Posted in: Disc Reviews by Gino Sassani on September 24th, 2009
“I’m the best there is at what I do and what I do isn’t very nice.”
So what do you do after three successful, if not critically acclaimed, X-Men feature films that brought in over a billion dollars total when you factor in domestic and foreign box office and home video sales? It was getting a bit expensive to bring back such a large and growing in popularity cast. Even if you wanted to spend the money for such an ensemble, it gets awfully difficult to write effectively for so many characters at once. Someone’s going to get the dark end of the spotlight. Hurt feelings aside, you can’t continue to please such a wide diverse group of fans. Bryan Singer did such a great job in the balancing act for the first two that it looked like maybe this could go on forever. But Brett Ratner, who is used to working with teams of two, put a fork in the franchise for many, and it seemed we’d seen the last of our favorite mutants. Honestly, I didn’t think the third film was all that bad, but that’s just me. I was never looking for anything more than an amusement park ride for my theater ticket, and that’s exactly what I got all three times. But these issues remain, as does the question, where do you go from there?
The first part of the answer was a rather brilliant one, indeed. Somebody at Fox earned their bonus that year with the idea to begin an X-Men Origins series of films. These movies would limit the star to one or merely a few of the A-list mutants and explore their beginnings. Several characters were considered, most notably Wolverine, Professor Xavier, and Magneto. Another Fox executive earned more of that bonus money by selecting Wolverine as the first of the series. While he was not a part of the original X-Men team in the comics, and not even a Stan Lee invention, Wolverine has become the most popular of the franchise’s top billing characters. That wasn’t necessarily so in the comic world. You can credit Aussie actor Hugh Jackman for bringing the character alive more fully than a comic hero has been for some time. In my opinion not even Christian Bale’s Dark Knight comes close. Now we could argue all day about the merits of any of the individual films, but for my money Hugh Jackman owns Wolverine. Honestly, can you see anyone else effectively taking over this character? Batman’s had a few good turns under the cowl, and we all know that eventually in some form or another there will be others. Not so for Wolverine. I don’t believe anyone will ever portray this character in my life time again. I can’t tell you exactly what it is. Is it the look? Or maybe the attitude? Likely it’s a combination of many things, but when Jackman strikes a Wolverine pose, I’m sold. And by the number of tickets sold for this one, I’m not the only one. Even with a nearly pristine print showing up on the internet months before the film’s release, the movie went on to become one of the top 4 films of the summer season.
In truth, we’ve already been provided with a box office version of Wolverine’s origins as recently as the 2nd X-Men film. We got to visit the mountain lab where Wolverine was infused with the metal that made him completely invincible and gave him those wonderfully iconic claws. But this film goes much deeper.
We begin with a young Jimmy, who has just murdered his dad/stepfather. He and his “brother” Victor escape into the wilderness. We learn that he was born with his power of healing and at that time had bone protrusions that he could extend from his knuckles. A montage then shows us that the two brothers fought in many wars starting with the American Civil War and leading up through Vietnam. When they turn on a superior officer the two (Jackman/Schreiber) are condemned to the firing squad. Of course, we already knew that wasn’t going to work out too well … for the firing squad, that is. Still imprisoned, the duo are confronted by Col. William Stryker (Huston). He has assembled a team of soldiers with special powers and invites the brothers to join. The team takes on many black op missions and Jimmy, now known as Logan, has had enough of the killings and walks away. Victor thrives on the devastation and remains.
Jump to several years later. Logan is working a lumber crew in Canada. He has a woman, Kayla (Collins) and has settled down. But someone is hunting down the members of Stryker’s old team. When Kayla appears to fall victim to the killer, Logan is enraged and agrees to participate in an experiment for Stryker, that only he could possibly survive. Stryker is going to infuse his skeletal structure with a meteoroid metal he calls adamantium. It is virtually indestructible, and it’s only Logan’s ability to heal that allows him to survive the treatment … barely. Now completely indestructible, Logan sets out to find Victor and get revenge for Kayla. Wolverine is born. Of course there are some twists and plenty of big f/x battles before it’s all over. In the end, Logan ends up with the memory loss that we found him with in the first X-Men film. Of course, Victor will become Sabertooth. The relationship isn’t one found in any of the comics, but there has long been speculation that the two were in some way related.
I’m not going to lie to you. This isn’t as good a story as I was hoping it would be. There are legitimate reasons to be disappointed. Still, there are some great scenes and some wonderful stuff here. I was pleased to see the introduction of Deadpool, once thought to be unfilmable. I’m even hearing rumors of a Deadpool film down the line. Gambit also makes his appearance here and has been another crowd pleaser from the comics. What you should really be looking at here is how much this film opens up the franchise to some wonderful and compelling ideas. I’ll go on the record and say that I think this Origins idea is a good one. Fox better make room in that bank vault for another billion or so.
