Comic books are something I spent very little time with growing up. There was the rare "Spider-Man" comic that ended up in my collection, but for the most part "G.I. Joe" and "Transformers" were the only two comic books that I cared to read and collect. They were essentially designed for Hasbro to sell more toys, but I liked them. Super heroes and the like didn't really interest me and the last thing that I cared about was comic books about collections of super heroes such as the "X-Men" and the "Fantastic Four." Some of my friends have always been deeply interested and invested their time into these tales of people with super abilities that do either right or wrong, but I wanted to see robots turn into cool cars or see elite paramilitary soldiers fight entire battles without ever killing anybody. Super heroes was just too unrealistic for me to enjoy.
Hollywood has found a huge market for comic book heroes since Tim Burton put Michael Keaton into the Bat suit and Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire made "Spider-Man" a box office legend. My own interests in super heroes is almost predominantly due to the growth of the comic book hero as a bankable movie franchise and thanks to Burton and now Christopher Nolan, I absolutely love Batman. I've never owned a comic with the Caped Crusader, but he is my favorite comic book hero. A close second would have to be Hugh Jackman. Well, at least the member of the X-Men that Jackman portrayed, the adamantium-clawed Wolverine. I watched the first "X-Men" film and thought it was a lot of fun and especially enjoyed the moments with Jackman. He made the film. The sequels featured less of Wolverine and my interest in the franchise waned.
Now Wolverine is back and the star of "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" and the Australian actor Jackman is asked to portray Wolverine in a prequel that tells his backstory. Whether or not this is the first of a series of "X-Men Origins" films is up to 20th Century Fox, but their decision to focus on the most popular member of the mutant universe was the right choice and it was done at a time before Jackman ages too much to continue portraying the indestructible mutant. Having soured on the franchise because of "X2" and "X-Men: The Last Stand," I avoided the hype machine surrounding "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" and never saw the film in theaters. However, the advent of home theater and stunning experience delivered by Blu-ray had me chomping at the bit to finally watch "Wolverine" and while I heard mostly negative reviews surrounding the film from my friends, there was enough positive words spoken that I rushed out to buy the film on both versions when my screener copies did not arrive in a timely manner.
The question is whether or not "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" was worth my $40 for a DVD and a Blu-ray copy of the film, but is the film worth your $15-$25 for a copy of the film on either format. Could Hugh Jackman step into the shoes of a character he last played three years ago and help correct the course of a franchise that was derailed by director Brett Ratner? The studio threw $150 million to the film and had faith in sophomore South African director Gavin Hood. Their efforts paid off and "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" brought home over $360 million worldwide to make it the first bona-fide blockbuster of the summer season and while this didn't equal the money spent by audiences for the horrendous "X-Men: The Last Stand," it is a far better film and while it is flawed and has definite problems, "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" is entertaining.
As everybody knows, Hugh Jackman is Wolverine and I doubt anybody will ever be able to step into his shoes as the character. This film begins way back in 1845 and the very beginnings of young James Howlett (Troye Sivan) and his bone claws parallels the beginnings of Victor Creed (Michael James Olsen) who turns out to be James half-brother and eventually becomes Sabertooth (Liev Schreiber). After an unfortunate event, the two near immortal brothers fight alongside each other in countless wars and eventually come under fire of a firing squad until they are recruited by Colonel William Stryker (Danny Huston) to join a special team of soldiers consisting of others who are special. James and Victor agree and the film moves forward showing them as part of a super hero fighting team led by Stryker.
Team X, as it is called, consists of a number of heroes. Ryan Reynolds graduates from his role as Van Wilder and portrays Wade Wilson, a soldier with incredible swordsmanship, speed and athleticism. Will.I.Am takes a break from the Black Eyed Peas and is a mutant named John Wraith who has the ability of teleportation. "Lost" alumnus Dominic Monaghan puts down Charlie's guitar and is a technopath named Chris Bradley. Other members of Team X includes Fred J. Dukes (Kevin Duran), who can punch the explosive round of a tank while still in the barrel and Agent Zero (Daniel Henney), who can fire his pistols with amazing speed and accuracy. The team is shown in the film having Stryker leading them to a mysterious black rock and then trying to find its source and origins. Eventually, James leaves Victor and Team X behind when he becomes morally opposed to what they are doing.
