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X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 9/15/2009

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 9/17/2009

If you've read my reviews for the animated X-Men or the modern Wolverine and the X-Men show (or even The Spectacular Spider-Man), you may have gleaned two things; 1) I’m a huge fan of the X-Men, but 2) my working knowledge of comics ended about 15 years ago. So, when it comes to my favorite characters, I have very solid ideas of who they are, and I don’t like it when new things (ie: things which happened after I stopped reading comics) are added. However, I do my best to approach things with an open mind. This is what I tried to do with X-Men Origins: Wolverine, a film which focuses on one of Marvel’s most popular characters.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine opens in 1845. One night, the life of a young boy named James (played by Troye Sivan) is changed forever by two startling revelations; 1) he learns that his real father is the father of his friend, Victor (played by Michael-James Olsen), and 2) claws made of bone can erupt from the backs of his hands. Terrified, Victor tells James that now that they know that they are half-brothers, they must take care of one another. We then see them fight in many wars on behalf of the United States. While in Vietnam, Victor (Liev Schrieber) and James (Hugh Jackman) are approached by Colonel Stryker (Danny Huston), who makes them an offer. Stryker has put together a group of soldiers who each have special powers like James and Victor. (Besides the fact that neither seem to age very rapidly, Victor has claw-like fingernails and super agility. Along with his claws, James can heal very quickly and has heightened senses.) James and Victor agree to join, but when James sees the violent atrocities which the group commits, and how this excites Victor, he walks away.

The story then jumps ahead six years. Now going by the name Logan, James has moved back to Canada, where he works as a lumberjack. He lives with a woman named Kayla (Lynn Collins) and they are in love. However, Stryker is not about to let Logan forget his past (ironically). When someone begins to kill members of the team, Stryker asks Logan for help, and Logan agrees, not knowing that he’s about to endure and experiment which will change his life.

Even before there were X-Men films, the idea of a solo Wolverine movie seemed like a good one based not only o the popularity of the character in the world of comic books, but the fact that Wolverine often works solo. And what better way to approach the character than to do an origin story. For years, one of the things which made Wolverine so appealing was his mystique. He only had one name and couldn’t remember his past and no one took this any further. (Is this creativity or laziness?) In the early 1990s, Marvel allowed writer/artist Barry Windsor Smith to tackle the story of how Wolverine got his adamantium skeleton and the Weapon X project was born. At the begin of this decade, Marvel took things back even further, showing Wolverine’s childhood. X-Men Origins: Wolverine takes ideas from both of these sources (and many others) to create the story of Wolverine’s life.

While the overall plot to X-Men Origins: Wolverine is fairly straightforward and linear (save for the finale, which is simply overblown), the movie still bites off more than it can chew in its attempts to please everyone. The movie wants to entice Marvel comics fans by bringing in as many characters as possible. And while this is somewhat “cool” on a purely geeky level. The team of mutants which Victor and James join is simply brimming with mutants which should be familiar with comic fans -- that is, if the movie could take a moment to give us their names and elaborate on their powers. We then have the inclusion of Gambit (Taylor Kitsch) and Cyclops (Tim Pocock), neither of whom bring anything to the story, and simple feel like an attempt to bring in a familiar character and one which fans have been clamoring to see in a movie. And was that supposed to be Emma Frost? Really? At times, all of these characters draw focus away from Wolverine. Didn’t the powers that be trust him to carry the film?

All of this aside, the movie also wants to please a mainstream audience who know Wolverine from the X-Men films and just want to see a good action movie. The movie almost succeeds on this point. The action scenes, most notably the helicopter chase, are very well done, and we get to see Wolverine use his powers in creative ways. However, these same viewers may get frustrated by how the plot gets in the way of the story. Those who aren’t familiar with comic books may not know that soap operas have nothing on comics with the ups and downs of the stories. We get a good idea of that here with all of the double-crosses and characters coming back from the dead. There’s nothing wrong with a movie having a complex plot, but X-Men Origins: Wolverine throws a lot at the audience without slowing down to explain any of it.

Given the choice, if there was going to be a movie about Wolverine’s origin, I would have rather seen a feature-film based solely on Weapon X. In the right hands, that would have been a great movie. But, we are left with X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which is simply a good movie. The action scenes are well done and the arc of Wolverine’s life is interesting, but there is way too much going on in the background and the movie never seems focused.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine brings us the ever-popular “snikt” on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 22 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing basically no grain (save for some of the green screen shots) and no defects from the source material. The picture shows a great amount of depth and the level fo detail is good as well. The colors look great, and the image is never overly dark or bright. The many landscape shots are incredibly clear. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.0 Mbps. The track delivers clear dialogue and sound effects. This is a muscular track which features very detailed stereo effects and booming subwoofer during the action scenes. The stereo shows nice separation and the bass is wall-shaking. However, I found the surround sound mix to be weak. Some rear speaker sounds were very clear, but most got lost in the power of the front channels.

The X-Men Origins: Wolverine Blu-ray Disc contains several extras. We start with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director Gavin Hood. Next, we have a second COMMENTARY from Producers Lauren Shuler Donner and Ralph Winter. "The Roots of Wolverine: A Conversation with Stan Lee & Len Wein" (16 minutes) is a great idea and will interest fans of X-Men comics. But, there are two huge problems here -- 1) Lee and Wein talk about the comics, but there is no comic art shown here (they couldn't get the rights to just one image?); 2) The talk is detailed, yet vague and those unfamiliar with comics will have no idea what they are talking about. "Wolverine Unleashed: The Complete Origins" (12 minutes) has the cast and filmmakers discussing the Wolverine character, and how they decided to explore that in this film. There is a nice amount of on-set footage here. "Weapon X Mutant Files" (54 minutes) explores ten of the characters from the film -- Sabretooth, Stryker, John Wraith, Kayla, Fred Dukes, Bradley, Gambit, Agent Zero, Wade Wilson, and Emma. Each segment contains interviews with the actor, where they discuss the character, and behind-the-scenes footage. "The Thrill of the Chase: The Helicopter Sequence" (6 minutes) explores how the film's key action set-piece was done. "Ultimate X-Mode" offers four different choices for picture-in-picture while viewing the film; X Connect, The Director's Chair, Pre-Visualizing Wolverine, or X Facts. The Disc contains four DELETED AND ALTERNATE SCENES which run about 10 minutes and can be viewed with commentary by Hood. One of these is the bar scene which was seen following the credits on some theatrical prints. "Fox Movie Channel Presents: World Premiere" (6 minutes) shows the actors on the red carpet and the response which they received.

Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long