Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Wednesday Reviews

I'll put that diary up on Friday, but for now here are some musings about a film I watched, to keep you occupied...

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

Deadpool, then, eh? Deadpool, Deadpool, Deadpool. All anyone seems to be banging on about these days. But what is a Deadpool? For the uninitiated, he's the star of the leak of a teaser for a trailer for a new Marvel film that's coming out, and the internet is very excited about him and which of his quirky catchphrases he'll be repeating when the real teaser for the trailer for the new Marvel film is finally released. On tenterhooks myself, I tell ya. But not personally knowing quirky-catchphrase one for this Deadpool chap, I thought I'd investigate X-Men Origins: Wolverine, an X-Men spin-off prequel (sprequel? prequoff?) from 2009, in which Deadpool features as a side character and has his origins explained. 

Except after sitting through two hours of flaccid, cliché-ridden dirge I went on Wikipedia to discover that, although the upcoming Deadpool film stars the same actor, playing the same character, in the same cinematic universe, the film-makers have completely re-imagined his back-story for the new film, making the crap I watched even more irrelevant than it already blatantly was. Which is nice.

X-MO:W (does that work?), then, tells the story of a young Wolverine (he's the angry one with the metal claws) and how he became Wolverine. Except that was sort of already covered in previous X-Men films, and what's added here doesn't make any sense if you think about it too much. It's like they've taken a rather nice painting -- no Monet, but I thought Bryan Singer's X-Men films had heart -- and tried to colour in the gaps, but ended up going over the lines here and there and smudging some of the original work. At best you'd say the new stuff has no real reason to exist; at worst it ruins your impression of the original.

We open with Kiddie-Wolverine running away from home with his brother, who possesses similar powers of regeneration and cool slashy attacks. This is all in Olden Times, by the way, for it turns out Wolverine is dead old, and over the opening credits we see a montage of the brothers fighting back-to-back (that's their thing) in the American Civil War, the Trenches, the beach scene from Saving Private Ryan, and Vietnam. The two leap about, bop baddies on the heads, shrug off bullets -- it seems war is loads of fun when you've got bone claws and can't be killed.

Apparently Brother-Wolverine likes war a little too much, though. We can tell because he keeps gunning people down he doesn't need to while grinning maniacally. You're supposed to slash their faces off while looking miserable, you muppet!

It all goes too far -- and too Casualties-of-War -- when Broverine attempts to rape a young girl in Vietnam, then viciously attacks the G.I.s who tell him that's not such a hot idea. Wolvy rushes to Brovy's defence -- Brovy's a nutter but they're bro-bears, what you gonna do? -- and so they're both carted off to face the firing squad together. Which set piece might prove more dramatic if we didn't already know that neither of them gives a shit about being shot. "Wake me up when it's done," Broverine whispers. Yeah, ditto.

So the credits end, and we're into the film proper, as a shady military dude comes to visit the boys in prison (hey, they survived the firing squad!). Military Dude says his name is Stryker, who we remember as the bad meister from X-Men 2, only here he's younger and not played by Brian Cox (the actor, not the physicist -- though there's an idea for casting!). Stryker asks what the firing squad was like, and Wolverine replies that it "tickled", and they all have a big laugh, and the brothers go off with Stryker to join his mutant black ops squad, and the traumatised Vietnamese girl and the dead G.I.s are conveniently forgotten. Casualties of war indeed.

The black ops squad is called Team X (they love their Xs!), and is comprised exclusively of Glowering Men. There's the one who likes swords (this is Deadpool, but he's not Deadpool yet, he's just called Wade), there's the Chinese one, the big one, the one who's Merry from The Lord of the Rings -- whose singular role in the gang is to fly the plane with his mind, which is cool and all, but I reckon a regular pilot would have been cheaper -- and there's William.

Sorry, "". This is tricky, because on the one hand his name is his property and it's a bit harsh on him to refuse to call him whatever makes him happy, but on the other hand it's a bit harsh on the fucking English language to spell your name all in lowercase with full stops everywhere, so I don't know.

Anyway, William can disappear and reappear somewhere else, which I'm sure I've seen at least six mutants do in these films already, and he also likes cowboy hats.

Team X engage in some Witty Banter in the back of the plane for a while (during which time I imagine Merry being like, "Haha yeah good one, well yo' momma is so fat she-- oh shit I forgot I was meant to be flying this plane, we almost crashed into the ocean there, haha, oh well, jokes"), then they go assassinate a bunch of Nigerians. They're (Team X are) after a chunk of meteorite that later turns out to be the stuff Wolverine's metal claws get made out of, but no one in the film seems to care much, and neither do we.

