This whole blog is predicated on bringing together thinkers to discuss their views and observations of the world around them. I hope to see a range of topics (I myself hope to contribute on a range of topics), but I’ll start with one that is both dear to me in terms of interests (superhero films) and immediately relevant (I saw it last night): Marvel’s latest attempt to cash in the superhero film craze, X-Men Origins: Wolverine (released May 1, 2009).
I realize that for a blog that will cover everything from politics to philosophy, kicking things off with a post on a film might seem an odd choice, particularly as this film is not terribly good, but I justify my choice in a few ways. First, film is an accepted art form in and off itself. If art is the attempt to manufacture truths (a nice thought, I think), then film is worth delving into. Second, superhero films are arguably the single largest film phenomenon in the 21st century. Sure thrillers, romcoms, and horror continue to carve their bits out, but superhero flicks bring people out en masse. Finally, I’ve spent a good deal of time studying superhero films and this post will give me a good chance to touch on a number of things that are pertinent when analyzing films based on a genre, a medium, and expectations from prior (and new fans).
Let me first start by noting that I had pretty low expectations for this film. I am not a comic book reader and have never been really drawn into the character of Logan/Wolverine. I was also not super-impressed with the X-Men trilogy – the films were ok, but none stood out so much that I thought “holy smokes.” A movie, then, that focused on a character I wasn’t into, from a series I didn’t care much for, was a warning sign.
But, Ryan Reynolds was cast as Wade Wilson/Deadpool, so I knew I’d get a bit of humor, I’d read that Gambit (a character who I do find interesting) would finally make a showing, and honestly, I don’t think Hugh Jackman does a bad job as Wolverine (it’s tough to do much with it). So, I doled out the dough and sat down, surrounded by the normal superhero-opening-night-folks (the tubby, bearded guy with the ugly girlfriend who discussed Star Trek before the film starts; the 15 year-olds who giggle and kick my seat; the single guys who just want to see Logan’s babe show some flesh… etc.), and tried to be open-minded.
Almost from the start, Wolverine hurts to watch. It spends about 8 minutes showing him as a sickly kid named James, growing up in Canada in 1845 (nevermind it wasn’t called Canada then), who kills his father and runs away with his brother (Victor – who already shows his trademark claws and darker side, something kids should not be relied upon to convey since it came off as cheesy). Next 10 minutes it’s the two of them fighting in various AMERICAN wars (Civil War, both WWI and II, Vietnam). Victor eventually kills a superior and both of them get put in front of a firing squad but, of course, survive and are conscripted to become mercenaries with a special government force of mutants, led by Col. Stryker. Wolverine winds up quitting when he’s disgusted with having to kill innocent people, Victor resents him (as does Stryker), he finds a chick (who’s given one speech before Victor “kills” her), he gets mad and comes after Victor/Stryker.
Spoiler: I’m going to ruin the “surprise” that’s not a surprise here, so don’t keep reading if you plan on watching the movie and aren’t sharp enough to pick up all the obvious clues as to who the final “big bad guy” is at the end. There, I warned you, which is better than I normally do.
So Wolverine finds them, Stryker’s uses his mutant force to create the ultimate mutant-slayer (a scarred, mouthless, half naked dude he calls Deadpool), and he then pits Wolverine vs. Deadpool (who can heal, has swords that come out of his arms, possesses Cyclops’ eye beams, and can teleport – oh yeah, forgot to mention will.i.am is in the movie as a black Snoop-dogg-Huggy-Bear-meets-Garth-brooks-who-can-transport-like-Nightcrawler). Deadpool’s unbeatable, yadda yadda, except, you know, Wolverine cuts off his head (don’t worry though, if you wait through the half-hour long credits, you can see Deadpool’s body reaching for his head, suddenly with a mouth).
Flick ends with Stryker shooting Wolverine with adamantium bullets to erase his memories as Logan’s chick dies from an inadvertent bullet wound of her own. Gambit finds Wolverine, who remembers nothing upon waking, but the two part ways so there’s not problem with Gambit not showing up in any of the X-Men movies.
Damn, I hate prequels.
