Don’t Believe the (Negative) Hype

Earlier last week, Rotten Tomatoes had X-Men Origins:  Wolverine rated 100%.  It has since plummeted to a 38% rating (15% on the top critics meter).  Such a critical plummet can signal one of two things, a really bad film or misguided expectations on the part of too many critics.  Having watched the film over the weekend, it has to be the latter.  Nothing about Wolverine deserves such horrible ratings.

As the title informs us, this latest Marvel release provides insight into the origins of, perhaps, the most famous X-Man, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman).  While we never learn much about Wolverine’s family, we quickly see that he had retractable claws of bone before the adamantium versions.  The film’s first act follows Wolverine’s ageless life, alongside his brother Victor/Sabretooth (Liev Schriber) throughout all the major wars from the Civil War to Vietnam.  Hiring on with a group of mutant mercenaries, he helps pillage until his conscience has had enough of the senseless killing.

He leaves the group and settles into a quiet life as a lumberjack in Canada with his girlfriend, Kayla Silverfox (Lynn Collins).  However, his former partners are not done with him just yet, and when tragedy strikes too close to home, he sets out on a quest for revenge on Victor that will result in the transformation into adamantium, uncovered secrets, and encounters with, for X-Men fans, a host of familiar mutants.

Watching comic book/graphic novel films in a post-Dark Knight, post-Watchmen, post-Iron Man world is something of a challenge.  They have set bars, each in their own way, that will be difficult for future comic book films to reach.  While Wolverine does not embrace the seriousness of the latest Batman film, the “realistic” violence of Watchmen, or the pitch-perfection of Iron Man, it does not fall to the miserable depths of Catwoman or The Spirit.  Having not read the original comic book series on which the story is based, I can image that the only viewers who should really be angry with the film are those that feel it is unfaithful to the source material.  As a film, it moves along at a steady, brisk pace, thanks to a rather narrow plot line.  The action scenes are engaging (if bloodlessly repetitive) and the dialogue only really suffers in one or two places.  The film suffers from a couple of cheesily staged sequences and one-too-many Wolverine roars.

I am assuming, rightly or wrongly, that most critics who’ve panned the film have not read the series and are comparing it to recent releases in the genre, an acceptable comparison, or to other genres altogether, a more problematic undertaking.  As a comic book film, Wolverine is a solid, safe entry that is still enjoyable, even if it doesn’t fully embody the grit and anger of its title character.  The film benefits the most from strong performances all around, including a welcomed extended cameo by Taylor Kitsch (a.k.a. Tim Riggins from Friday Night Lights) as the Cajun mutant, Gambit.

X-Men Origins:  Wolverine (107 mins.) is rated PG-13 for violence and occasional language and is currently in theaters everywhere.