X-Men Origins: Wolverine and the Problem with Sequels

I can think of three possibilities: either I am getting cynical in my old age (likely), I’m getting slow in my old age (highly probable), or I’m getting jealous in my old age.1

It’s taking me longer and longer than ever before to appreciate the full glory of a good movie.  My gut reaction to the Dark Knight was one of knee-jerk rejection.  It wasn’t until I went and saw it again that I fully appreciated the grandiose scale of the dark and gothic action.  There was just so much to take in that I couldn’t process it on the first take.  Seems like I can’t keep up with the kids these days and their new-fangled ideas about movie making.

My reception of X-men Origins: Wolverine was a lot better than that of the Dark Knight, but I’m still disappointed.

Don’t get me wrong, it was a great movie.  I plan on seeing it again.  And getting the DVD.  But I felt that there was something missing.

When I go into a movie, I feel one of two ways: either I expect a lot, or I expect very little.  If I’m not expecting much, like Transformers or Indian Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull – both movies that I anticipated would disappoint me – I generally come out feeling buoyed.  The movies turn out to be good, or even great (not that I’d go that far with Crystal Skull), and I thoroughly enjoy myself.  It allows me to appreciate movies that other people don’t like.  It takes a pretty bad movie to still suck if you were expecting something pretty poor.

But if I feel some sort of anticipation… there are two ways it can go.  Sometimes, a movie will be awesome.  That doesn’t happen often. I’m the jealous type, and as such, I’m anti-hype.  The more something is hyped, the more my jealously turns me into the kind of sour grapes that would make vinegar makers think “phew, that’s sour!”

Knowing I’m like that, I often go see movies that have been hyped, expecting to hate it, and that becomes a case of low expectations.  So, it isn’t often that I feel hyped myself about a movie, and that means there isn’t very many at all that I’ve gone into expecting to be wowed.

Most of the time, I’m disappointed.  I wasn’t keen on seeing AVP, I thought the concept was lame, but I switched off the brain and trundled along and enjoyed the ride in the same way one might enough a roller-coaster.  AVP turned out to be one of the movies I’ve watched a few times.  So, when AVP2 rolled around, I expected the same quality of mindless entertainment and things being blown up or melted with acid.

I was disappointed.  For a movie not really capable of sinking much lower, they really plumbed the depths of B-grade. 

Sequels are the main culprit.  Sequels, prequels, and spin-offs.  They are all based on the same premise that people who paid to see a movie once, will pay to see the next installment, and movie-makers will have emptied our pockets before we can even work out that the movie was shit.

Take Madagascar.  A funny movie.  Very enjoyable.  I went to see the sequel at the movies.  Disappointment plus.  All the good jokes had already been used, this was nothing but the B-material that didn’t make the cut first time around.  I left with a sour taste in my mouth.

When X-Men was released 10 years ago, I was dubious.  As a pseudo-geek with a fan grrl obsession for Wolverine, I went along to see it expecting to be alienated by a comic-book genre I didn’t understand and a violent movie style I didn’t know I enjoyed.  I was naive and sheltered.

I loved it.  The casting was spot on.  Hugh Jackman was a nobody, eking a living on terrible Australian films (though if you’ve seen Australia, you might be forgiven for thinking that’s still true).  X-men made the man.  Every great actor has his “movie”, the one that etched them indelibly on the public’s mind and makes the people who already knew who that actor was shake their heads solemnly and declare, “I told you so”.

Viggo Mortensen had Lord of the Rings.  Johnny Depp had Edward Scissorhands (and then later Pirates). Heath Ledger (rest his soul) would have had The Dark Knight.  But Hugh Jackman IS Wolverine.  Thank God Hugh Jackman is okay as being remembered, not as Peter whosa-whatsit (oh, I’m just so patriotic, right?), or the drover from *shudder* Australia, but as Wolverine; because never have I seen an actor fit a role so snugly that to believe the role wasn’t created for him is so unfathomable, that the knowledge this character was first published (we don’t know when the idea was conceived) when little Hugh was merely 6 years old is simply astounding.

Despite Hugh Jackman’s claims of disappointment in original roles (Hugh produced, and had a great deal of artistic control in the newest movie, allowing him to portray the character with more ugliness than previously permitted), I don’t think there was a single fan out there who could be disappointed in Wolverine.  Disappointed in the limits placed by directors, writers, producers, and movie censors; but not the man.

X-men was the beginning of a phenomena.  Suddenly, the comic book characters we had loved were not just accessible in a brand-new format (Batman and Superman were no strangers to the silver screen), the bar had been permanently raised.  There was no going back, but there was a tide pushing forward, and we were suddenly inundated: Spiderman, (another) new Batman, new Superman, the Incredible Hulk, the Fantastic Four.  Hollywood couldn’t find superheroes fast enough to splash across the big screen and happily empty our wallets in related merchandising.

Suddenly, we were rabid for sequels.  Sequels?  Suck?  Are you shitting me?  These characters are from COMICS.  They are the definition of sequel.  Serial comics running for years never lost their appeal, there must be no shortage of material to work from.  Take James Bond for example.  I mean, the movies started to wobble a bit towards the end, but they never sucked, and since Daniel Craig brought back the gritty Bond instead of the pretty Bond, that series is finding it’s feet all over again (just in time to run out of source material… not a good omen).

