X-Men Origins: Wolverine (US - BD)
Gabe gives his belated thoughts on the Blu-ray disc that came over a week late
Bryan Singer’s second X-Men film is still my personal favourite superhero movie. It features a tight script, that was tastefully adapted from a popular comic book tale without losing its own sense of voice and image. The acting was top shelf, and the characters were comic book inspired without coming off as too broad. The action and special effects never overtook the story, but served it, and cinematically speaking Singer balanced the pulpy, comedic, melodramatic and allegorical elements, while maintaining an original style. Perhaps even more importantly Singer and company left the door wide open for an even more effective sequel. Unfortunately that sequel was the victim of studio politics, Singer’s own disappearance, and a producing staff that thought only in terms of making money. Brett Ratner’s X-Men 3: The Last Stand featured short doses of worthiness, but the film’s second half was a mess of incoherent action that threw out all the promise of the speedy, but well told first half. The fact that there was some value to the final product made the final disappointment that much more frustrating, but it set the bar for Fox’s next X-Men film—the origin story of the most popular mutant, Wolverine.
Like Ratner’s film, Gavin Hood’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine features a few shining nuggets of goodness, and most of them occur during the beginning of the story. The credit sequence is a golden example of what can be done with the practically immortal character, but ends up simply teasing the audience with the glory of possibility. We aren’t allowed to see Wolverine and Sabretooth fighting in any major wars for more than a few fleeting seconds. Then we’re introduced to the Weapon X squad, but again this is just a tease, as the team is separated before the end of the act. Despite the stupidly ill-defined super powers, and some lamely staged action (forward facing running back flip, eh?), the squad is filled out with charming actors, who bounce off each other with the film’s best dialogue. Thusly, the first fifteen or so minutes contain the three or four movies I’d rather see (even if they’re mostly taken from other movies, specifically Saving Private Ryan, Full Metal Jacket, Casualties of War, etc). Instead we’re given another fifteen to twenty minutes of minor soap opera antics concerning star-crossed lovers, jealous siblings, and a shadowy government program. It’s not exactly soul food, but I suppose it’ll do in a pinch and it more than simply in-keeping with the character’s historical lineage—it’s pretty much verbatim to the comic origin story.
But then the movie keeps going… and it keeps going with Wolverine’s memory intact. It’s not that Wolverine leaving Weapon X without losing his memory is a total affront to either the traditional or movie version of the character, but with the memories intact the rest of the plot turns into another boring journey to vengeance, and it leads to a joke of an ending that became an internet meme. The last half and a bit of the film serves better as an ad for the Wolverine video game (Blob, Gambit, and Deadpool are such obvious boss battles), and as an ad for the next X-Men prequel (called X-Men: First Class last I heard). This latter half is packed with plot holes, continuity issues, and lapses in simple logic, most of which are brought about by the presence of other plot holes, continuity issues, and lapses in simple logic. To explain one plot hole the script creates another, and the process continues through to the wet thud finale. This is most disappointing because apparently the original script was written by none other than David Benoiff ( The 25th Hour and The Kite Runner), who knows how to tell a coherent story. One can only assume (hope?) that Hitman and G.I. Joe writer Skip Woods’ rewrites, along with those of all the other rumoured ghost writers, were the problem, as a constant loss of plot thread seems below the celebrated novelist.
I usually don’t really care about special effects quality (I tend to think even the most obvious effect is only as weak as the plot that surrounds it), but some of the digital augmentations in Wolverine are so badly rendered even I was entirely dragged out of the moment. The digital doubles and wire work fighting feature a distinct lack of natural physics, the CG claws somehow look worse than the ones in the 2000 movie, and all the digital vehicles (of which there are many) look like they haven’t finished rendering. The set design is pretty enough, but also usually pulls the audience out of Hood’s supposedly intended gritty realism. The New Orleans back alley is particularly stage-like. One almost expects Jackman to serenade Gambit with ‘Maria’ from West Side Story. In-keeping with these more petty complaints, much of the production design is dully similar to the other X-Men films. I love the look of the first two films, but I don’t understand the point of an award winning arthouse director like Hood picking up on these visuals, especially when the screenwriters aren’t bothered to line the film up narratively with the other films. Mostly Hood doesn’t seem all that comfortable working in Singer’s sandbox either. The credit and carnival sequences are clearly the strongest scenes of the entire film, visually speaking, and the only bits that don’t look like carbon copies of Singer’s films, besides the Gambit scene, I suppose, which is colourful, but as previously stated, not even a little realistic.
