Comic book film adaptations recently have become very serious and respectable with The Dark Knight and Watchmen demonstrating that films based on comic books can possess a high degree of plausibility, complexity and human drama. So it is rather fun to get back to basics with the latest film from the X-Men franchise X-Men Origins: Wolverine, as it is good old-fashioned High Concept B-grade filmmaking. As the title of the film suggests, it is a prequel about the background of the popular Wolverine character (once again played very charismatically by Hugh Jackman), who has animal like instincts, the ability to heal almost instantly and deadly claw-like bones that protrude from between the knuckles of his hands. X-Men Origins: Wolverine reveals how Wolverine emotionally, mentally and physically becomes the character that he is when audiences first encountered him on the big screen in Bryan Singer’s 2000 film X-Men.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine opens with a brilliant credit sequence depicting Wolverine and his brother Victor Creed (who later becomes known as Sabretooth) fighting together through the American Civil War, two World Wars and then the Vietnam War. The sequence is shot in murky sepia tones and establishes that both men are not only seemingly invincible but love fighting. Wonderfully played by Liev Schreiber, Creed soon emerges as the most brutal of the pair and the inevitable brotherly showdown occurs after they are recruited into a covert government agency consisting of other mutants. This brotherly archetypal feud of course only escalates once a woman becomes involved. There is always a woman.
While the characterisation in X-Men Origins: Wolverine is suitably simple yet empathetic, even for the minor characters, the narrative structure is the biggest flaw in this film. The pacing is all wrong and it feels more like a series of television episodes strung together rather than one film. Every 20 minutes there seems to be a revelation, shocking occurrence and then ‘final’ showdown. This does detract from the overall film, which is otherwise highly entertaining, albeit instantly forgettable.
South African director Gavin Hood (Tsotsi) handles the action in X-Men Origins: Wolverine extremely well. The first major action sequence feels like The Dirty Dozen with superpowers and there is lots of outlandish gunplay, swordplay, hand-to-hand combat and all manner of stunts, explosions and use of slow motion. Hood keeps the camera in on the actors tight, opting for more close-ups than you would usually expect during action scenes. As with all the X-Men films, the action is highly inventive even if it is all absurdly improbable. But, similar to Timur Bekmambetov’s Wanted, this film is a load of fun if you accept that it is operating in a dimension where the laws of physics are the same as they would be in a cartoon. It is not as good as the second X-Men film but it is on par with the first and an improvement over the third.