Thursday, May 7, 2009

Exfanding Review: X-Men Origins: Wolverine; or, Why the Past is the New Future

X-Men Origins: Wolverine posterI saw X-Men Origins: Wolverine this week, and I'm glad I did. On the superficial level, I was entertained; what can I say--I'm easily won over by exploding helicopters and impossibly cool swordplay and gunplay. My gladness transcends the superficial, however; I'm glad I saw Wolverine because it game me some food for thought. Before I continue, let me take two paragraphs to flesh out how I felt about the film.

On the positive side: As I suggested, the action was plenty actiony, the credits sequence was excellent, there were a few great one-liners, and I think I may have involuntarily muttered, "That's very cool" once or twice. There were just enough homages and references to the first three X-Men movies to retain that feeling of being connected to the series.

There were a few appearances by X-Men characters we had yet to see on the big screen, and I appreciated the explanations of how certain things came to be. The actors seemed to really embrace their characters, the pacing was very good, and there were a few welcome surprises along the way that kept the movie's plot from devolving into a thin string that served only to link together the action sequences (see: Quantum of Solace).

On the negative side: I can't tell if the writing or direction was to blame, but a few parts were a little cheesy (and could have been fixed with just a teensy bit of tweaking), and a good deal of the movie was utterly predictable. The ending (like, the last 10 or 20 minutes) felt highly contrived and probably could have been smoothed out without being totally overhauled.

The kid who played Gambit was fine, but not my first pick for the role; maybe his part wasn't big enough in this movie for me to get a better sense of him, or maybe it's for the best that he didn't have a bigger part. Every time Wolverine squared off against Victor Creed, they came running at each other from across the room in the exact same manner. And, for reasons I cannot articulate, it annoys me just to look at Liev Schrieber.

So, aside from the convoluted ending and a handful of hiccups along the way, I enjoyed Wolverine. Now, watching and analyzing this movie led me to some greater things to think about: the direction of Marvel's movie franchises, and a curious trend in recent movies (at least, the movies I've seen).

Gambit tosses some cardsI'm speaking from a completely uninformed perspective here, but it seems to me that they weren't thinking about the long-term survivability of the X-Men movie franchise when they made X-Men: The Last Stand.

If you've seen the movie, or even if you extrapolate from the title, it's pretty clear that there was never any intention of an X-Men 4. Yes, they did leave the door open a crack for a sequel, but a sequel would completely wreck the sense of closure X3 had (like what happened when they made another Indiana Jones movie after The Last Crusade), and the new film would have to find some way of working around the (supposedly) irrevocable changes to the X-Men universe made in the third movie.

Even if they did make a fourth movie, where would they go from there? They made their last stand; what bigger climax is there than a last stand? And what kind of second-stringer mutants would they have to bring in to fill in the gaps in the main cast? And what are the chances of the X-Men showing up in the next movie with Hulk or Iron Man, whose respective movies have been made with the future clearly in mind?

This is why they're all about making spinoffs now. Wolverine is popular. He's safe. And he's got plenty of stories to tell from before he joined Professor X. The only problem is that telling the story of what happened before a certain movie/book/videogame/etc. is a sure-fire way to introduce continuity issues (hello, Star Wars prequels); plus, this means we'll never see a true ensemble piece again until they either take a chance on X4 or decide to totally reboot the franchise, which seems to be the easy way out of everything these days.

This leads me into my observation about a current trend in movies (and by current, I mean in the past several years): when you can't think of anything new, resurrect a movie series that was laid to rest long ago, and when you can't think of anything new to do with a movie series, redo it entirely.

George Clooney as BatmanJames Bond. Batman. Indiana Jones. Die Hard. Terminator. Hulk. The Punisher. Shrek. King Kong. The Day the Earth Stood Still. Death Race. Bad News Bears. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Fun with Dick and Jane. The Poseidon Adventure. The Manchurian Candidate. Halloween. Friday the 13th. Charlotte's Web. Star Trek. And there's talk of a Fantastic Four remake and a Toy Story 3 and a Beverly Hills Cop 4.

Granted, it's okay to remake a movie that's decades old (if it's not a sacred classic), and it's fine to reboot a franchise that's centered on a single character (such as Batman or James Bond) that can no longer feasibly continue because all the good villains are dead, the character is too old to be on active duty anymore, or the films just got too ridiculous for their own good (although I'll admit that I like the first four Batman movies more than the new ones, regardless of how campy the old ones eventually became).

However, remaking a movie that's only been out for a few years is a big indicator that something's awry in Hollywood, one way or another.

Die Another Day posterWaiting a loooong time to make a movie sequel is really no different than making a movie sequel a year later, except the cultural and technological factors that contributed to the success of the previous movie are more likely to be different after a decade or two.

Technology has been one particular sticking point in general for modern movies: I am of the opinion that CGI has allowed good filmmakers to become lazy, and bad filmmakers to become successful. I've seen the remarkable, well-done CGI of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within and The Lord of the Rings, and then I've seen a cardboard cutout James Bond surfing on a glacier. Or maybe it was a car door; it was absurd, I can tell you that much.

...But I digress.

Wolverine pops his clawsAnother thing I've noticed about the modern movies I've seen is that they're not consistent in being great, mediocre, or atrocious. Name just about any movie from before the turn of the century. Most of them should be really easy to categorize. "Fantastic movie." "Terrible waste of time." "Promising, but disappointing." "Special effects were great, plot was stupid, but the plot didn't matter, so it was great." But now, it seems, instant categorization isn't so easy.

Bringing this meandering rant back to Wolverine, I can't justify classifying Wolverine as a very good movie because of my qualms with it, nor can I justify calling it a bad movie because there was far too much that I liked, which also keeps it from being strictly average. The ending wasn't utterly atrocious, but it still damaged the movie enough to make me hesitate in how to classify the film.

All I'm trying to say is that, of the ones I've seen, most modern movies aren't consistently good, bad, or otherwise; sickeningly bad films are peppered with staggering brillance, and phenomenal films are riddled with fleeting moments of unbelievable airheadedness.

Maybe my perception is totally off. And maybe I'm just bitter that some filmmakers care more about making money or blazing their own trails than preserving the integrity and continuity of any one of my fandoms.

I'm not necessarily opposed to remakes or sequels or taking movies into territory from which they may never return, but the track record of most things I've seen recently doesn't leave me very hopeful when it comes to handling any fandom I'm particularly attached to.

Please, please don't let Monday's post be titled, "Fans Embrace New Star Trek, Forget Old Star Trek; 40 Years of History Destroyed, Nathaniel Alone Weeps."

1 comment:

Alex said...

Enjoyed the movie to the max but I still say its a little disappointing because it does not live up to the name of the franchise.