And speaking of Singer’s films and stylistic choices— Wolverine might be the biggest aesthetic failure in prequel film history. We aren’t given too many specific dates after the credit sequence rolls, but the Three Mile Island incident occurred in 1979, and the last major marker we’re given is the Vietnam War, which was finished in 1975. This logically places the film sometime before 1980. The closest the post-war scenes get to even attempting historical accuracy is the interface control of Deadpool (which is then displayed on a modern LCD, 16x9 monitor). Historical accuracy obviously doesn’t have a huge bearing on the quality of a science fiction film, but again, Hood had expressed an interest in placing the story in the confines of a gritty reality, so based on his goals as a filmmaker he has failed. Then there’s the matter of continuity between this prequel story and the original three X-Men films. Often it seems continuity is the last thing on anyone’s mind, opting instead to something closer to an utter reboot with only Jackman and a putty-faced Patrick Stewart as constant elements. This would be fine, perhaps even preferable given the sad turn out of the third film and Hood’s misuse of Singer’s style, but no one is willing to stick to any of the changes (outside of Sabretooth, apparently), and the already meandering plot takes several back steps to clear out the slate once more. The film ends somewhere between awkward, coincidental accuracy, and blatant changes to the facts presented in the other films (bone claws being a chief offender).
Unfortunately for the readers in search of some kind of enlightened review my largest complaints are of the total nerd variety, and have less to do with the movie than the treatment of the characters. A few of the character changes work. Liev Schreiber’s Sabretooth doesn’t even kind of match the version that appeared in the first X-Men, but is far more interesting, and quite possibly the best thing in the entire film. Kevin Durand’s Blob is also solid case of comic to film adaptation, and the one case were the film actually improves on the source character. I also have no complaints concerning Taylor Kitsch version of Gambit, besides the fact that he doesn’t add anything to the story besides another character in a destructively overstuffed film. These compliments are just as largely due to the actors’ performances, which are the film’s strongest element, but the whole cast doesn’t make out perfectly thanks to some very bad writing choices.
Most fans were the most upset about the treatment of Deadpool. The character is so blatantly mishandled I’m forced to wonder if the choices made weren’t part of some cruel joke at the expense of fans. Why hire the perfect actor to play the ‘Merc with the Mouth’ if you’re literally going to take his mouth away from him in his second of two appearances? The solo Deadpool spin-off movie doesn’t appear to be in very good shape, but I wonder how the filmmaker’s were planning on dealing with the fact that the character (who survives the film) was going to even sort of resemble his comic book counterpart with so many new powers. Still, I hadn’t read enough Deadpool comics to care about the character all that much, so my big fan moan pertains to the treatment of Emma Frost, who is a personal favourite thanks to her treatment in Grant Morrison’s New X-Men run. The filmmakers chose to utilize the Morrison additions to the character, but without any of the thematic weight that came with them. She’s only interesting as a good guy because she was a bad guy for so long, and the use of her diamond power (which in the comic universe is a secondary mutation) leads me to believe her mental powers will be ignored in future instalments. I understand it’s just a cameo, but it doesn’t instil a whole lot of faith for future adaptations. And then there’s ‘Wraith’, the worthless character that was created specifically for Will.i.am. He’s not based on an actual character, besides the fact that he can teleport, which was apparently the actor’s choice, not the screenwriters. ( Edit: apparently I'm wrong, and there was a character better known as Kestrel that Wraith is based on. Thanks yesiamaplant.) This is the textbook sample of what is wrong with all non- X2 Fox genre films—instead of developing a script around a story the filmmakers have based it around vague star casting choices, and the hope of spin-off films.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine comes to Blu-ray with some obvious expectations. The transfer looks likely exactly as intended by the filmmakers. I’ve got very little negative to say concerning this 1080p, 2.35:1 transfer. I’d call it a reference level stuff, but the film itself isn’t visually interesting enough to do so. There is a fair amount of fine grain, but it’s finer and less obvious than the similar grain found in Fox’s recent Dragonball: Evolution release. The bad effects fair especially badly in hi-def, even worse than they did on the big screen. The claws are the big failure. They look like they’ve been added via traditional hand animation, like something out of Roger Rabbit. The digital backdrops don’t fair much better, but at least afford the transfer some nice bright colours, which are mostly missing from the mix of deep dark browns and steel blues. The real-life details look great, and are relatively consistent, though some of the widest wide-shots are lost in the grain if not brightly lit. The veins in Blob’s neck fat are a particularly revolting bit of detail that would likely be smoothed on a less effective transfer. Sometimes hard edges are cut inconsistently, but there’s rarely any additional noise placed on these edges, and compression artefacts are an extremely minor issue in a few instances.
