Saturday, 27 July 2013

X-Men Origins: Wolverine - Where Did It All Go Wrong?

With The Wolverine hitting cinemas, now seemed the best time to return to the last time the character was given a film exploring his history: X-Men Origins: Wolverine. However, this won't be a review. Were it, almost everything said would be repeating things stated better by other people citing a lack of logic, bad CGI, over-emphasis upon fanservice and decent ideas which the script ultimately never made use of. The film is bad and there's little to really argue against that, as such we're instead going to explore just why the film was so bad.

Rather than it being from a singular issue, many have brought up how the film fell apart in minor way both in terms of structure and simple logic. Many of these related back to series continuity and keeping track of events from previous films, but others can be put down getting script-writing 101 completely wrong: Little to no use of re-incorporation of characters and plot elements, and a lack of impact from said developments.

Many things we see are only used once if at all and on the whole are generally given little meaning or enough focus to feel meaningful to the film. Think about the old couple Wolverine runs into upon escaping from the Weapon X facility. They're the first people he encounters after a traumatic operation, involved with him for some time following the event, even give him his trademark jacket, yet ultimately mean little to the plot itself.

They're killed off almost as soon as they are introduced in order to shunt the story along, yet their introduction at that point suggested that they should have had a much large impact upon proceeding events. It's as if the film didn't want to deal with any additional baggage they might bring, yet needed some way for Wolverine to quickly recover and stay in one place long enough to be found. The script needed something to happen, but the writer didn't want to deal with any impact or character issues these figures might introduce.

The problem of introducing things and then abandoning them is rife within the plot, starting right from the beginning and even the entire basis of events which are supposed to push things forwards. We see Wolverine and Sabertooth both as children growing up, yet only for a few seconds at most. Furthermore, any impact from the death of their parents is completely undermined by the fact we didn't know them. There was nothing to connect to from them, no attempt made to establish them to the audience or even outline their most basic characteristics. As old and as mocked as the walking corpse mentor or parent trope is, there's a reason it exists: When done right their death resonates with the audience and characters, making them feel as if they were a proper part of the film.

We then go onto a montage of their centuries long lives, showing them in multiple battles but none of that experience ever seems to have real impact upon them. It's the reverse of Highlander almost. Say what you want about that franchise, but flashbacks are used throughout to flesh out the characters, their histories and give insight into the person they are in modern day. Connor's world weariness, the Kurgan's overpowering insanity and thirst for power, such details are made clear through these flashbacks. Here we get nothing beyond a flashy set-piece without substance, and that's the crux of the problem.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine wasn't made to make real use of what it had, it was made to jump between sections of Wolverine's life to get to the flashest and most supposedly fan-pleasing moments. 

Why is Gambit in this? Because of fan-service. Why are so many recognisable mutants members of Stryker's unit? Because of fan-service. Why is Patrick Stewart, Cyclops, Emma Frost and many others in this, despite having no connection with Wolverine? Because of fan-service. 

The same goes with the action sequences. 

The film merrily jumps from one action sequence to the next but never takes the time to deal with the consequences of actions, or even make use of the characters it introduces. Often shoving them under the bus in favour of keeping things going or forcing them into fight scenes so contrived Mark Millar might as well have had a writing credit. Wolverine's fight with the Blob makes little sense within the film, and no real reason is brought up for why it needed to take place. Blob is then unceremoniously killed off-screen, making his involvement completely pointless save for one fight and fan-service.

This is really all that Wolverine came down to, efforts to distract the audience from bad writing with fan-service and fight scenes. The plot itself was a bigger and bigger excuse to get from one of those scenes to the next and never maintained any semblance of logic, often insulting the audience's intelligence in the process. Here's more or less how the film worked:
"Wait, we've gone more than ten minutes without a fight scene, have him fight the Blob for some reason! Agent Zero doesn't need to be in this film anymore, have him killed off in a big battle before we lose people due to a lack of action! We've gone on long enough without a fan-pleasing moment, throw in a link to X-Men 2!"

To make this clear: the film's story wasn't a story, it was just one big excuse at the end of the day. A big one to throw in as much flashy explosions and events as humanly possible. It's something which might work with some productions, Van Helsing etc, but at least they clearly weren't taking themselves seriously. Here the creators of Wolverine still seemed to be determined that their movie be taken as a serious work, as seriously as the other X-Men films had been, without any hint of awareness that they had made a dumb action film.

This is something we'll be looking into more as time goes by, especially in comparison with The Wolverine, but it's a issue Marvel has not entirely avoided. Still, that's a topic for another day.

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