Sunday, May 03, 2009

X-Men Origins Colon Wolverine Colon Isn't Very Colon Good

Surprise, right?

Long, long ago, I got into superhero comics in no small part because of Claremont's "Uncanny X-Men", a team book which was, as is now well known, all about mutants and the prejudice they faced on the streets of New York. The first issue I recall reading was issue 210. It would be a year or so later before I would discover back-issues and be able to find out what led up to that issue, but the clear social message, which reflected very much what I was taught at home, in theory at school, at church, etc... matched up pretty darn well with the "Mutants are People, Too!" message of the issue.

No fights in the comic, but the X-Men regrouping after a big fight (almost unheard of for such continuity in comics today), and Kitty Pryde and Colossus having a run in with some anti-mutant bigots, while Rogue's heroism won over some tough guy New York construction guys.

Wolverine stabbed nobody.

At that time, Wolverine had been through quite a bit. His past was shrouded in mystery to both he, the X-Men and the reader. He had already had some adventures in Japan, and so by the time I reached the character, he had studied to become a samurai (not a ninja), and had a fallen-out romance with a woman of Japanese nobility.

Still, he was a gruff, stocky, hairy guy prone to drinking cases of beer, smoking cigars, and using what passed for profanity under the Comics Code Authority (he said "blazes" a lot, in place of "hell" or "damn"). He came across as Kitty Pryde's tough uncle, who was all bluster. For goodness sake, he occasionally hung out with Power Pack.

Wolverine had had a successful 4-issue mini-series in 1982, but never starred in his own title. He was a utility player that I think, wisely, Marvel knew was popular, but feared over exposure and the audience's realization that the character might not be much more than the word "Bub" and a set of claws.

At some point, the letters coming in and successful solo stories in Marvel Presents convinced Marvel that they should try a Wolverine solo-series. I wasn't convinced Wolverine needed a solo series. I preferred him as a member of the X-Men, but I think I started trying to pick up the series to go along with X-Men around issue 3 or 4 when I realized that Wolverine in his own series might just be the way of the world. Part of this (and this will stun younger readers) was that back then, if a character had a solo mini-series, they would actually demonstrate this in continuity by removing the character from their usual book for the duration. That's how seriously fans and the editors took continuity and would try not to put the same hero in two places at once. Ie: a successful Wolverine series should mean that Wolverine might not be in the X-Men anymore.

I didn't care for the series.

I don't know who was writing, but I'll guess it was Claremont. There was a lot of business about some stand-in island for Singapore called Madripoor, and a ridiculous secret ID for Wolverine in which he wore an eye-patch (like a pirate) and called himself "Patch".

Some character can take glomming on to certain parts of their past, and others... not so much. The Madripoor stuff opened the gate to pretty much any cockamamie notion anyone wanted to throw at Wolverine (who was ageless due to his "healing factor"), becoming a part of his background, whether it was a good idea or not.

Meanwhile, in the wake of Watchmen, Dark Knight Returns, etc... and an increasing wave of acceptance of rougher material in comics, it became the comic language du jour to come up with a berserker character who was at least potentially deadly, and dub that character the "Wolverine of the group" for team books, in everything from X-Factor to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

I don't know exactly when or why I quit reading Uncanny X-Men, but I threw in the towel on Wolverine's solo title almost immediately, years before I gave up on X-Men. And at some point, something about Wolverine as a "superhero" didn't really work for me. Under Morrison, the X-Men would abandon any premise of being a comic about "superheroes", but aside from that, I just wasn't too keen on a superhero (a) stabbed people as his primary function, and (b) killed lots and lots of people. None of that sounded much like a "hero" to me. Add in what became what continues as some serious over-exposure, and I mostly lost interest in Wolverine.

The casting of Hugh Jackman as Wolverine was an accident, originally. Dougray Scott went for the surefire hit of Mission Impossible: II, featuring John Woo as a director and Tom Cruise as a co-star, bowing out of this silly little superhero movie nobody would go see. I recall seeing the first pictures of this Jackman fellow and being confused.

He was tall, lanky, and handsome. The opposite of how I pictured the guy. Fortunately, both director Bryan Singer and Jackman were on the same page with the comic version in personality (he's gruff and rough around the edges, but he's got a noble warrior's heart). And I never complained.

Wolverine was already overshadowing the rest of the X-Men (my personal favorites as a kid were Colossus, Rogue and Cyclops, and Psylocke until they made her into a ninja). Today's Marvel comics have become so Wolvie-centric that, I am not making this up, this month Wolverine is on the cover of almost every Marvel comic, whether he appears in the comic or not. The character has a rabid fan base as deep and loyal as Spidey, Superman and Batman.

