Gavin Hood´s X-Men Origins: Wolverine is about as unwieldy as its title: it´s a big, sprawling mess of summer blockbuster, but lovable just the same. Hood, the South African director of the Oscar-winning Tsotsi and the forgotten Rendition, would seem an unlikely choice to direct a comic book prequel, and he is: the serious tone and languid pace he brings to a script overflowing with colorful mutants, divergent ideas, and corny dialogue is a more jarring shift than what, say, Marc Forster brought to Quantum of Solace.
For a simple origin tale, which was already (mostly) handled in X2, this thing is overloaded with plot. We start out in 1840 Canada, with young mutants Logan and half-brother Victor taking it on the lam after Logan kills their father. Flash-forward a few years, and Logan (Hugh Jackman) and Victor (Liev Schreiber) have migrated to the US and stopped aging (why they stop aging at this point, I´m not so sure), fighting in the civil war and major wars up to Vietnam, where Victor goes a bit haywire and kills a commanding officer. They´re sentenced to death, but of course, they cannot die.
So William Stryker (Danny Huston) comes along and offers them a chance to work for him instead of rotting in military prison. We´re quickly introduced to Stryker´s colorful team of mutants, which include Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds), The Blob (Kevin Durand – he´s not The Blob yet, but soon will be), Agent Zero (Daniel Henney), Bolt (Dominic Monaghan) and Kestrel (Will i Am). If you´re not an X-Men fan, these characters won´t mean much to you, here they´re a standard mercenary crew with a superpower each to distinguish them. But that´s part of the fun in Wolverine, playing spot-the-mutant; before the film is over, we´ll have Gambit, Silver Fox, a young Cyclops, and a variety of other young mutants, spotted by ability.
There´s a lot running around to get to the expected outcome; Logan/Wolverine leaves the merc crew, Victor/Sabretooth hunts down other members over the years, Stryker re-recruits Wolverine to hunt down Sabretooth, giving him an adamantium skeleton in the process. If you´ve seen the previous films or read the comics, you know where the film is going; why Wolverine seems to dance around the fact that Stryker is the real bad guy I do not know. On top of the fact that we know they survive to make the other films, as Wolverine and Sabretooth are virtually unkillable there´s little suspense in watching them fight. Especially when they´re fighting each other (something also noted in The Spirit).
Jackman carries the film as Wolverine, just as did for the previous films; Schreiber makes for a surprisingly good Sabretooth, in an antagonistic-brother role that´s incredibly similar to his work in Defiance. The rest of the cast is a mixed bag, mostly because we don´t spend enough time with them. Reynolds is a lot of fun as Deadpool, but the character is absolutely wasted, disappearing fifteen minutes into the film. Taylor Kitsch, as Gambit, fails to make much of an impression. Many X-Men fans revile the character, but I´ve always liked Gambit – especially in the early 90´s animated TV show, which got him just right. The portrayal here was a letdown.
Most of the film looks great, and I particularly appreciated the title sequence, a montage of Victor and Logan fighting in US wars throughout the past 150 years, which has some usually vivid flavor. Despite the brief feel for these periods, however, the film has absolutely no period flavor for the 1970´s, during which it´s actually set.
The CGI effects work is unusually subpar: even a simple shot of a plane flying above the clouds (which, as an aside, is used far too often in today´s films to convey travel – I´d rather see the old dotted line on a map) looks distractingly digital.
Where does Wolverine stand among the recent surge in comic book adaptations? It´s no Dark Knight, which Hood seems to be going for, nor is it a Ghost Rider, which the script leans to. It´s on the same level as, say, Ang Lee´s Hulk, a fun but undeniably flawed film in which the aspirations of the director are in direct contrast with the source material. But I was glad to see those aspirations, even if the film doesn´t really work; at least this isn´t an unimaginative, workmanlike effort like Ratner´s X-Men film, or Tim Story´s Fantastic Four flicks.
Wolverine is a huge improvement over Ratner´s film, and fans should be satisfied, though it doesn´t quite match Bryan Singer´s X-Men and X2. For a film I could feel wasn’t working as I was watching it, I enjoyed Wolverine as much as possible.
Stick around after the credits for an additional scene.
It seems Hollywood turns to 3-D every 25 years or so; it first rose in popularity in the late 50s as cinema turned to unique alternatives to distance itself from television, then again in the early 80s, for reasons I’m not entirely sure, especially in horror films like Jaws 3-D, Amityville 3-D, and Friday the 13th Part III, the latter of which showcased Jason crushing a man´s head with an eyeball popping out at the audience.
