X-Men Origins: Wolverine (UK - BD RA/B)
Chris takes a look at Fox BD release of the recent mutant summer blockbuster
Canada, 1845, and a sickly young child called James Howlett witnesses the death of his father at the hands of groundskeeper Thomas Logan. The trauma induces James’ mutation and he impales his father’s killer with a set of newly-emerged, razor-sharp bone claws, but with his dying breath Logan reveals that he is actually the boy’s natural father. James flees the estate with Thomas’ son Victor Creed—who he now knows to be his half brother—and over the course of the next century they fight in many wars, which they are able to survive thanks to their mutant healing factors. However, Victor becomes increasingly bloodthirsty and commits many atrocities during the Vietnam War, culminating in the murder of a superior officer. Although James disapproves of his brother’s actions, he stands with him and is thus sentenced to death by firing squad.
Both James and Victor survive the attempted execution and are approached by Major William Stryker, who offers them a chance to join a clandestine outfit known as ‘Team X’, a group of mutants including superhuman marksman Agent Zero, ‘merc with a mouth’ Wade Wilson, teleporter John Wraith, the indestructible Fred Dukes, and electropath Bradley Bolt. They join the team, but James leaves after Stryker’s questionable ethics and casual disregard for human life come to light. He spends the next few years in Canada with his girlfriend Kayla Silverfox, during which time he works as a lumberjack and goes by the name Logan. Although haunted by the memories of his violent past, Logan is content with his new life until Stryker arrives with news of the deaths of several of Team X’s former members, apparently by Victor’s hand.
An alarmed Logan catches his half brother’s scent and races home to find Kayla dead. Enraged, the grief-stricken Logan tracks Victor to a bar in a nearby town and they engage in a brutal struggle from which Victor emerges victorious (crushing Logan’s bone claws in the process). Although his physical injuries heal, the mental scars of Kayla’s murder and his subsequent defeat linger, and when Stryker offers him the chance to get even Logan accepts without hesitation. In a secret military installation at Alkali Lake Logan enters the Weapon X program, shedding his former identity to be reborn as Wolverine after having the indestructible metal adamantium bonded to his skeleton. However, when he learns that Stryker plans to wipe his memory Wolverine escapes the facility and continues his search for Victor as a wanted man...
I wouldn’t ordinarily write such a lengthy synopsis, but the character of Wolverine has such a convoluted history it was necessary to get things straight in my head before I went on with the rest of the review. I was an avid comic book reader in my youth and Wolvie was one of my favourite characters (thanks largely to Frank Miller’s excellent miniseries), but it wasn’t until fairly recently that I learned of his retconned origin, which forms the basis for the story told in this film. There are a few minor changes along the way, such as the explicit confirmation of the brotherly connection between Victor and James, and the attributing of names and powers from the comic book incarnations of some mutants to entirely different characters in the film, but on the whole these changes aren’t deal-breakers. No, there are far greater problems afflicting X-Men Origins: Wolverine than a few simple name and relationship differences.
Even putting aside the much-derided ‘amnesia bullet’ ending, there are still many simple lapses in logic and series continuity, not to mention casual disregard for the established rules governing the characters. My colleague Gabe Powers picked up on a number of my pet hates in his review, such as Scott Summers suddenly having ‘heat vision’ instead of concussive optic blasts, Logan not sensing that his girlfriend was still alive even though he has superhuman senses, and the silly Deus ex machina ending, but I have some additions to that list. If Silverfox’s mutant power is ‘tactile hypnosis’, why the elaborate ruse to get Wolvie into the Weapon X program? Why not just, you know, hypnotise him? Come to that, why not just hypnotise Stryker and order him to release her sister? Also, if you’re going to make someone indestructible, isn’t it a good idea to wipe their memory before you do so? There are numerous other examples throughout the film, and such moments are what set the film apart from genuinely great comic book movies like X2 and Spider-Man 2.
This brings us to the infamous leak that saw the film end up on the Internet before it was even in cinemas in certain parts of the world. At the time Fox were quick to denounce the actions of the pirates and point out that those who downloaded the film would see a compromised version, with incomplete special effect and missing scenes. Of course we now know that the ‘completed’ film contains absolutely no additional footage, and although the special effects are in a better state than the bootleg many of them look incomplete or just plain ropey. Wolverine's claws in particular seem to change shape, consistency, and exit from different parts of his hands between shots, but all of the CGI looks like it was done on the cheap (a staggering achievement given the film's budget). I have to admit to feeling somewhat cheated by promises of additional footage and impressive special effects that never materialised, and it further reinforces my opinion that Fox knew that they had a bit of a dud on their hands with this one. Call me paranoid, but I don’t think it's too hard to imagine a scenario where the studio engineered the 'leak' as a means to push their anti-piracy agenda ('It's not our fault Wolverine tanked, blame the pirates').