And I know virtually nothing about the character as he's been presented since about 1995. I did read the "Origin" limited series in 2001 or so, which is covered in its entirety by a sequence which occurs before the credits roll in "X-Men Origins: Wolverine". It was written specifically so that the studios wouldn't just make up an origin without any input from Marvel, and it works well enough. But everything I've heard over the past ten years leads me to believe that Marvel really doesn't have a "good idea/ bad idea" policy for Wolverine's past, anyway, and that much of it seems to pop out of what I'd suggest sounds, from the outside, like bad fan-fiction (he now has a son named "Daken" or some such, who has tattoos and whatnot.).

I wasn't particularly enamored by the mini of "Origin", even if I felt the basic idea was solid. But since then, there have been numerous Wolverine origin series. And the movie is based on a lot of comics I never read and don't know much about.

The basic problem with "Wolverine" is that it feels a bit like a 90's action movie in that there's a lot of attention to superheroics, improbably stunts, etc... and absolutely no attention paid to whether the story makes sense. Unlike Transformers, which seemed to hold both the property of Transformers and the audience in disdain as not worth bothering to put together a respectable movie, Wolverine feels much more like everyone but Hugh Jackman and Liev Schreiber (as Victor Creed) are out of their depth, including screenwriters, director, 3D specialists and whomever had to cut the darn thing together.

It's a movie where several times the characters mournfully shout their anger to the sky, and the camera pulls back to an aerial shot (this shot should have been retired when Rainier Wolfcastle first shouted "Mendoooozzaaaaaa!) and dying people say things like "I'm so cold...". Especially in the last forty minutes or so, people seem to just be doing stuff because it moves the plot forward, not because it makes sense (why, on God's green Earth did gambit attack Sabretooth and Wolverine at that moment? and why didn't Wolverine pursue Sabretooth?).

Nothing about Stryker's plan makes any sense, aside from his end goal. The secret base in the Canadian Rockies from X2 and X3 is in the movie, but why its there, and why they use that, and what the hell Stryker bothers to imbue Wolverine's skeleton with adamantium doesn't, honestly, make much sense. Nor does the final explanation of Wolvie's memory loss. One gets the feeling all of this did make sense but... Wolverine was plagued with re-shoots.

While I am glad they didn't bother with the Madripoor stuff or try to tackle Wolverine's years in Japan, as that would have extended the movie (with five endings or so already) even further, the story they do tell is sort of... just not all that interesting. Oddly, like Watchmen, what seems far more interesting as a movie than what unfolds on screen is the stuff in the opening credits. Jason and I agreed that all THAT seemed far more interesting than the paint-by-numbers plot of the movie.

And, seriously, how many "women in refrigerators" does Logan have under his belt at this point?

The writers were aiming for fanboy acceptance, and try to cram 10 pounds of mutants into a five pound bag. Characters come and go, and its hard to care about any of them. Any thrill fans of the X-books might have been getting from seeing, say, Gambit flit briefly across the screen, was lost in the morass of 20 other mutants, many of whom I suspect debuted well after I quit the X-books.

The special FX are mostly OK. There are a few scenes in which, oddly, Wolverine's claws don't look quite right, which I found mind-boggling. How do you mess up solid metal in CG? But it just didn't look quite right. And, occasionally, when Sabretooth is hopping about, it looks a little wonky.

Nobody is all that bad in delivering the clunky lines they've got. Jackman, typically, throws himself into the Wolverine role, and there's no doubt that the replacement of Tyler Mane as Sabretooth (as seen in X-Men 1) was a very good idea.

The movie has some neat action sequences, but that's pretty much what you'd expect. If that's all you're looking for, you should do well, I suppose. But that's mostly what the movie hangs on rather than stuff like plot or character.

And, no, after 40 years of Wolverine in comics and the past few years of comic movies, I don't think fans of the material should lower their sites just because someone deigned to see fit to make a movie about their favorite character.

I'll be the first to say that Wolverine is taking 21st Century superheroics from the comic to the big screen. He's a character more fit for modern movie tastes than Superman or even Batman, in many ways. With any luck, a second Wolverine movie will take things up a notch and not be the narrative mess of this film.

But I'd probably still prefer just getting an X-Men movie over another installment in the solo missions of someone who is much more interesting as the wild-card on a team of straight arrows.


J.S. said...