In all my cynicism, I never imagined they could do X-men what they did to the Matrix (I’ll happily pretend their were no Matrix sequels and spin-offs.  Happily).

X-men 2, the unhappy middle child of the trilogy, overshadowed by both the glory of the first movie, and the tragedy of the last, has faded from my memory (which was poor to start with).  It can’t have been that bad, by the time the Last Stand hit our screens, I was still excited.

Well, I was ill-rewarded.  The Last Stand was more than disappointing.  It put me in a position that I never wanted to be in.  I lusted for more Wolverine on our big screens, but there was no way I could stomach a fourth X-men movie.  Not after what they did.  Disappointed barely covered it.

X-men Origins: Wolverine was going to be the answer to this dilemma.  Wolverine, and lots of him, out from under the shadow of the game-ending story they’d taken the originals down.

So, have our prayers been answered?

Yes.  And no.

Origins/Wolverine is action packed, thrilling, and brings with it most of the best of the Wolverine history we love.  Some major details have been changed or shifted around, the advantage given to pre-planning out how the story is supposed to go – a major drawback of revealing a character as a serial, when parts of their past suddenly occur to the creator, and have to be awkwardly shoe-horned into place.  Without having read the Ultimates comics, I can’t tell you how closely they played it to Wolverine’s newest incarnation on the pages of our graphic novels.  I hope it is closely.

Parts of the movie feel “unfinished”.  I’m assuming that they were pressing for time.  There are certain places where the director should have made one more take, where the acting could have been tightened every so slightly.  It won’t detract from your enjoyment as a whole, it just keeps the movie from reaching that unobtainable perfection.

The special effects suffer from what I call the “Star Wars Effect”2.  The massive advancements in CGI technology between the making of the originals, and the “new” Star Wars movies created a certain level of congnitive difference: things we see in Origins/Wolverine change things about the originals.  Again, we try and shoehorn an unplanned-for history into it’s rightful place behind an existing movie.

Take, for example, in the second X-men movie, when Wolverine is shot in the head by a police officer.  The aim of the director/producers was to build a dramatic tension: Wolverine couldn’t be killed… but here he was, lying on that porch, hole in his forehead, while we held our breath and hoped that we weren’t about to be betrayed.  And we weren’t.  With a vicseral and incredible effect, the skin healed itself over and ejected the bullet.  Yes, that was the Wolverine we knew.  And it introduced a whole new generation to the mutant who could heal anything.  Yes.  Anything.

In the new movie (and this isn’t spoiling, as you’ve seen it in the trailer), Agent Zero shoots Wolverine squarely in the forehead, and we watch the skin repair itself over that gleam of chromed adamantium (you know, I always thought of adamantium as a dark metal, despite the evidence of Wolverine’s claws).  It was a nice touch, being able to see the metal underneath like he was some sort of Terminator.  And granted, I resepct that we were being shown a different Wolverine: an indestructible Wolverine, as opposed to the potentially vulnerable one we had seen before.  But this seemed so… false.  It felt as though the effects had been rushed, they didn’t seem so polished.

The entire movie also – another aspect of the Star Wars Effect – smacks of the characters having their powers amped up.  It almost made you feel like Wolverine was getting slow in his old age by the time the X-men trilogy rolled around.

Not that I object to Gambit getting a Super-Saiyan IV style power boost for the movies.  If anyone stole the show from Wolverine in this movie, it was Gambit’s playing cards.  A+++ on the kinetic effect they used there.

Though, dammit boy, get a haircut and learn how to talk like a cajun.  Though Taylor Kitsch – the young hottie that he is – manages to squeeze out a faint accent on most of his lines, I miss my tv-cartoon-back-in-the-80’s Ragin’ Cajun.  I love you Gambit!

Overall, there are some parts of the movie that grate on me: like having Wolverine’s conscience shoved up our nose in an attempt to illustrate the gulf of difference between Wolverine and Sabertooth.  But these are heavily outweighed by the rewarding moments, like an abashed Wolverine holding a broken vanity in his paws and promising that he’ll pay for the damage that he inadvertanly caused.  Adorable Wolverine is adorable.

NOTES: If you’re still reading, have a cookie.

1. While I figure the cynical comment is self explanatory, and that my slowness is related to my comment about not being able to keep up with the sensory assualt of movies like the Dark Knight, my jealously comment went unexplained.  It goes like this: once upon a time I was happy to obssess over my screen idols.  But it seems that I broke my adoration bone, and now the sheer knowlegde of just. How. Gorgeous. Hugh Jackman is simply painful.  Perhaps this is part of my Project Mayhem syndrome.

2. The Star Wars Effect: when aspects of a prequel change the way the original should/could have played out.

3. The Project Mayhem syndrome: the sudden, and crushing realisation that TV lied to you.  You will never be famous, or rich, or even pretty.  You are stuck in your dead end job reaching for that unattainable goal of economic liberation for the rest of your life.

Interview with Hugh Jackman
Video of the same Interview

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~ by ghostwolfe on April 29, 2009.

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