With all of that said, Wolverine isn't a complete failure, and it isn't even the worst of the summer blockbusters (that dubious honour falls to Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen). Jackman is obviously very dedicated to the character that brought him international fame, and his performance is never anything less than passionate. Although replacing the physically imposing Tyler Maine with Liev Schreiber initially worried me, he more than measures up with an understated, menacing performance that Maine simply could not have delivered. Ryan Reynolds steals every scene that he’s in (which unfortunately isn’t that many) and Danny Houston’s Stryker is a thoroughly repugnant bastard. Lynn Collins is also a bit of a (silver) fox. The action isn’t anything we haven’t seen before, but the one-on-one battles between Wolverine and Sabertooth are engaging and I enjoyed one or two of the nods to the comics. Unfortunately there’s no getting around the fact that none of this really compensates for the lacklustre direction, jarring editing, minimal character development, unconvincing effects and general sloppiness of the whole thing. What sums it up perfectly for me is the way that it’s never explained why everyone suddenly starts referring to James as Logan (his father’s name isn’t mentioned in the film). It’s as though the filmmakers decided that we all know him as Logan, and so would accept the switch without questioning how the other characters know.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine arrives on Blu-ray with a 2.35:1 widescreen transfer (1080/24p AVC). As one might expect from such a recent film, the image is pretty impressive for the most part. The colours of this comic book world are well rendered, presenting theatrically accurate hues. The palette mostly consists of earthen tones and steely blues and greys, but colours can be quite vibrant when called for (the scene with Gambit springs to mind). There is a fine layer of grain throughout, lending the whole thing a very ‘cinematic’ feel, but it’s certainly nothing out of the ordinary and in no way detracts from the viewing experience. Black levels are fairly consistent, but I did find the overall brightness of the picture a bit on the dark side (if you’ll excuse the reference to another film series), especially during the opening scenes. Detail is generally excellent, but this proves to be a double-edged sword because it highlights the quality—or lack thereof—of some of the ‘special’ effects. I’m talking Wolvie’s claws and some of the digital double and green-screen work, which all look a little on the fake side. There are no particularly obvious film or digital artefacts on display, which is to be expected from a film of this vintage, and on the whole it is a very pleasing transfer.
The film's primary soundtrack is an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 effort. I was hoping for a brash, balls-to-the-wall action soundtrack with this one, and that’s exactly what I got. There’s plenty of activity from all five channels, with lots of panning and discrete placement of effects both subtle and not-so-subtle. Some of the more memorable moments include Wade Wilson deflecting bullets with his swords, the Harley Davidson vs. helicopter sequence, and of course the climactic showdown on Three Mile Island. Bass is powerful—which is pretty handy considering the amount of stuff that blows up in the film—and dialogue is well-rendered even in the loudest action scenes. The score by Harry Gregson-Williams isn’t particularly memorable beyond the main title theme, but it acts as a solid underpinning to the rest of the track and fills out the surround channels nicely. I wouldn't go so far as to call the track reference quality, but like the video it is a very solid effort.
Fox has assembled a reasonably impressive selection of bonus material for this release, thanks largely to the fact that it is one of their ‘Triple Play’ releases. What this means is that, in addition to the Blu-ray extras, the two-disc set also includes a DVD copy of X-Men Origins: Wolverine complete with a 'Wolverine Unleashed: The Complete Origins' featurette, Japanese bar scene and a digital copy of the movie. I’m actually in favour of this where it doesn’t unnecessarily add to the retail price of the disc. Most people only have one Blu-ray player in the living room, so the DVD allows you to watch the film in the bedroom, kitchen, or wherever else you might have a DVD player. Anyway, the BD-only features are outlined below.
Commentary by Director Gavin Hood: The first commentary track features director Gavin Hood and is actually a pretty informative effort. Hood talks a lot about his take on things and is quick to point out that he wasn't afraid to take liberties with the source material wherever he felt it helped the story. He does stray a little bit too far into narration territory at times, but at least moments of dead air are few and far between and it’s quite enjoyable on the whole.
Commentary by Producers Lauren Shuler Donner and Ralph Winter: As is usual for producer tracks, this is more fact-based and dispassionate than the director's track, but there is still a lot of useful information to be gleaned. I found it particularly interesting that they used the word 'we' when talking about the filming of numerous scenes, suggesting that they had more control over the shoot than maybe Gavin Hood would have liked. On the negative side, I was surprised by how many periods of dead air there were given the dual participants.
The Roots of Wolverine: A Conversation with Stan Lee and Len Wein (16:18 HD): Wolverine co-creator Len Wein and X-Men creator/Marvel legend Stan Lee wax lyrical about the diminutive Canadian berserker. Wein finally puts to rest the urban myth about Wolverine being a mutated, well, wolverine, and there’re plenty of other interesting revelations. The guys seem to have a bit of friendly banter going on, but every now and then things appeared to go a little too far and I have to confess to feeling a little uncomfortable. Unfortunately this featurette isn’t anywhere near as comprehensive as those about the origins of Spider-Man or the Fantastic Four as found on their various DVD releases.