Comic book fans know that Sabertooth is an adversary to Wolverine and sooner or later in the film Jackman and Schreiber spend their time on-screen fighting. Victor is upset that James had left the team and Stryker approaches James, who goes by the last name Logan, to help track down Victor. Logan refuses, but the fight becomes personal when Victor murders his girlfriend Kayla Silverfox (Lynn Collins). This leads Logan to join up with Stryker and his skeleton is bonded with the adamantium that was revealed in the first "X-Men" film. A few plot twists lead Logan into wanting to uncover the mysterious "Island" where Victor and Stryker have been known to work out of and Logan teams up with the card tossing Cajun known as Gambit (Taylor Kitsch). A few other familiar names and faces in the "X-Men" universe are thrown at the audience before an explosive fight on "The Island."
I don't necessarily like the story behind "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" and feel that writers David Benioff and Skip Woods perhaps went too far into throwing too many names into the story. The character of Sabretooth and his relationship with Wolverine has completely changed from the Marvel canon and this has caused some controversy among the Wolverine and X-Men faithful. One negative I've heard is the dislike of a short-haired Liev Schreiber portraying a character that typically has long locks of hair. Hollywood doesn't always follow the source materials and the "Weapon X" program that has served as the basis of these characters beginnings is essentially ignored for the film and used as a reason to give Logan his adamantium skeleton and claws. The story isn't deep and overly detailed, but it allows for a lot of action and sold tickets. Compared to the "Batman" reboot and some other recent comic book stories, "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" is weak storytelling.
As far as the action goes, there is plenty of it, but it is hit and miss. I liked the scene where Wolverine is on a motorcycle and single-handedly destroyed the military team pursuing him. This included two Humvees and a helicopter. He gets into a couple fast paced fights against other mutants that are a little too fast in choreography, but fun none-the-less. There are a few other scenes here and there and the early montage with Wolverine and Sabertooth fighting countless wars is cool. I enjoyed the quick fight against Gambit and the big attack by Team X was impressive. The only action scene that completely turned me off was the big fight above a tower on the mysterious "Island." The fight involving Wolverine, Sabertooth and Dead Pool was too constrained by the small ledge of the set and while I absolutely loved the concept, the execution was off. This was the most unimpressive climactic fight I've seen in some time.
However, the film has Hugh Jackman. Jackman is an amazingly talented man and anybody that watched his hosting of the Oscars should be aware of that fact. He puts himself through an insane training regiment for this role and is one of the consummate professionals of Hollywood. He gets to destroy a helicopter, help bring down a rather large tower on "The Island" and put his claws through just about everything. Its fun watching Jackman as the big action here and I felt that "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" had a good mix of action and Jackman. Had they put anybody else into the film, "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" would not have succeeded and truly the best and almost only reason to enjoy this film is for the rugged Australian who can sing and dance through anything.
If it weren't for Hugh Jackman, I would recommend a pass on "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" as it would not have did anything well enough to be worth the price of admission or the optical disc. The story is weak and the action is good at times and laughable during other moments. Jackman pulls it all together and his ability to portray a complete bad-ass with a heart is something that most actors could never pull off. You never once feel as if Wolverine would not have the ability to behead his most dangerous foe, but you can feel the underlying humanity that keeps him from doing so and this feeling is all because of Jackman's talent. He is a highly gifted actor and that unlit cigar he chomps on and the striped leather jacket are as much a part of the character of Wolverine as Hugh Jackman and from now until the day I die I will picture Jackman as Wolverine. There can be no other.
