"X-Men Origins: Wolverine"

At the beginning of each year I go through a few websites and try to get a feel for the movies that will be made available to me over the next twelve months. When I began this process for the 2009 movies, I have to confess my nerd radar went a little bit crazy. Sure, 2008 provided a couple of Fanboy fantasies (“Dark Knight” and “Iron Man” in particular) but overall, the Nerd Film Quota was way down last year. 2009 is sure to make up for this, however. With the upcoming releases of nerd fodder such as “Star Trek,” “Transformers 2,” “Terminator: Salvation,” and a ton of others, I have deemed the next few months the Summer of the Nerd. And what a summer it will be!

The SOTN got off to its official start this week with the premiere of “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.” The prequel to the X-Men trilogy of the early 2000s, “Wolverine” is designed to give us the back story of future X-Man Wolverine (duh), who has long been one of the more popular X-Men. The film begins with little-boy-Wolverine also known as Jimmy and later known as Logan (you pick which one you like best) tragically activating his mutant powers while simultaneously discovering he has a brother, Victor Creed, who also has mutant powers. The two begin a 120 year trek through time fighting in every war this country has ever seen because after all, being impervious to bullets makes one a pretty valuable soldier. All of this comes to an end when the powers go to Victor’s head and he exhibits the evil inside. After a fairly comical execution attempt, the brothers are put into the charge of William Stryker, a military man who is putting together a special task force, so to speak, of mutant mercenaries.

Soon after Logan and his team are kicking butt and taking names all over the world on shady missions that usually translate into more death than Logan cares for. He walks away from the job and his team, hoping to leave them behind for good. Years later he is living a normal life (or as normal as anyone with claws inside his skin can expect to find), complete with cabin in the mountains, manly job, and beautiful woman. Unfortunately for him, Victor is on the loose killing off the members of his old team and Stryker comes in town to recruit him. Before long, Logan finds his beloved dead and calls on Stryker to turn him into a weapon strong enough to take down his brother. Because of Logan’s ability to heal himself, Stryker is able to graft adamantium (a made up metal) onto his bones, essentially giving him a steel skeleton. Thus we learn how Logan became Wolverine.

Inevitably Logan learns that Stryker has double crossed him and goes into a berserker rage that even Animal from The Muppets would be proud of and runs naked through the country side before being taken in by Ma and Pa Kent. (Wait, that last part is another story. But really, there’s very little difference here.) Quickly thereafter he begins his pursuit of Stryker, Victor, and anyone else who might have been involved in his tragedy. This brings him into contact with future X-Men Scott Summers, who will become Cyclops, and Remy Lebeau, also known as Gambit. He launches his final attack against this crew which turns into his saving of a host of caged mutants, a battle with super-mutant Deadpool, and his getting shot in the head with an adamantium bullet, which explains why he has no memory when the X-Men discover him later down the line.

If that last paragraph sounds a bit thrown together and unbalanced it’s because the end of the film is quite similar. The first hour and a half of “Wolverine” is a straight up adrenaline roller coaster. It’s highly enjoyable and entertaining and for many fans of the comics or the cartoon from the early 90s, it is extremely exciting to see some of these characters brought to life. As a kid I was always interested in what Wolverine’s back story was above all the rest of the vaunted X-Men and I felt like this movie did a pretty good job of answering those questions. But the final 10 minutes or so are incredibly rushed and flimsily tied together. The movie gives answers but some of them seem very shallow and poorly thought out. Even some of the special effects, a highlight of the movie for the majority of the time, seem sloppy in the finale. It’s as if director Gavin Hood, with three months left in the schedule, had vacation plans and decided it would be a good idea to go ahead and wrap this sucker up before he left. Perhaps he was so eager to start working on the inevitable sequel that he just couldn’t figure out a way to finish this one up. It’s like a Saturday Night Live sketch.

This fact doesn’t make “Wolverine” a bad film. It’s a ton of fun and the action is tremendous. More importantly, the cast is spot on. Hugh Jackman, though somewhat useless in just about every other role he’s played, takes to the Wolverine part well as he did in the original “X-Men” trilogy. Danny Huston plays William Stryker with a suave demeanor that suits the character. I’m a huge fan of Liev Schreiber and his commanding performance as Creed (later known as Sabretooth) almost makes one forget the dreadful showing that wrestler Taylor Mane gave as the same character in the first “X-Men” movie. (Shudder.) Schreiber is one of the more underrated actors of his generation and he brings an instant credibility to just about anything he does, including “Scream 3.” (Shudder.) The script which deteriorates so rapidly toward the end is otherwise very well put together and brings a great deal of humor to the table, something that should never be missing in a good superhero film.

SPOILER ALERT – I’m about to disclose information concerning the end of this film. I usually refrain from doing this but in this situation I cannot fully cover this film without going to this. If you have not sent this movie and wish to keep the suspense, STOP READING NOW.

Where the film really screws up is in the treatment of one of its biggest and brightest characters. I call this the “Darth Maul Treatment.” When “The Phantom Menace” came out in 1999, a good chunk of the marketing campaign revolved around new super-villain Darth Maul. When that awful film finally hit theaters, Maul got almost no screen time and in the end was killed off, never to be seen again. This is played out with horrible precision in “Wolverine.” As excited as the Fanboys were about the whole “Wolverine” movie, a lot of that excitement was directed towards Deadpool, one of the most smooth and sarcastic bad guys in history. Deadpool is one of those rare villains that garner almost as much attention as the hero he opposes. He is to Wolverine what Boba Fett is to Han Solo. The decision to cast funny-and-ripped Ryan Reynolds in this role was brilliant and brought even more fanfare.

Here’s the problem: Reynolds gets about 10 lines in the whole film (probably the best lines in the whole thing) and then is unceremoniously disposed of in a way that will be almost impossible to explain away should he ever make another appearance. So in essence, Hollywood finally put a great villain on the screen and placed the perfect actor in position to play the part…and then quickly killed him off and threw him to the curb, along with the hopes for repeat appearances of the fans. In a world that is often completely and utterly dictated by leaving every possibility open for sequels and cliffhangers, why in the world would you so freely dispatch a crowd favorite that could have realistically warranted his own film? A truly terrible decision.

I have a feeling there are going to be some angry Fanboys out there and clearly I believe the whole film would have been bettered by some attention to the close. But hurried ending aside, “Wolverine” did the job of filling in some back story and opening us up to another superhero franchise. It is extremely enjoyable and fast paced albeit easy on the brain. But with the number of “Action Movies with a Moral” on the rise, perhaps it isn’t such a bad thing to have one that simply asks you to sit there and be entertained.

Grade: B-