Wolverine Unleashed: The Complete Origins (12:05 HD): This is a short making of featurette that deals with thing like the film’s inception, dramatic choices, Hugh Jackman’s physical preparation (he weight trained—a lot), prosthetics, and digital visual effects. It's your typical EPK fluff that reveals little about the film-making process, but it’s worth at least one viewing. Oh, and on a personal note, I know it’s childish, but the sound of Wolverine speaking with an Aussie accent amuses me no end.
Weapon X Mutant Files (53:57 HD): This is a series of ten featurettes about the mutant characters that appear in the film, such as Sabretooth, Stryker, John Wraith, Kayla Silverfox, Blob, Bradley, Gambit, Agent Zero, Deadpool, and Emma Frost. The featurettes only concern the movie incarnations of the characters, so we miss out on their rich comic-book histories and powers. Having said that, some of the footage is quite entertaining and some of the acrobatics performed by the guy who doubled Reynolds as Weapon XI are astounding.
The Thrill of the Chase: The Helicopter Sequence (05:53, HD): This concerns the design and implementation of the impressive ‘exploding barn’ gag. It was reasonably interesting if only because it provided an insight into the ratio of live-action shots versus green-screen digital effects. Lots of stuff blows up and Hugh Jackman is made to look very cool by his stunt drivers, but other than that there’s not a lot here that you haven’t seen before in similar featurettes.
Ultimate X-Mode: This is the disc’s picture-in-picture mode. It actually provides four different PiP streams—‘X-Connect’, ‘The Director’s Chair’, ‘Pre-Visualizing Wolverine’ and ‘X-Facts’—which cover different facets of the production and pop up relevant bits of trivia throughout. However, the frequency of the PiP segments is spotty at best—I watched a good seven minutes of the film with the X-Connect track before seeing anything and there were long breaks between Gavin Hood’s ‘The Director’s Chair’ sequences. BonusView is a great idea in theory, but I’ve yet to see a disc that realises its full potential. The other annoying this about this feature is that you can't switch between video streams on the fly, and instead have to return to the main menu and start the film again each time (unlike Universal titles).
Deleted and Alternate Scenes (09:32 HD): There are four deleted scenes in total, all with optional commentary from Gavin Hood. The first scene features a brief cameo from a young Storm and was wisely left on the cutting room floor, while the second scene sees Sabretooth extracting info from Blob. The third scene is the longest and probably the most famous, as it presents an alternate mind-wiping scene. It also makes sense of a small continuity issue concerning Logan's clothing. The final scene is the second of two post-credit sequences tagged on to salvage something from the whole leak debacle.
Fox Movie Channel Presents: World Premiere (06:23 SD): This is footage from the film’s world premiere in Tempe, Arizona. It makes a change from the glitzy Hollywood premieres, but the featurette itself is horribly glossy and consists of impossibly good looking people interviewing other impossibly good looking people while they parade in front of fans. It’s completely disposable fluff.
Fox Blu-ray: This section includes high-definition advertisements for the X-Men Trilogy and Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian.
Live Lookup: This BD-Live feature enables you to watch the film while looking up the actors’ IMDb profiles (or at least limited versions of them). This is another fairly useless BD-Live feature. Why download this when you can just visit the IMDB homepage on the web for a much more user-friendly experience?
Sure there are changes from the source material and some dodgy effects, but at the end of the day the fact that no one seemed to have a strong vision of where they wanted to go with the story is what really torpedoed X-Men Origins: Wolverine. I’m sure no one sets out to make a bad film, but unless you have a visionary director like Singer or Nolan at the helm it’s very easy to churn out an uninspired, formulaic action movie that doesn’t really capture the spirit of the character. The producer-friendly PG-13 rating is undoubtedly a contributing factor as well. What’s the point of making a film about one of the most violent mutants in the entire Marvel universe—a character known for his berserker rages—and then de-clawing him?
On the other hand I know that there are plenty of people who aren’t emotionally invested in the character and just enjoy the spectacle of the film’s action scenes. That’s great, and those fans will be overjoyed with this Blu-ray release. Solid audio-visuals are pretty much a given for any relatively recent blockbuster, but it was the amount of bonus material on offer that really surprised me. Okay, so the disc is lacking a comprehensive history of the character and interviews with the men responsible for his most famous exploits, but at least Fox has tried to deliver some varied content that utilises Blu-ray’s interactive modes (even if their efforts are not entirely successful). Even if you didn’t like the film it’s probably worth a rental for technical reasons alone.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Chris Gould
Suitable only for persons of 12 years and over
Release Date: 19th October 2009
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, Descriptive Audio English, DTS 5.1 French, Dolby Digital 5.1 Portuguese, Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish
Subtitles: Cantonese, English HoH, Mandarin, Portuguese, Spanish
Extras: Audio Commentaries, Featurettes, Deleted Scenes, BonusView, Trailers, BD-Live, Digital Copy
Easter Egg: No
Director: Gavin Hood
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber, Danny Huston, Lynn Collins, Dominic Monaghan, Kevin Durand, Will i Am, Ryan Reynolds, Taylor Kitsch
Genre: Action and Sci-Fi
Length: 102 minutes
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