Special Effects, Naked Chests

Ignore the critics: 'X-Men Origins: Wolverine' is fine superhero-movie fun!

Most professional critics have given low grades to X-Men Origins: Wolverine. They claim their bad reviews are due to the clumsy script, the derivative directing and the film's low interest in being intelligent.

I think, rather, that the reason X-Men Origins: Wolverine has gotten such bad reviews is that reviewers do not understand something that film lovers like to call "awesomeness."

First of all, in case you couldn't decipher it from the title, this movie is about Wolverine, who is awesome. Also—again for those with limited literacy skills—it's totally about the origin of Wolverine, including when he was born, how many wars he kicked ass in, and when he got all that metal inside of him so that his awesome went from "awesome?" to "awesome!"

I should, in the interest of full disclosure, note that I used to work at Marvel Comics, and that I've seen Chris Claremont cry. So perhaps I'm too well-educated in things Wolverine to fall for the pedestrian views of mainstream movie critics who've seen every Ingmar Bergman film but have never known love or the outcome of the last Avengers/Justice League crossover. But if you're willing to accept that having a character look at the sky and scream is just as good as intelligent dialogue, then I think you may be open-minded enough to love Wolverine.

Because it's fun stupid action at high speed, with nicely realized special effects. I was recently talking to a comics professional about why comic-book movies were always so campy in the distant past (say, pre-Spider-Man), and we decided it was because the special effects weren't able to make the super-powered fights look good. No such problem exists now, and when Wolverine battles a teleporting, eye-beam-blasting, sword-wielding zombie monster, you'll believe.

Plus—and I was reminded of this repeatedly by my friend Genevieve as she sat hyperventilating in the seat next to me—Hugh Jackman's naked chest needs no special effects. And it shows up frequently in this film. In fact, there's one action/fight sequence in which Jackman is completely nude. You'd see his wolverpenis if it hadn't been digitally blurred out.

So it's a film for the ladies and the gents. Jackman, of course, plays Wolverine, a mutant born in the mid-19th century whose super-healing power has kept him alive in spite of repeated bullets to the chest and some chlamydia. His brother Victor is also a mutant, code-named Sabretooth. Victor has the same healing powers, but he is taller and not as pretty. Liev Schreiber, who's known for his work in Shakespearean theater, really lights up the Sabretooth character. It's odd that more Shakespearean actors haven't played superheroes; other than Patrick Stewart as Professor X in the X-Men movies and Sir Laurence Olivier as Catwoman in Catwoman, the job of super-acting has been left in the hands of song-and-dance men, comedians and sitcom extras.

Not that Wolverine is lacking in those: Ryan Reynolds goofs it up as super-mercenary Wade Wilson, and will.i.am. does a surprisingly good job as teleporting mutant John Wraith. There's also some smart casting in dragging Taylor Kitsch out of Friday Night Lights to play Southern-powered mutant Gambit, and former hobbit Dominic Monaghan does an affecting job as Bolt, master of electricity.

But the real star of the film is the special-effects system. While the story serves the purpose of setting up the fight scenes, it's the fights that win out over the story. The film follows Wolverine from his birth in Canada, then montages him through four wars in order to bring him to Lagos, Nigeria, where the Army is using mutants as a sort of evil, government-sponsored A-team.

Fed up with acting as an assassin for people who make Dick Cheney seem like Florence Nightingale (there's actually a toss-off line later in the film, in a sort of Bagram-esque prison, in which the evil government agent talks up the merits of the Bush doctrine of pre-emptive war), Wolverine goes solo and finds a nice backwoods lady to settle down with. She's all pretty and works with children and makes flowers jealous, so the government sends bad people to hurt her, and then lots of stuff gets sliced up by adamantium claws—stuff like helicopters and nuclear cooling towers and, if you don't hold on to it tight, your suspension of disbelief.

But you should hold on, and see Wolverine in a theater full of excitable people, because that helps its ass-kickingness. Yeah, it's not exactly My Dinner With Andre (though there is a cunning visual reference to Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, which I think is a first for a superhero movie), but so what? And, yes, the directing is occasionally cheesy; there are too many scenes with overhead shots of Wolverine holding a dead body and screaming into the sky; and I don't think anyone is going to give it an Oscar for Best Screenplay (though, strangely, one of Wolverine's writers also wrote the screenplay for The Kite Runner). But, then, not many Oscar-winning movies made $160 million in global box office on their opening weekend.

So it's up to you: You can stay home and read Proust, or you can go watch mutants fight helicopters. But remember: When you're on your deathbed, you're not going to be wishing you'd spent more time reading Proust.

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