongly feels he acted in her best interests. For her part, Jean seems kind of pissed off. So, she disintegrates Professor X with her mind and goes to join Magneto.

The other big development in the film is the creation of a “cure” for mutation. Some of the mutants see this as a good thing, in particular Rogue, who almost immediately goes off to get cured. If you hadn’t seen any of the other X-Men movies, you might look at Rogue’s actions and think she was just doing it because she was jealous of Bobby’s flirtation with Kitty Pryde. In the context of the series as a whole, though, we know that Rogue has always been uncomfortable with her powers. On the other hand, she seemed to be coping better in X2, and that does make this seem like a step back in her character development. Still, it’s hard not to sympathize with her given the extreme nature of her mutation.

But Rogue seems to be in the minority and many other mutants most definitely do not like the idea of being cured. Storm is offended by the very word “cure,” asking “when did we become a disease?” Meanwhile, Magneto is convinced that regular humans will eventually use the cure as a weapon against mutants — and he’s quickly proven right. Magneto’s righthand woman Mystique is among the first victims of the cure as weapon … and he drops her instantly, leaving her lying naked in the road after declaring that she’s no longer “one of us.” Ouch. It’s a sad end for Mystique, who I found to be one of the more interesting characters as I watched the series this time around. I’m not sure whether X-Men: First Class may have altered my perception of her — possibly — but I find her anger at the way the world treats outcasts like her very striking. She’s also extremely competent and smart, and after Magneto abandons her she gets back at him very quickly by giving evidence to the government. Screw you, Magneto.

The cure seems to bring out the worst in everyone, human and mutant alike. Even the X-Men, some of whom have expressed serious reservations about the cure’s very existence, end up using it as a weapon against Magneto. This is at best a morally questionable action. At worst, it’s a huge violation of Magneto’s rights. There’s no way to see it as anything other than massively hypocritical coming from people like Storm, who’s been vocal about her hatred of the cure, and Wolverine, who was so hard on the Professor for his treatment of Jean. And then there’s the end of Jean’s story (presumably), which sees Wolverine kill her to save her from herself after the two re-enact the yellow crayon scene from Buffy. At least she asked him to do it, I guess?

My point is there’s a lot of moral outrage in this movie that doesn’t end up meaning much when characters actually find their philosophies tested. The cure is a complex issue, no doubt, but it just feels as though some characters give up on their principles a little too easily. The whole film feels somewhat garbled, with old characters dying suddenly — at least they stop to mourn Professor Xavier; poor Cyclops’ passing is hardly noticed — or, like Mystique, suffering unsatisfactory endings. New characters like Angel, Colossus, and Kitty show up for a few brief scenes but aren’t well developed. Angel in particular is wasted: a couple of (admittedly very cool) shots of his wings end up being his major contribution to the movie. Kelsey Grammer as Beast is the only one of the new cast members who gets enough screen time to make a strong impression.

All in all, it’s a disappointing ending to this porton of the X-Men series. I leave you with a glimpse at what might have been had Superman Returns never happened (quick answer: we’d all be better off) via Cracked’s article on 6 Famously Terribly Movies That Were Almost Awesome. Interestingly, Bryan Singer has rejoined the world of mutants to direct the upcoming X-Men: Days of Future Past, and has said he’ll used that film to try to “fix” some of what happened in The Last Stand. It’s an intriguing proposition. Hopefully it’ll work out.