Why is X-Men Origins: Wolverine considered the bastard child of the blockbusting X-Men? Although it is far from the best X-Men film available, there is nothing to suggest that Origins needs relegating from the series. For both the story and the franchise, Origins adds a new layer; after all, what is X-Men: First Class if not X-Men Origins: Charles and Eric? When X3: The Last Stand had sleepwalked the series into a corner, this movie gave the necessary twist to set the story off again whilst demonstrating that a fresh start doesn’t need fresh faces to match.
Critics and audiences have been unable to accept Origins – in fact they hated it – but this is a deserving member of the X-family. The X-Men are a parable for the persecution of difference, and the champions of inclusivity. The films tell us that being different is not evil, but mistrust and mistreatment can lead to evil. Everyone is different, whether it is your colour, sexuality, religion or retractable bone claws that set you apart. Origins is undeniably different, but far from being the runt of the litter, this film is simply a mutant worthy of a second chance.
Forgive dire-logue (courtesy of Game of Thrones’ David Benioff) and the cornucopia of CG catastrophes that are undeniably there; all the early Xs suffer from this. Besides, without the Rambo stylings and over-reliance on undercooked CGI, the world would never have witnessed the greatest “cool guys don’t look at explosions” shot ever produced. Like much of what is wrong with the film, this scene is indicative of the madness we now endure in summer blockbusters which have all too often lost the plot. Once you are beyond this frustration, you can begin to reinstate Origins to your X-Men collection and see the depth that it has to offer.
Origins breaks from the trilogy and sets down a path exploring the questions that the cinematic universe has only hinted at: Who is Logan?, and what distinguishes him from Wolverine? The answers may not please diehards – those naysayers, can you believe it, when Hugh Jackman was cast as Wolverine – but this was essential and proved to be the right tactic. Wolverine has become the centre of the X-Men franchise; Origins may not have started this, but it set the direction in adamantium by expanding the universe around one character with two sides.
In the Rockies, providing a welcome reminder that Logan is Canadian, we find him living the perfect idyll with lover and lumber. He is happy; a rare sight, yet across the franchise the character is at his happiest as Logan the Lover, not Wolverine the Warrior. It is clear throughout the film that Logan has a choice as regards which of these characters he will be; but though he feels compelled to make this choice, he doesn’t want to. When the film’s most genuine twist comes like a knife in the back, Jackman shows that Logan’s real torment is emotional, with his heart and mind torn between his two competing personas.
This battle is played out in the relationship Logan has with his brother. Wolverine and Sabretooth make convincing siblings here – the hatred that is fuelled by love, the rivalry from constant awareness of the other. Liev Schreiber is an excellent villain, wolf-like in his stance and scowl. Their fight at the end of the first act feels equally matched despite their mismatched weaponry. Throughout the struggle between Logan and Wolverine, our hero is always Jimmy to someone – unfortunately that someone is his psychopath brother who both exemplifies and extracts Logan’s dark side. With this parallel, it is no coincidence that Sabretooth gets away without being killed off, or even incarcerated, by the end of the film, giving him an unlikely run of luck in the X-Men universe.
It’s not all doom and gloom though – Origins is reliably both fun and funny. Tension can be both relaxed and heightened by a one-liner or elevator music between two shootouts. To add to the appearance of effortless cool, comic book adaptations drop names like Keira Knightley drops H’s. This is fun when it is done well, frustrating when it is done badly. The two main targets here for fans’ vitriol were Deadpool and Gambit, yet in both of these cases there is a lot to like and the audience is left wanting more.
Ryan Reynolds has Wade Wilson spot-on (bring on the spin-off), down to the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it salute after proving that you can kick ass if you bring a knife to a gun fight. As the movie’s Deadpool he gets the short shrift, but the best thing about this re-imagining is the fun of seeing all the mutant powers in one body, which will sound familiar to fans of Days of Future Past. Gambit got an equally raw deal in the reviews, but Taylor Kitsch’s version is stylish and can show a mean poker face. Kitsch has undeniably great talent, and Gambit is clearly popular – he too is getting a spin-off – but frustratingly the role is little more than a cameo and the potential is never fully realised.
This is, appropriately, the most visceral and animalistic of the X-Men films. Shot by Donald McAlpine, of Predator fame, the film features striking imagery. The use of light during the operation to imbue Wolverine with adamantium is captivating. One of the strongest sequences in the film is the opening credit montage. Running through a series of major American conflicts, this is a treat to watch, and simultaneously an effective way of fast-forwarding the story through a century. Instantly the world is bigger than before and the possibilities for historical X-Men escapades are tantalising. This glimpse into the World Wars according to Wolverine is better played and more engaging than the similar segment in 2013’s The Wolverine. If Gavin Hood, the director, had access to the time-travel of Days of Future Past, he should consider making these few minutes into the feature-length film.
Our standalone journey draws to an upbeat close as Logan walks off into the sunset. But, in the best individual frame of the movie, we, the viewer, raise a gun and shoot him from behind. His story can’t end here, because the structural narrative of the original trilogy says so – Logan is not yet the Wolverine we meet in X-Men. As Logan is gunned down, it is Wolverine who gets back up. It is a perfect finale to an imperfect film.