The bottom line is that "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" is a decent action film that has some high octane moments that are pure fun and exhilarating. Unfortunately, the writing is weak and while I truly like Liev Schrieber as an actor, I'm not sold on him portraying Sabertooth. He would have been a great ally, but I like the guy too much to buy into him as the perennial bad guy. The climax could have been really cool, but Dead Pool was wasted and the final fight isn't all that exciting. There are so many better action films out there that would be a better use of one's time, but most of those action films do not have Hugh Jackman and I have to give "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" an extra point for Entertainment / Film Value solely because of his perfect performance as the ultimate X-Man. Without Jackman, "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" would have stunk to high heavens, but he IS Wolverine and its just too much fun watching him as his trademark character.
"X-Men Origins: Wolverine" was a very good looking film that is sharp and colorful. This is one film that benefits greatly from high definition and the Blu-ray release easily trumps the DVD release. Some would say the film has a very "film-like" appeal and the picture certainly was not overly processed and there are times when the 2.35:1 picture looks incredibly sharp and beautiful. A few Interior and dark shots in "Wolverine" were not overly impressive as the film got a little soft, but aside from a shot or two in the beginning and then at a Carnival it was not a problem. The forty five minute mark and a bridge over a shallow river is a great example of where the 1080p version is clearly the best. This was a moment when detail was very good. Colors are slightly desaturated and look very natural. Black levels are good and the print is quite clean. I have seen a few titles that are more detailed than "X-Men Origins: Wolverine," but this is definitely an above average transfer that should not disappoint.
Where "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" shines in high definition is its English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack that is aggressive and crisp. The sound of the adamantium claws is shrill and sharp, showing off the soundtracks clear treble tones. The deep bass of the .1 LFE channel is very good in the film's explosive moments and helps give depth to the score by Harry Gregson-Williams. The big action scenes really shine in "Wolverine" and show how good a proper sound system can be to making a big blockbuster film an experience in a good home theater system. All six channels are used throughout the film and the speakers show a clean transition as sound moves from channel-to-channel. The earlier scenes in the film are not nearly as impressive as when the intensity builds and "Wolverine" is not as impressive as something created by Michael Bay in sound quality, but this is an above average sounding film. Dialogue in the film is clear. Spanish, French and Portuguese 5.1 mixes are included as well as a number of subtitles.
After prompting the viewer to use storage space for the next generation features provided by the format, the Blu-ray release starts up with a pretty nice Blu-ray trailer for Fox and MGM titles that included a clip of "Aliens" and some other great films. I'm not sure why they advertise Blu-ray on the format, but it's a nice clip for those who already own the format. Next up is a true sign of the apocalypse with a preview for a sequel to the worst film ever made. Ted Dibiase apparently stars in the "Marine II" and I will have nightmares. "Family Guy: Something, Something Something Dark Side" and the first season of "Sons of Anarchy" are also advertised on the Blu-ray release. The DVD releases contained a few more advertisements, including a trailer for "Percy Jackson & The Olympus: The Lightning Thief." All of the bonus features are on the first disc, but a second disc is included that is a DVD and contains the Digital Copy of X-Men Origins: Wolverine for Portable Media Players.
Two commentary tracks are included on all 2-disc editions of "X-Men Origins: Wolverine." The first is an Audio Commentary by Director Gavin Hood. The second is an Audio Commentary by Producers Lauren Shuler Donner and Ralph Winter. I'll be honest and state that I didn't have a lot of time to listen to either commentary track as the screeners for the title arrived on release day and I wanted to get the reviews up in time. However, a cursory listen to both tracks revealed them both to be informative. Hood flies solo on his scene-by-scene commentary and his accent keeps him from boring the listener to death. Hood's commentary is very tied to the scene, but he does give some anecdotes throughout his track. Shuler Donner and Winter recorded their session together and they dig a little deeper into the production and this was the more listenable track from the sampling I witnessed. They gave more background information that Hood.
The stand alone features should please fans of Stan Lee's creation. They begin with The Roots of Wolverine: A Conversation with Stan Lee and Len Wein (16:08) and the two co-creators talk about the origins of the X-Men as well as the character Wolverine. Lee and Jack Kirby created X-Men and Wein stepped in to help create Wolverine. While it isn't too terribly long, this should have comic book fans chomping at the bit as Stan Lee is a fun person to listen to. He provides some good insight as Wein almost serves the role as interviewer. Wolverine Unleashed: The Complete Origins (12:03) is a slightly shorter EPK style feature that spends a lot of time telling the viewer how Hugh Jackman prepared for the role and performed 98% of all of his stunts. It was a decent making-of feature, but is your typical promotional bit.