And now it’s back, in an improved digital form called “Real D” and touted as the next big thing in cinema. Up till now, however, it´s been almost exclusively used in mainstream animated and concert films, mostly movies that have been made with traditional viewing in mind and 3-D tacked on as a gimmick (Monsters vs. Aliens, which I haven´t seen, may be an exception). Patrick Lussier´s My Bloody Valentine, however, is not only the first horror film to use the new technology, it´s also been conceived as 3-D experience from the ground up.
In 1981, My Bloody Valentine was a typical slasher film. I haven´t seen it in years, but it was more memorable than most due to an authentic atmosphere and some modest originality within the impossibly strict genre bounds. 2009´s My Bloody Valentine is virtually the same film: a typical slasher, more violent than most, less pretentious than the recent wave, a throwback to 80s efforts. If you see it in 2-D (not at all recommended), that´s all you need to know.
Story: a mine accident caused in part by the owner´s son Tom (Jensen Ackles), who took leave to attend a Valentine´s Day dance, leaves seven men trapped. One of the men, Harry Warden, kills off the other six to preserve oxygen, then gets out and goes on another killing spree before he´s trapped in the mines, again, this time for good (hmm ). Ten years later, Tom returns to town to sell his father´s mine, meeting up with his old flame Sarah (Jaime King) and her husband, and new sheriff, Axel (Kerr Smith). And the killings start up again. The movie thrives on a who´s-the-real-killer storyline, which is surprisingly successful right up till the end. Business as usual for the most part, with a large supporting cast killed off one-by-one by a masked miner using a pickaxe: pickaxe to the top of the head, to the back of the head and out through the eye, through the eye out the back, up through the bottom and ripping off the jaw, gutted, decapitated, and so on. You get your money´s worth.
But wait – it´s all in 3-D! My Bloody Valentine may be nothing but an average slasher film in two dimensions, but it´s the best use of 3-D I´ve ever seen in a feature film. The miner menacingly points his pickaxe at the audience, body parts come flying at us, all well and good. We come to expect that, and the old anaglyph pictures delivered these isolated scenes as well. But every single shot in My Bloody Valentine makes use of three dimensions, or at least the illusion of three dimensions. A simple scene in a supermarket has real dimensionality as you stare down the aisles and feel what is close to you and what isn´t, adding to the atmosphere in a film like this in a way I´ve never seen before. Two frightened girls are carefully walking around, and you´re not watching them, you´re right in there with them; you get that urge to turn around, the killer might really be behind you.
The deaths sound cartoonish, and they usually are these days, but 3-D does two things: it adds another dimension of reality to the grisly scenes, and it obscures some of the always-noticible digital effects work. In effect, this adds tremendous realism to the violence; add in buckets of it, and I find it shocking that the film was given an ‘R´ rating in the US.
Something I found interesting: 3-D seems to draw more attention to the actors, their abilities and liabilities. Every scene in the film is fully dimensional, which means most of the time we’re staring at an in-focus actor against unfocused background as the technology dictates what we focus on as opposed to traditional rules of cinematography.
Going along with this, the actors have to do their job, on some level, for the film to succeed. In My Bloody Valentine, Ackles and Smith perform admirably: while I wouldn’t call what they do here good acting, they’re always interesting to watch, full of expression, with Smith, in particular, using his in-focus advantage to chew up the scenery. King, on the other hand, is just a vapid blank slate as our female lead. So beautiful in brief roles in Sin City and The Spirit, she’s a frumpy brunette here; her face jumps out at the audience during every scene, but it says absolutely nothing. Old pros Tom Atkins and Kevin Tighe also ham it up, providing welcome focal points whenever on screen.
The film was shot in Nova Scotia, standing in for Pennsylvania, and it looks quite atmospheric; I can´t really be sure, though, since in almost every shot the town/forest/mine in the background is slightly out of focus. This is one aspect of the film that´ll play better in 2-D.
A few notes on the 3-D experience: the 3-D glasses I received at Palace Cinemas Slovanský dům were large enough to fit over normal glasses, which is a nice touch. But they were also recycled from previous wearers, unwashed and greasy with fingerprints on the lenses (which were difficult to clean off the flimsy plastic). There were no trailers before the film, so show up on time. Ticket prices are 50 CZK more than a 2-D film. The film is also screening in 2-D in a few cinemas; make sure you catch the right version.
Also: opening is Proměny (showtimes | IMDb), a Czech drama from director Tomáš Řehořek, starring Dita Zábranská, Jan Zadražil, Alena Ambrová, and Petra Hřebíčková. You can catch Proměny with English subtitles at Kino Atlas.