This DTS-HD soundtrack also features nothing in the way of surprises. It’s big and loud, and big and loud. Again, there isn’t a lot for me to write about here. The sound designers aren’t as imaginative as the sound designers on many other big budget special effects movies (and Nightcrawler’s warp effect beats the crap out of Wraith’s), but they score a few points for some of the Gambit stuff, like the machine gun effects on his card tricks (Emma Frost’s diamond sound effect is strangely missing from some of her transformations). Mostly we’re privy a lot of big banging explosions, revving engines, clanging metal claws, and really bassy punches. The surround channels are active throughout the mix, and the directional effects are at their best during the motorcycle vs. helicopter scene, and when Wade Wilson is deflecting bullets with his dual katana blades. Harry Gregson-Williams’ score gets the job done, but it lacks the punch of John Ottman’s X2 score, and besides a few ace themes, mostly works as traditional and uninteresting underscore. It doesn’t help that the score is often pushed so low on the track during the action scenes. The titles are the best samples of the music on the track, and are warm, full, and bassy.
The surprisingly limited special features begin with duelling commentaries. The first track features director Gavin Hood, and it’s full of tragedy. Hood is an obviously intelligent guy, and though he’s a bit on the pretentious side (not to mention the fact that he has a horrible habit of narrating what occurs on screen) he obviously had some good ideas going into the film. There are dozens of stories concerning Hood’s behind the scenes mistreatment, and every fan knows by now how diseased the Fox studio brass is concerning genre work, so the director was given the benefit of the doubt in most geek circles. On the one hand this track increases our opinion of Hood as a smart guy, but there are a few bits that might steer us in the other direction. The most telling moment comes very early in the track, where Hood announces that the incredible credit sequence was shot almost entirely second unit. Perhaps those of us running to Hood’s defence were wrong in our assumptions. The second track features producers Lauren Shuler Donner and Ralph Winter. This track is more fact-a-minute based, and less personal, but also interesting in piecing the puzzle of who is to blame for this bad movie. There are moments Donner and Winter talk about certain scenes as if Hood wasn’t even on set, and the overall tone seems to say this was their film, not the director’s. It’s too bad no one will be one hundred percent honest until several years down the line.
There are four PiP ‘Bonus View’ options: ‘X-Connect’, ‘The Director’s Chair’, ‘Pre-Visualizing Wolverine’ and ‘X-Facts’. I’m sorry to again announce that I can’t work most of this stuff on my Profile 1.0 player (I almost upgraded, but then my set broke, and I had to spend my valuable money on that instead). The ‘X-Facts’ pop-ups worked, but that was it. As far as trivia tracks go these were actually some of the better I’ve seen, and cover aspects of the comics that the director and producers don’t go into at all during their commentary tracks.
‘The Roots of Wolverine: A Conversation with Stan Lee and Len Wein’ (16:20, HD) features the character’s co-creator and X-Men creator waxing about the Canadian superhero. Lee hits the nail right on the damn head by telling Wein his genius was in not revealing all of Wolverine’s back-story, and that the mystery was what kept readers interested. It’s a fine little conversation, but it doesn’t match the wonderful little documentaries that usually come along with Marvel movie DVDs and Blu-rays. Two guy’s talking doesn’t quite match a historical journey, complete with the varying artistic renditions of the characters, and interviews with the most important contributors. Lee and Win talk about Chris Claremont but the guy doesn’t get a chance to talk for himself.
