The superhero genre reached a higher echelon in 2008 with "Iron Man" and "The Dark Knight," and considering the success of 2/3 of the X-Men franchise so far, "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" can certainly be held to those standards, especially a movie whose title alone suggests getting right down to its hero's adamantium core.
But "Wolverine" plays more like a spin-off, defining "origins" as the back story and not the psychological workings of the character. It's weak on themes, but loaded on more new mutants with new powers, explosions and plenty of subplots. Basically, it fails where "X-Men 3" did, trying to do too much at once, rushing the plot along and sacrificing the deeper reason audiences are drawn to Hugh Jackman's character other than he's cool and has a crude, sarcastic sense of humor. However, it succeeds much of the same way X3 did and beyond: more explosive action and creative use of an immense visual effects budget. Although director Gavin Hood doesn't bring more insight into the film with his work, he certainly has as good of an eye for the stylish as anyone.
The first sign that you know this movie isn't going to be top tier for superhero flicks is the number of mutants/villains. For a story about one, singular X-man, there are way too many other characters to follow: Col. Stryker is their ringleader, but Sabretooth (Schriber), Wade Wilson/Deadpool (Reynolds), Bolt (Monaghan), Gambit (Kitsch), Wraith (will.i.am), Agent Zero, the Blob and young Cyclops (not to mention a slough of extras) make the film dizzying. Especially at the beginning, we need to see more Wolverine -- it's his movie.
To the film's credit, its quick movement makes it easy to watch and entertaining and there's some surprisingly good comedic timing on Jackman's part for an action movie. Seriously though, it must have been a blast (no pun intended) on the set during action sequences because they actually destroyed everything they possibly could: CGI, real and both. This film is the beginning of what will surely be mind-blowing visual effects at the movies this summer. Hood gives new visual strength to the franchise and provides a much more epic feel to this film -- it's clearly about this grand journey for Wolverine, even if it's more spectacle than introspective.
Surprisingly, the ending was the most satisfying part of the film. All the subplots converge, it makes sense and the loose ends that fans of the first three films will notice get tied up fittingly at the end. For the whole first hour of the film you're juggling Wolverine and Sabretooth's rivalry, Stryker's team of guys with powers, Wolverine's romance with Kayla out in the wilderness, what's happening to the team of guys with powers ... why the heck kid Cyclops is in the movie ... it's not overwhelming, it's just not as enjoyable when you can't focus on one thing or character as much as you'd like. Still, the ending justifies the strange means, at least in terms of the epic battle that ensues.
"Wolverine" is not a travesty for the genre, but it certainly doesn't meet the expectations for a thorough superhero movie experience. You get amped up action and style over meaning and that makes it entertainment more than catharsis. Expect to be entertained and little else and "Wolverine" will satisfy your itch for the summer movie season.
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