The Spandex Retrospective: X-Men Origins: Wolverine

Did you ever wonder how Wolverine got his jacket? I'm sure you did. When Rogue sat down at the bar a few stools down from the brooding mutant in 'X-Men' we all knew what she was really staring at was that cool leather jacket. 'X-Men Origins: Wolverine' knows you wonder about the jacket. It sets aside a scene to let you know where the jacket comes from. The movie is set in the 70's but Logan holds onto it  for decades, never letting it get damaged. What good is a story if we don't get the background for a character's wardrobe selection? X-Men Origins - Wolverine (2)

Like seemingly every bad superhero movie the film starts off pretty well before turning to toilet. In the case of 'X-Men Origins: Wolverine' it's actually amazing how long it maintains decency, which only makes its gradual but aggressive decline more bizarre. The film begins in 1860's Canada and does a quick and clumsy pre-credits version of the Jemas/Quesada/Jenkins comic 'Origin', showing Wolverine's bloody departure from his home as a child. In this version Sabretooth is his half-brother who flees with him, forging a close bond as two outcasts alone in the world.

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During the credits we are treated to their life as indestructible warriors as they fight in every war America participated in that a history illiterate filmgoer would remember (so no Korea, sorry folks). As one sees a cigar chomping Wolverine about to storm the beach at Normandy or Victor Creed raining hell from a helicopter over Vietnam one might get the fleeting feeling that this is actually the movie you'd have wanted to see. If done with a hard-R sensibility, it actually could have been pretty epic, but instead it served merely as set up for Wolverine and Sabretooth's relationship as brothers who experience their endless wars a bit differently. It's disappointment considering the tease, but nothing fatal yet.

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During Vietnam, Sabretooth's viciousness gets him and Wolverine put up against an American firing squad, which obviously fails to kill them. William Stryker shows up and offers them a job on an elite mutant hit squad, asking if they would like to “really serve their country”, apparently having not been told that they are Canadians. The team, made up of famous mutants like Deadpool and Blob and less famous one like John Wraith and Bolt. This marks the first time you forget the film is supposed to be set in the 60's and 70's as the whole squad is dressed in generic superhero gear with a very millennial aesthetics. This kind of anachronistic lack of attention to detail prevails throughout the film as we see plenty of flat screen computers with fancy futuristic GUI displays. What, did you expect them to make Weapon X with DOS?

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Frankly, the movie is still pretty good at this point, despite some minor blasphemy. Ryan Reynolds plays Wade Wilson, but what that means for the movie is he plays Van Wilder Ninja as he has neither mask or physical disfigurement. Despite this he actually does a good job as the Merc with the Mouth and it's a pity he pulls shit for the Deadpool stuff that comes later that he isn't responsible for. The frequently good Kevin Durand is also excellent in the film, playing both bulky hick Fred Dukes and his later Blobby iteration very well. Again, a film I'd rather have seen breezes by as setup for the later movie, as the hit squad gets one passable action sequence before Logan ditches them for the backwoods of Canada again.

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Logan becomes a lumberjack, landing an implausibly supermodely Kindergarten teacher Kayla Silverfox in his implausibly nice cabin overlooking the mountains. She doesn't mind the frequent claw-popping nightmares that Logan has in the middle of the night that could easily kill her while she sleeps. Pepper Potts slept on the couch when Tony's nightmares made his suit a little creepy, Kayla just laughs about how they'll need new sheets. Even this isn't that bad of a movie, Hugh Jackman's easy charm suits this part of the film fine, and we get an effective scene showing Sabretooth knocking off members of Logan's old hit squad...

Sabretooth kills Kayla, Logan swears howling-to-the-sky revenge and at minute 32 the film suddenly and dramatically starts turning to shit.

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After trying to kick his ass, Logan finds out he can't kick Sabretooth's ass. Why this is, since they both have the same kind of magic mutant regenerating ass is left a magic mutant mystery. Fortunately for Logan, William Stryker returns with an offer to give him the power to kill Sabretooth for good: adamantium plated bones. Logan agrees to undergo the Weapon X procedure so he can get his bloody vengeance.

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First, let's quickly mention the Weapon X facility. It's at the top of a waterfall. This is so Logan can jump off the waterfall because people are really impressed when other people jump off of waterfalls. For a film that make us tolerate references and explanations of a million little things from the first 'X-Men' trilogy they sure like to change big things for no reason, as we spent a lot of time at the Weapon X facility in the earlier films and it was under a dam. Stryker also invites high ranking government officials as an audience to his experiment, one that is reenforced to have a somewhat shifty chance of actually working. Why Stryker would invite people who are already skeptical of his program to witness a graphic operation that even when it succeeds still turns tits up is beyond me.

The surgery also takes less than five minutes.

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The Weapon X program is central to the tragedy of Wolverine as a character. It's constantly the ghost in his past, in the comics and the films, as the great crime committed against him; serving as a Guinea pig for government experiments on mutants. The horror of these memories and what was done to him served neatly as the emotional spine of the franchise's best installment 'X2: X-Men United', where we got impressions of a torturous process that left a man broken and feral. 'Origins' takes that story and makes Weapon X a procedure, that while unbearably painful, took less time than it would take to get a cavity filled, and then goes to just make it a questionably logical tool to get generic revenge. It's a crassly stupid move that takes one of the single most interesting and important dimension of the central character and makes it utterly meaningless.

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Of course Stryker has ulterior motives. Logan escapes, jumps off the waterfall (whee!), and conveniently finds that one old couple that's always in these movies that makes every random naked government superweapon into a target of old-timey wisdom. Mercifully for us they are both shot dead by annoying mutant sniper Agent Zero, but beforehand the old wrinkled talking clichés give Logan their son's old leather jacket (so THAT'S where he got it!). Zero is there to kill Logan, which is confusing, but we'll get to that later.