‘Wolverine Unleashed: The Complete Origin’ (12:05, HD) is a general making of featurette on the film covering things from early inception and story choices, Jackman’s physical preparation (boring), bone-claw make-up, and some of the digital effects. Tonally it’s more of an EPK than an informative piece, as everyone sees fit to lick Jackman’s jackboots rather than really talk about the process of filmmaking. It’s followed by the ‘Weapon X Mutant Files’ (54:00, HD), ten featurettes about the specific characters that overpopulate the film, including Sabretooth, Stryker, John Wraith, Kayla Silverfox, Blob, Bradley, Gambit, Agent Zero, Deadpool, and Emma Frost. These bits are concerned mostly only with the movie versions of the characters, so once again we miss out on a documentarian’s look at these characters, but all in all these little bits are possibly the best part of the extras section, occasionally including quite a bit of special effects information. ‘The Thrill of the Chase’ (06:00, HD) covers the filming and post-production tinkerings of the dumbass helicopter scene, which probably cost enough money to feed every starving orphan in America for a year.
This brings us to the over-advertised deleted and alternate scenes. There are four scenes total, all with optional commentary from Hood. The first scene features a brief cameo from a young version of Storm. It’s a totally pointless bit of fan-baiting, and it’s better left out of the film. The second scene features Sabretooth forcing info out of Blob concerning Wolverine. The third was toted as an alternate mind-wiping scene leading most of us to believe that the stupid amnesia bullet was not part of the original plot. In reality Logan chooses to have his mind wiped, but stops the process to save Silverfox from Sabretooth (this is why Logan's red shirt disappears between shots in the theatrical version), and the rest of the movie would’ve gone on as originally shot. The last is one of the two post-credit additions the filmmakers tossed onto various prints after the film was leaked over the internet. The disc is completed with footage from the film’s world premiere original shown on the Fox Movie Channel (06:30, SD), and some Fox Blu-ray ads.
I’ll end this with a little grab bag of questions I have concerning the film’s extremely holey plot. I didn’t have room for in my actual review, which is too long already.
- Why does Gambit crawl onto a roof a block away from a Wolverine and Sabretooth to attack them?
- Why doesn’t Stryker give the amnesia bullet to the guy who’s mutant power is the ability to shoot guns really well?
- Where does Deadpool put his arm-blades when they aren’t extended?
- Why doesn’t a guy with a superhuman sense of smell, sight and hearing not notice that his girlfriend isn’t only alive, but not full of holes?
And just for the hell of it, I’ll add one more cry-baby fan-boy whiny nit-pick: Scott Summers does not have heat vision or laser eyes, he shoots optic blasts. The other X-Men movies ‘accurately’ portrayed this particular fake science—Cyclops’ eye beams act as a force, not a heated laser beam. In this movie the optic blasts cut through things with heat, creating more surgical cuts, and leaving behind hot coals. On his commentary track hood tells us that Deadpool does have an adamantium skeleton, and that Wolverine was able to cut his head off because his claws were heated. This demands the audience a) doesn’t notice that there are huge gaps between the claws from which the beam could break through, and b) doesn’t remember that the first three X-Men films presented the optic blasts as impact based. The average audience wouldn't be required to know that optic blasts wouldn’t heat the metal any more than a sudden gust of air would, but according to the character lore supported by the other films, it wouldn't. Also, hot metal wouldn’t actually cut through an equally strong metal, it would be bend against it. This is how blacksmithing works. Anyway, the Blu-ray looks and sounds great, and the extras are good enough, especially for those who have PiP capabilities, but the movie is just as frustrating as it was the first time around.
* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13
Release Date: 15th September 2009
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish, Dolby Digital 5.1 French, Dolby Digital 5.1 Portuguese, Dolby Digital 5.1 Descriptive Track
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin, Portuguese
Extras: Director Commentary, Producers Commentary, The Roots of Wolverine, Wolverine Unleashed, Weapon X Mutant Files, The Thrill of the Chase, Ultimate X-Mode Bonusview, Deleted and Alternate Scenes, Fox Movie Channel Presnets World Premiere, Trailers, BDLive, Digital Copy
Easter Egg: No
Director: Gavin Hood
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber, Danny Huston, Dominic Monaghan, Ryan Reynolds
Genre: Action, Adventure and Sci-Fi
Length: 107 minutes
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