Well, as I said to Reed last night, movies like Wolverine sort of help to make Watchmen seem much more clever. Of course, Watchmen was pretty much a shot for shot adaptation, where Wolverine was clearly not. Still, Watchmen left you with a feeling that something wasn't right, but it was hard to put your finger on exactly where it went wrong. Wolverine has clearly discernible flaws that are much easier to articulate.
So I pose to The League the same question that was put to me at Mono E practice last night: was Wolverine better or worse than X-Men 3? I wasn't sure how to answer that.
Also, I want to know which superhero movie The League thinks is the best and (perhaps more fun) which is the worst (maybe we should limit this to movies about superheroes who actually appeared in comic books so we don't get something that was made just for the sake of making some sort of B movie).

The League said...

I preferred this movie to X3. I should have said that. X3 was a trainwreck in its sheer lack of vision and imagination, dilution of two or three stories in the X-mythos down to subplots and THEY KILLED CYCLOPS for not being loyal to the damn franchise and getting other work. It was just junk.

I think Dark Knight, aside from two scenes, is the best Superhero movie, overall. It sets out with specific goals and blows the doors off accomplishing them. Also, I am a fan of the Gyllenhaal woman.

Spidey is probably the most fun (seriously, no wonder kids love Spidey). Superman: The Movie has the best script.

Worst? I can't even be mad the Schumacher Bat-movies. They're so wrong-headed from a Batman AND movie-making perspective, that I sort of love them for their flaws, which outweigh successes, 100 to 1.

There's just such a wasteland of bad comic movies, all bad for different reasons. Like, Superman IV just makes me sad in its mis-management of once good ideas. The Phantom is ridiculous, and not in a good way. Judge Dredd didn't bother to ever read a Dredd comic, and it had Stallone AND Rob Schneider. X3 was hugely financially successful, yet almost killed the franchise. How screwed up is that?

Really, there's just so many bad comic movies, I can't answer that question. For every five I mention, there are 10-20 I'm forgetting.

J.S. said...

Yeah, I guess that Dark Knight and Spiderman are sort of gimmes. I wanna squish Iron Man in there, but it's kind of hard to compete. And to be honest, I still like Burton's first Batman. It's stylized, but in a cool way, and I like Nicholson's Joker.
For worst superhero movie (and there are plenty), I humbly suggest the live action Spawn for your consideration. It was bad to the point where I actually found it a little offensive.

The League said...

I thought about Iron Man. It's in my top three or four that don't feature Superman.

And, yeah... Spawn might actually be the worst. I'm trying to find one that can top it, and nothing comes to mind. But... I dunno. Maybe I should revisit Judge Dredd.

JAL said...

The Punisher: War Zone is all sorts of pitch perfect.

The only "problem" is that the film does not strive to be anything more than it needs to be.

I lament that I did not see this in the theater, preferably at the old Riverside.

J.S. said...

Wait. Are you nominating Punisher: War Zone for best or worst? If you're nomiating it for best I gotta go rent that thing.

JAL said...

It is excellent in everything it needs to be, but nothing more. I enjoyed the hell out of the movie and did not feel guilty about it. I don't know if I could ever not mention it as one of the better comic movies made, but I couldn't quite put it in a "best" category, since it never went beyond where it needed to. Wait, it might have best use of rocket launcher and best attempted arrest. Yes - best attempted arrest.

Michael Corley said...

I quite agree. I especially dislike the trend of "Introduce as many characters as possible." No thank you. If you really want to throw some in, do it at the very end via the prison break. Honestly, did we need her to be a mutant? His lady friend? Hell no. Did we need gambit? Not a bit.

Look at the movie? It's pretty decent until he leaves his little evil group of baddies. Then we start "Hello mister mutant" parade. Sheesh.

I did like how Cyclops beams were handled. I always thought the best way to portray them was to show how utterly deadly they were.

Sort of spolier... I went to see Star Trek before this movie, and I think it made me like it a less. Because Star Trek is THE BOMB. I shall say no more.

Michael Corley said...

Oh, and I must comment. They did not actually SHOW cyclops being killed. We are talking about X-men after all. They aren't really good at dying.

Michael Corley said...

And I support JAL on his statements of Punisher. That movie was much, MUCH better than I was expecting. The actor's portrayal of Castle surprisingly subtle and the realationship between the two bad guys strangely touching.

It still missed it's full potential, but damn, I was surprised.

J.S. said...

I shall rent Punisher. I shall tie The League to his sofa and make him watch it with me while I play with his dog and eat his food.