Is ‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine’ Really That Bad?

It’s not a secret that the X-Men franchise put its two biggest failures back to back. X-Men Origins: Wolverine was the followup to X-Men: The Last Stand, and was essentially supposed to launch Wolverine as a solo character. That… didn’t entirely work out, and for good reason.

Wolverine Begins

The essential plot of X-Men Origins: Wolverine is that Wolverine goes on a tour of green-screens and soundstages as he tries to figure out why his brother Victor killed his girlfriend and why the US military is trying to kill him immediately after they made him unkillable in the first place. Poor planning is a feature of this movie’s screenplay.

It’s actually not the worst plot. Wolverine had to be doing something for a century before he turned up at the X-Mansion, and hanging a movie around the charismatic Hugh Jackman is a no-brainer. The problem is that there has never been a movie so brutally stuck in the past.

The Action Movie The ’80s Never Had

If X-Men Origins: Wolverine had come out in 1989, we’d all be remembering it with the golden-hued tones of childhood and the forgiveness that comes with poor effects technology. Everything about this movie is from the ’80s, from the relentless one-liners and comedy beats, to the cliched “bad-ass” moments mostly involving explosions and bar fights, to the basic plot which can be summed up as “THIS TIME IT’S PERSONAL!”

Right off the bat there’s an enormous problem: The stunt crew should have been fired. The opening of the movie features a small child with bone claws screaming and being pulled across the set on a dolly, and boy does that set the tone. In fact, why this movie has so many, and so over-the-top, wire stunts is utterly confusing; they’re not necessary and they don’t add anything. Zero’s main power seems to be shooting things precisely, so why can he jump like Mario?

Similarly, Donald McAlpine, the cinematographer, was either too rushed or has absolutely no facility with shooting digital matte work. Way too many shots have Wolverine turn around and suddenly be obviously on a soundstage with stock footage in the background.

Actually Pretty Funny

That said, though, there are actually some likeable moments in here. Gavin Hood had to fight Fox every step of the way making this movie, but he does occasionally win. The opening credits, despite the herky-jerky rhythm, are actually surprisingly effective at communicating Logan and Victor growing apart. And whenever Jackman is giving something light and funny to work with, the movie comes to life and offers hints that Hood might have made a better, or at least more dynamic, movie if he’d just been left alone.

There are little character moments as well. Dominic Monaghan has no reason to be in this movie at all, but he does at least get a good death scene. Liev Schreiber enjoys the hell out of his role, even though I keep wanting to call him the Pumaman. The jokes overall tend to hit more than they miss. And Will.I.Am gets disemboweled, so that’s a plus.

It’s just that in the end this movie is so absurdly cheesy and cliche-ridden, and so in service to showing as many X-Men as possible for legal purposes, that it’s sabotaged. The ending in particular is a silly, convoluted mess. It almost feels like they were deliberately going for ’80s camp but were just sincere enough to miss the mark.

Honestly, I enjoyed this more than X-Men: The Last Stand. If nothing else, it at least has plot momentum and a little visual creativity. It can be agreeably cheesy with a beer or two in you and your expectations lowered. On the other hand, a few years later, James Mangold and Hugh Jackman actually got to make a better Wolverine movie, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t recommend you watch that, instead.