If you think the film has its superhero model down pretty tightly, it should. Do the names Richard Donner and Ralph Winter mean anything to you? Donner directed the first Superman film, which pretty much started all of this box office comic mania. Ralph Winter produced the original crew Star Trek films starting with Wrath Of Kahn. And then there’s Lauren Shuler Donner, Richard’s wife of over 20 years. You can’t say this crew doesn’t have street cred.
Wolverine is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC/Mpeg-4 codec. This is a very sweet looking image. It has the big quality that these kinds of films need. The colors are outstanding. Explosions burn with the brilliance and diffusion of reds and oranges that only high definition can provide. If you’re one of those losers who was so proud of yourself for snagging the bootleg from the internet, you are only kidding yourself if you think you really saw this movie. This film has some wonderfully sharp and detailed frames. Close-ups of Logan’s face reveal the grey in Jackman’s stubble. Ooops. Black levels are about as good as it gets. There are some panoramic images from Logan’s Canadian cabin that are truly breathtaking. Some of the interior stuff was a little soft, but overall this is a fine example of what Blu-ray does best. So you know what you can do with that internet bootleg, don’t you? I’m sure Jackman might have a few suggestions. Ouch!
The DTS-HD Master Audio track is awesome, in a word. It’s a very aggressive mix, and all of the surrounds have plenty to do. The clang of those claws is enough to bring shivers. Explosions rock your subs. Yet in all of this heavy duty action you won’t lose a word of dialog. Everything is carefully balanced to offer you the optimum listening experience you can get. You can’t help but get completely caught up in the action and this sound presentation will quickly and easily immerse you in the experience. Say what you might about how good the story is. You really can’t knock this presentation. Did I say, WOW?
There are 2 Audio Commentaries found here. The first features director Gavin Hood. He’s pretty lighthearted and offers a ton of information, but I did find myself scratching my head at times. It’s hard to figure out when/if he’s kidding.
Producers Ralph Winter and Lauren Shuler Donner take up the second commentary. It’s a bit more dry and eventually the information gets a little scarcer.
Wolverine comes with a Digital Copy and is BDLive loaded.
The Roots Of Wolverine – A Conversation With Stan Lee And Len Wein: (16:18) HD: You know who Stan Lee is. If you don’t, stop reading and return to your hospital bed. The doctor’s are gonna want to know you’re out of your 15 year coma. You may not know that Len Wein is the bloke who created Wolverine, originally as a nemesis for The Hulk, and added him to the X-Men comic when he took that book over. The two enjoy some banter and give and take here. Stan is … well … Stan. He playfully asserts that he can’t allow Len to talk longer than he does. Like anyone can talk longer than Stan Lee. It’s a fun, yet somewhat educational piece.
Wolverine Unleashed – The Complete Origins: (12:05) HD This feature accents the highly collaborative effort between the crew and Hugh Jackman to create the Wolverine character for the screen. Cast and crew join in, but this is primarily a character/actor profile of Wolverine/Jackman. Finally, there’s a good look at the design of both of the versions of his claws.
Weapon X Mutant Files: (53:57) There are 10 total actor/character profiles here. Each is about 4-7 minutes in length. You get the handy play all option for nearly an hour of info on them all.
The Thrill Of The Chase – The Helicopter Sequence: (5:53) HD: Obviously this feature focuses on that one sequence. You get f/x crew explanations as well as pre-viz and plenty of behind the scenes footage.
Deleted And Alternative Scenes: There are only 4, and they total only about 10 minutes. Sadly there isn’t much new here. A glimpse of a young Storm and a sequence where Logan gets his memory wiped. It’s obviously an alternative plot element.
Fox Movie Channel Presents: World Premiere: (6:22) SD Apparently Fox ran a contest through their television network to pick the host city of the film’s world premiere. Tempe, Arizona won. There’s red carpet footage and talk about the city.
Ultimate X Mode: There are a variety of PiP features you can engage as you watch the film. I tend to find these things distracting, but if you like seeing and hearing background stuff during the movie, you’ve got options here.
Live Look-Up: This is a new feature appearing for the first time on this release. It’s actually pretty cool and a kind of off-shoot to BDLive. This feature connects your player, if you have internet access, to the IMDb. It allows you to find out who actors are on the screen and check out their credits and bio information. It’s great for those “Who was that actor” and “Where have I seen him before” moments. It’s a big score for the IMDb as well. I’d like to see this sort of thing developed more and available on all Blu-ray releases in the future. It’s an example of adding a very usable feature without taking much disc space. Kudos to Fox on this one.
This is the first of the Origin stories, and judging by the success, there will be others. While no official word has come down, at least three are in the development stages. There have been plans for a Magneto film for some time, and my sources tell me it is likely to be the next film made. The second possibility is a second Wolverine film. Jackman isn’t getting any younger, and there might be some push to get as many of his films made while they can. There is also a huge rumor of a First Class film which would feature the kids from this film as they begin their studies at Xavier’s school. At least one of these films will be in production by the end of next year. Count on it. So, I’ll readily admit this movie has its flaws. I liked it just the same. “Trust me, I’ve seen worse.”