The second menu ‘tab' has three items that are all exclusive to the Blu-ray release. The ten Weapon X Mutant Files (53:57) may be played individually or collectively and gives further information on many of the characters in the "X-Men" universe and features interviews with the cast and crew as they give background information on the characters. The big one is the "Victor Creed / Sabretooth" bit, but this was a very good collection of vignettes that gives good insight into the film's characters. The Thrill of the Chase: The Helicopter Sequence (5:53) has Hugh Jackman and the crew talking about the film's high octane helicopter chase and I was impressed with how much information was packed into a six minute featurette.
The Ultimate X-Mode is a BONUSVIEW feature that requires Profile 1.1 players. It is broken down into four parts. There is no documentation on information on these modes, you simply need to click the feature and see what is delivered. Each is mutually exclusive and must be used separately. X-Connect is a picture-in-picture feature where information shown in "X-Men Origins" is compared to the previous three films and how everything relates in the films and universe. This features members of the crew and shows clips from the older films. It's a nice feature. The Director's Chair is a PiP-based feature with Gavin Hood showing behind-the-scenes information as you watch the film and has a lot of background information. I found this to be better than Hood's commentary. Pre-Visualizing Wolverine is another PiP-based feature and again looks at the making of the film and provides some good information. The final item does not require Profile 1.1 and is a X-Facts trivia track.
The third and final scene features a mix of items, some of which were found on the 2-disc DVD release. There are four Deleted and Alternate Scenes (7:29) with Commentary by Director Gavin Hood that can be turned off. The alternate scenes include a different "Tag Scene" that takes place in Japan and the eagerly anticipated "Alternate Memory Erase" scene. There is also a scene with "Young Storm" and "Victor in the Boxing Ring." They are decent scenes and fans will probably have a good amount to discuss after watching the memory erase scene. The Fox Movie Channel Presents: World Premiere (6:22) is a Blu-ray exclusive feature and is another of the channel's short promotional clips. This one looks at Tava Smiley and the world premiere in Tempe, Arizona. The town won a contest thrown by Hugh Jackman to have the premiere in their town. Fox on Blu-ray has an advertisement for the "X-Men Trilogy" and "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian."
Another interesting feature on the disc is the Live Lookup feature that is powered by the Internet Movie Database (IMDb.com) and uses BD-Live. This allows profiles of actors in the film and can be sorted by chapter or thrown together in one large list. Selecting an actor provides a credits list and some basic information on the actor. It also provides information on the film, which would be similar to the information you would find on the film if you went directly to IMDb.com and searched the fim. This is done with a graphical interface that watermarks itself when not in use and provides hot keys based upon the colored keys of the Blu-ray remote. This is somewhat limited in functionality, but I absolutely love how this uses BD-Live in a way that bests most of uses of Blu-ray's Internet connectivity. I hope to see more of this in the future.
The last two films in the "X-Men" series were disappointments that I hardly enjoyed after the decent first film in the series. Hugh Jackman was one of the sole reasons to watch those films, but his character didn't have the screen time or aggressive nature that made him so much fun in the first film. Those at 20th Century Fox have realized that Jackman and the Wolverine character is the driving force of the "X-Men" franchise and they gave the character his own film and Jackman is in top form portraying the beloved "X-Men" warrior with adamantium claws that retract into his arms. The problem is that weak writing and uneven action scenes continue to hinder the franchise and the only thing saving this film is Jackman and his complete mastery of the character Wolverine. The Blu-ray release is billed as the "Ultimate" edition and the high definition version is clearly the version to own and the extra couple dollars to purchase the disc will get a few supplements that are not found anywhere else. Because of Jackman, this film is worth watching, but only because of the Australian actor.