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It’s hard to fathom that Fox’s troubled X-Men series was once the first true Marvel Cinematic Universe. Where once it was a linear exercise in star power (Hugh Jackman), evolving stakes (X2) and diminishing returns (Brett Ratner’s notoriously stupid X-Men: The Last Stand), Origins represented the series’ first step into a larger world designed to explore the franchise’s best loved characters in greater depth.
Produced in the midst of one of the most catastrophic writers’ strikes in recent times, X-Men Origins: Wolverine (arguably the worst title in a genre teeming with terrible titles) starts strong with a breezy 1-minute recap of the excellent comics storyline on which the film claimed to be based. We find young “James” as he discovers his mutant heritage and kills his biological father in a fit of rage before wandering off into various wars (Civil, World and otherwise) for a fabulous montage alongside his toothy brother (a buff Liev Schreiber).
Unfortunately the montage ends and the film continues. A vaguely convincing love plot creates a revenge motivation for James (now inexplicably called “Logan”) who allows the government to literally pump him full of lead (or adamantium as the case may be) so that he can stand a chance against his murderous sibling. Along the way, he meets a bevvy of mutant guest stars, all clad in the reliable X-ensemble of a t-shirts and jeans (and sometimes a leather jacket or a trench coat).
The film is fraught with woeful CGI, daft writing and unconvincing action. But to pretend that it doesn’t rattle along at an agreeable pace is to tell a lie as unconvincing as the film’s lazy 1970s period setting. The highlight of the film is blatantly Jackman himself. While the flick is the low point of the series for many, the actor is at his absolute peak both physically and in terms of his performance. He gives weight to dialogue that has none, he snarls convincingly during clunky scenes bereft of tension and he looks so intensely fucking beautiful that the straightest of arrows will wilt in the sight of his smouldering gaze, forming a perfect ‘X’.
The film is plagued with unnecessary cameos, notably a hilariously uncool Gambit (box office poison’s Taylor Kitsch) and a riotously unfaithful prototypical attempt at Ryan Reynolds’ Deadpool (so WTF in its execution that both Deadpool films make fun of it). will.I.Am is somehow in the film. Patrick Stewart makes a creepy de-aged CGI cameo (creating many continuity hiccups for the series later on) and it becomes abundantly clear that the character-heavy Logan opus we were promised has been studio-meddled into oblivion. I repeat, will.I.Am is somehow in the film. The X-Men Origins tag was presumably going to be used across a number of films, most notably a Magneto origins film. Perhaps due to the toxic reaction to this one, they nipped that idea in the bud.
It’s not all bad though – the film’s troubled production process led to numerous delays that meant that the makers of the tie-in Xbox game were suddenly given more time, more money and seemingly carte blanche to make the definitive Wolverine simulator. Make no mistake – X-Men Origins Wolverine may be a dreadful film, but it’s an excellent computer game. For some reason, the film’s limp PG-13 rating didn’t apply to the game, giving players the murderously violent hack-n-slash bloodbath audiences wouldn’t get onscreen until James Mangold’s 2016 masterpiece.
Wolverine’s trademark healing factor is given a key role in the game. You literally see lumps of prime-rib Jackman-meat regenerating over blood-stained adamantium. For a game from 2009, it’s still a Marvel to look at. The game was unfortunately dwarfed in scale and ambition by that summer’s Arkham Asylum, but it shouldn’t be discounted. There’s a boss level where you take down a Sentinel with your bare hands (and claws). Any opportunity to perform such a feat deserves its own unique place in history.
Ultimately, while Origins (the film) is rubbish, too many good things came out of it down the line to harbour any real resentment towards it. For all its flaws, it’s a perfectly agreeable piece of nonsense to play in the background of an unfriendly hangover. Hugh Jackman’s beauty knows no bounds and the film represents everything that’s good and bad about the superhero genre. Its impact can still be felt every time Marvel Studios chooses to faithfully adapt their bizarre characters rather than lazily throwing a leather jacket and jeans on Dominic Monaghan and calling it a day.