Wolverine decides to abandon the gang here because of all the assassinating, which I guess he didn't sign up to this black ops squad for, and goes off to become a Canadian lumberjack and fall in love with a hot Native American girl instead. Which is fair enough, really.

All goes swimmingly, for a time, until Broverine reappears and murders Native American bae, but not before bae can spout some faux-ancestral folk tale about a mythical wolverine that TOTALLY WON'T BE SYMBOLIC LATER ON.

Wolverine gets pretty miffed about what's happened to bae, so goes to find Broverine and duke it out -- though, just to reiterate once again, neither of them can die. They punch each other for a while, neither of them dies, and then Broverine leaves. Wolverine gets taken to hospital with multiple stab wounds, the doctors think he's going to die, but then he doesn't die.

Stryker comes to visit Wolverine in hopsital and tells him he should let him inject his body with metal from the meteorite so that it'll fuse with his (Wolverine's) skeleton, because that's the only way they can defeat Broverine. It's pretty clear the real reason is so that Stryker can do Nefarious Things, but maybe Wolverine has taken a few too many knocks to the head because he looks at Stryker stood there trying not to like cackle evilly to himself and shrugs and goes, "Yeah, sure, whatever. YOLO, eh?"

So Wolverine gets a shiny metal skeleton instead of the stupid bony one the rest of us have to make do with, but then while he's still strapped in the injecty tank and unconscious Stryker is suddenly all like, "Cool, now to erase his memory and extract his DNA in order to make an even more powerful mutant," -- except Wolverine is only pretending to be asleep, and he leaps up and is all: "Oh, thou Icarian fool, blinded by hubris, unable to feel satisfied with the perfectly adequate super-regenerative metal-bodied mutant you possessed, you wanted more -- but now, just as Icarus's wings were melted by the sun, so shall your face be melted by my kick-ass adamantium claws, bitch!"

... Which is to say, he breaks free and slashes some guards and runs away to hide in a barn.

Look, how much more of this do you need? X-Miaow (for thus it shall be named) is not good. It slouches on for another hour of insipid dialogue, nonsensical plot twists and surprisingly incompetent CGI-based action scenes. Wolverine discovers that Broverine and Stryker are in cahoots, and goes off with William and another mutant we don't care about about in order to set things right. William gets killed and the newly-introduced mutant does nothing at all. Wolverine has a fight with Wade, who's now called Deadpool and has everyone else's powers (gets retconned though, so nm). Wolverine doesn't fare too well (though, again, can't be killed), but then Broverine turns up and they fight back-to-back (like at the start!) against Deadpool, because Broverine doesn't want anyone killing Wolverine but himself. Deadpool gets decapitated, all the characters who survive into the other films leave, and then Wolverine gets his memory wiped so the plots of the other films can make any kind of sense.

It's all just so limp, so long and loud and dull. The script is the main offender, carelessly derivative and filled with characters flatter than the pages they've been pulled from. The direction is tolerable but uninspired -- Gavin Hood keeps all the elements together but displays little love for the source material, giving the impression of moving from Tsotsi and Rendition to this popcorn-fare not because of care for the character, but because it was a job.

A good superhero film should explore bold themes of heroism, redemption and sacrifice, with costumes and villains and explosions all supersized to match. There's little of that here. Wolverine isn't even heroic. The only time his actions are motivated by anything other than revenge or self-interest is when he lets some mutant children out of a cage Stryker has imprisoned them within. But Wolverine is stood right there at the time -- he doesn't even have to find a key or anything, he just slashes the cages with his claws. It's the equivalent of a multimillionaire giving a fiver to charity.

All of which is a shame, because there is the shadow of a better film hiding somewhere within this detritus. According to Hood, he wanted to make Wolverine a war veteran suffering PTSD, but executives dismissed the idea because they thought it would bore the audience. How sad, because I can totally see how that would have worked. Wolverine as a mutant murder machine, used as a weapon in America's wars for a century, physically indestructible but slowly accumulating the psychic burden of so much killing. The film following his struggles to free himself both from the shackles of government control and from his own violent, primal urges. These struggles would be neatly embodied in Wolverine's relationship with his brother, a mutant who embraced and revelled in his nature where Wolverine repressed it. The two would periodically clash in snarling, frenetic duels where the brother's savagery would initially give him the edge, until Wolverine learned to accept his inner rage and integrate it within his greater being, becoming both the Animal and the Man holding its leash, able to use his violence without being used by it.

Sadly, the suits that sign the checks decided to go in a different direction. Their approach wasn't a failure, at least from a commercial standpoint -- the film more than made back its budget -- but then we're judging the film as a product to be bought and sold rather than as a story with the power to speak to something inside us, to make us better people. Earning a few dollars for your studio is hardly the worst thing in the world, but it's not very heroic, either.

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