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Logan kills Zero and goes on a breadcrumb hunt to find Sabretooth and Stryker, apparently unable to decide which he wants to kill more. This forces us unfortunately to encounter Wolverine's old teleporting buddy, played by Black Eyed Peas frontman, proving he is a slightly better musician than he is an actor, which is to say he's an incomparably awful one. I can't remember another musician wanting to be an actor quite as completely unequipped as; he makes Madonna in 'Dick Tracy' look like Meryl Streep and he can't get his spine tele-snapped by Sabretooth quickly enough.

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One awful performance leads to another as Logan is brought to Taylor Kitsch's Remy LeBeau, who apparently flipped coins to decided which scenes he would half-ass a Cajun accent in. Like a lot of mutants in the movie, Gambit is included for no grand purpose as he serves only as an extended plot device that could have been filled by anyone. He also is featured in one of the strangest and most horrifying anti-film moments in superhero movie history.

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Logan and Sabretooth face off in a back alley and Gambit is comically knocked cold unconscious. After a mere minute or two of Logan and Sabretooth slapping meat and spiky parts together we cut to a shot of a figure running the entire length of a rooftop. It's Gambit. He leaps from the building, does a helicopter motion with his suddenly acquired bo staff, and slams the ground with charged energy, causing a shockwave that interrupts the existing fight. Essentially Gambit went from unconscious in the street to the far end of the roof of a three story building just so he could jump off into the alley he was just laying in moments ago. Bizarrely Logan abandons fighting Sabretooth to fuck with Gambit, leading to some more jaw-droppingly bad effects, but it's too late. Nothing can quite top the roof thing.

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Having let the brother he's repeatedly announced having a priority in killing wander off, Logan settles for hunting Stryker, going to Three Mile Island where another mutant experimenting party is being held. Here, Stryker has been taking kidnapped mutants and putting all of their separate genetic talents into a single 'pool' so he can make other mutants he hates 'dead'. Deadpool. No, it's clever. Nolanesque even. Stryker explains:

“My son was the first piece of the puzzle...”

Stryker's son, who we see briefly on ice, is the mind control mutant from 'X2: X-Men United'. He never explains what he means by this because Deadpool is never revealed to have Jason Stryker's powers.

“...and you were the last.”

...referring to Logan's ability to bond adamantium to his bones so Deadpool can have impossibly long katanas in his arms. Since they also gave Deadpool teen Cyclops's eyebeams and's teleporting ability after Logan's handy healing gifts this is also a lie for the sake of sounding dramatic.

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Deadpool's fight scene is just awful. Can we leave it at that? It spits on the character and his fans. It weirdly mimics Darth Maul's climactic fight scene from 'The Phantom Menace', from the 'separating door' introduction, Deadpool's silence, a two-on-one fight next to big drops, and even his 'body-parts-separating-during-fall' death. It's a travesty, and I'm through thinking about it.

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Finally, we reach the end. Stryker opens a fancy wooden box with a large revolver so he can tell us about adamantium bullets. This is the second time he's done this in the movie, the first being right after his annoying sniper Agent Zero got killed along with a handful of other faceless soldiers. Agent Zero was sent to kill Wolverine. “Take his head off.” were Stryker's exact words. When he moments later muses that adamantium bullets are the only thing that can kill Wolverine we wonder what he thought Agent Zero could do without them. Forgetting all of the other little things that contributed to the insufferable quality of 'X-Men Origins: Wolverine', this is the rotting core that poisons the whole film.

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How can we ever care what happens to Logan? He fights numerous times with Sabretooth, events preceded by a whole lot of yelling, but it's meaningless. We never understand what benefit Logan got from his adamantium. Instead of easily clipping off Sabretooth's head as he presumably should be capable of, he jut keeps yelling and stabbing and flipping and yelling and stabbing. Sabretooth at one point keeps Logan from falling off the Three Mile Island nuclear reactor stack (why isn't steam coming out of it? Is it not on?) but at the end of that fight scene Logan jumps off intentionally because, duh, it's not going to kill him. Moments later Gambit saves Logan from a large section of falling concrete to announce his entirely useless return after everything violence wise has already concluded. Why would it matter to the guy who jumped off a nuclear silo tower if this concrete hit him? The audience isn't given even the basic tools to care about the heroes predicament leaving us with nothing to feel or focus on other than the hammering stupidity of the film and its characters.

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It's not like other characters aren't made technically indestructible by the nature of superhero films; it's not like Spider-Man or Superman are going to be killed in their films, but Wolverine isn't even capable of being put in peril. The X-Men movies solved this problem by giving Logan other characters to care about that could be put in harms way or by making Logan's journey one of unearthing the mystery of his past. 'Origins' consists mainly of various people trying to kill people who can't be killed. After Stryker gives the orders to have Logan taken down a General in the room incredulously comments “You just spent half a billion dollars making him indestructible”, an ironic voice of reason the screenwriters failed to recognize as damning.

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“X-Men Origins: Wolverine” ends up being a series of ugly ridiculous looking fight scenes strung sloppily together so we could explain the 'origins' of things from the original trilogy in a movie that doesn't seem to care about continuity. The film burned through three perfectly good potential movies in the first 30 minutes and settled on an unwatchable one for the remaining runtime. 'X-Men Origins: Wolverine' was dreadful on its own, but even more unreasonable when the filmmakers included examples of how easy it would have been to make a good Wolverine movie.

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And what about that jacket? The one Logan has apparently held onto for at least three decades? Well he doesn't have it at Three Mile Island and he loses his memory there, so it's...

I'm done. You figure it out bub.