Let’s talk about some problems and why the movie sucks. I’ll leave out some of the obvious things (horrendously bad scriptwriting = terribly dialogue, action sequences that are super boring, and so gaps so big you could fit the films stupidly huge budget into them and still have room for the Blob, who makes an appearance in the film but is never explained).
Instead, let’s talk about the things that made me want to sprout claws from my own forearms and tear the screen (and the movie and the people who ok’ed the movie) apart.
Naming. You’ll note that I didn’t name Logan’s chick. This is because the film did such a bad job developing her that I can’t remember it a day later. Hell, I couldn’t remember it walking out of the theater. Out of spite, I didn’t look it up since I feel that the 2 hours (including credits) I spent last night should be enough time for them to get it into my head. Actually, Logan, the name itself, is a problem. He’s James as a kid in the beginning. Victor calls him “Jimmy.” Chick-poo calls him Logan (for no apparent reason). Stryker calls him Logan (also for no apparent reason. The only name that is explained, through a Native American folklore story.. and I have my doubts about whether or not what chick-poo says is accurate or not, but whatever). The movie is about Wolverine and they don’t even bother figuring out what to call him or explaining why? I call foul.
Don’t worry though, they don’t bother naming anyone else either. Victor is Victor all the way through. No mention of Sabretooth. Will.i.am’s character may have had a name, but it wasn’t worth remembering. There’s one bad guy who I know – Zero, who can shoot anyone and everything with perfect accuracy and somehow this makes him superhuman in his strength, agility, speed, and ability to jump. Wade Wilson (who’s the alter ego for Deadpool according to wikipedia) is there, but there’s only a slight connection to the Deadpool at the end (Logan smiles at his not having a mouth and jokes that Stryker finally figured out how to shut up Wilson, who chatted incessantly earlier in the film).
Maybe my beef is with Deadpool most of all, since he’s a pretty nifty guy. In comic-lore, he was a terminally ill with cancer, but was imbued somehow with Wolverine’s ability to regenerate. This saved his life but made him go insane. So he’s sometimes good, sometimes bad, and always popping up providing nice little “vs.” opportunities for Marvel comic writers. But Deadpool is also known for always being sardonic, sarcastic, and quippy in his remarks. Not mouth-sown-shut-automaton-at-Stryker’s-beck-and-whim. Grr, shitty writing.
Action: I know I said I wouldn’t bring this up, but there’s action for the sake of showing something (think Neo’s bullet dodging or fighting with Morpheus in the Matrix), and there’s action for the sake of action (think about Neo fighting the agent on top of the semi-truck in Matrix II). Wolverine is filled with the second, crappy kind. My personal favorite (and by that I mean the part that made me cringe the most) is when he’s trying to reach Gambit, who’s climbed a fire escape. Does Logan climb up after? Nah, he instead cuts through the metal supports, and then superspeed slashes through about 30 feet of the falling metal to bring Gambit down where he can reach him. Gag.
Walking out of the theater, I tried to think of who would enjoy this film. Comic book fans will always be caught in the paradox of hating it for deviating from the books but loving it because there’s only so many times they can watch Star Wars before they have to switch to superhero films and this adds one more to their collection. People who’ve seen the X-Men flicks and wanted at least that level will be disappointed – at least X-2 had that sweet Nightcrawler scene where he attacks the president. People who know anything about X-Men lore at all will curl their stomachs into balls of unhappiness at what’s been done to Deadpool. And film aficionados will… well, let’s be honest, they’re probably still discussing some Philip Seymour Hoffman flick that isn’t worth 7.75 either (like Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead), so they would have only seen this by stumbling into the wrong theater.
Lose. Lose. Lose.
What’s the deal, Marvel? Didn’t Iron Man show you something? You can make a flick that’s decent, decently written, and (shock and amazement) people will like it! How’s that for an effective marketing approach: make films that people want to see and tell their friends to go see, and you’ll make more money! Chuckle-heads
Ok, cutting… no clawing things short here. Want to talk superhero films? I’m your guy. And soon I’ll have my site up and running (more to be announced soon), where I’ll have exclusive areas dedicated to this.