X-Men Origins: Wolverine.
Growing up I was always aware of the X-Men cartoon and the action figures, but I never really got it into (I was more a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles man). The same goes for the movies that came out in the last 15 years, aware of them but not really interested. So heading into 'Wolverine,' I had nothing more than a very basic knowledge of the series and its characters with no notions of what the story should be like some diehard fans might have. So take my review with a grain of salt because of that, but I loved it. I wasn't sure what to expect, but it's the type of action movie that handles everything extremely competently, blending action and character into a highly enjoyable mix.
In 1845, young Jim Logan kills his father in a fit of rage and is forced to run away with his half-brother Viktor. They are not normal like other kids and seem to be some sort of mutants. They don't age and together fight in the Civil War, both world wars and Vietnam. It's during the Vietnam War that Viktor (Liev Schreiber) kills their commanding officer so along with Logan (Hugh Jackman) they're sentenced to death. A normal man can't kill them though and put back in their cell, they are rescued by an Army colonel, William Stryker (Danny Huston), who offers them a way out and a chance to use their freakish abilities. Both Logan and Viktor quickly sign up.
Working for Stryker with a team of fellow mutants with superhuman abilities, they do all sorts of extremely difficult jobs that no human would be able to do. But after years of doing someone else's dirty work, Logan walks away from the team and moves to a lonely mountaintop in the Canadian Rockies with his girlfriend, Kayla (Lynn Collins). Six years pass before a pissed off Viktor shows up and kills Kayla, driving Logan back to Stryker for help in defeating his half-brother and enemy. Stryker offers a dangerous procedure for him where a substance called avantium will be injected into his body, making him nearly invincible. Logan agrees and though he barely survives the procedure, comes out on the other side as super-warrior Wolverine. Watch out, Viktor, here he comes.
What little I knew of the X-Men, I knew Wolverine was a bad-ass with his razor sharp claws and gnarly looking mutton chops (yes, those qualify as bad-ass). Jackman gives the character a dark edge that is needed for a story like this, and it never hurts when an actor does most of his own stunts. The stunt coordinator on the DVD special features says that the star did 90% of his own stunts, and it looks like it. Not having seen the first three X-Men movies, I'm only going off clips I've seen, but Jackman looks like a new person here. This dude is ripped and looks like he would rip your head off if you messed with him. It's still a little weird seeing such a tough guy though sing and dance on Broadway though. Something just doesn't add up there, but as long as he makes movies like this one, I'm not one to complain.
Now every superhero needs an arch nemesis and Wolverine is no different, getting two opponents, Schreiber's Sabretooth, and Huston's Stryker. Schreiber is another great actor in a long line that's venture into the action genre, and he doesn't disappoint, producing one of the coolest villains I've seen in awhile. Sure, he's the bad guy, but he's not that bad really, and I found myself rooting for him to team back up with Wolverine. Huston plays Huston, a slimy bad guy you know is a bad guy from the moment he's introduced. It's just a matter of time before his real motivations are revealed.
If anything, this movie has too many cool characters. Jackman, Schreiber, and Huston are very strong leads and carry the movie, but that's just the start. Only in the movie for about 30 minutes is Stryker's team of mutant assassins, all who make a lasting impression in a very short time. There's Wade (Ryan Reynolds), the smartass swordsman, Agent Zero (Daniel Henney), expert with any gun, Dukes (Kevin Durand), the strongman, Wraith (Will.I.Am of the Black Eyed Peas), a man able to appear and disappear at will, and Bolt (Dominic Monaghan), a powerful mind able to manipulate electricity. There's also Gambit (Taylor Kitsch), a younger mutant able to use kinetic energy to explode objects. All I'm saying, it's a good thing the rest of the story is good because all these characters are more or less left behind after the first 30 minutes.
But what I liked most was that with the development of all these great characters, they then dropped them into some expertly-handled action scenes that use a fair share of CGI without overdoing it. After being betrayed by Stryker, Wolverine goes on the hunt and the movie never really slows down after that. It's never long between fights among Wolverine and Stryker's henchmen, including Agent Zero, as well as Viktor who always seems to pop up at the worst possible time. The movie gets started on the right note too with one of the best opening credits sequences ever, showing Logan and Viktor's fighting in a long list of wars. These indestructible warriors make quite the team as they dispatch Confederates, Germans, more Germans, and North Vietnamese soldiers.
A perfect example of what a superhero movie can be when handled the right way. Characters are fully developed without sacrificing anything in terms of story, style or action -- of which there is a lot. Jackman and Schreiber are the high points in this flick, but the cast as a whole is very impressive. At least one spin-off has been confirmed with one of the supporting characters, and as Jackman points out in the special features, "I love playing the character, and as long as there's a demand for more, I'll keep playing him." Good news for superhero movie fans everywhere.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009): ***/****