Periscope Depth

will.i.am, drop the beat now

Don’t I owe you some media blow? I feel I do.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine: Not bad, just aggressively mediocre. You ever have a friend who tells an unimpressive one-liner, giggling as he does, that you pretend not to have heard? So he repeats it, forcing you to either smile politely or say, “I heard you the first time”? Wolverine is that movie. It’s not awful; it just devotes hundreds of millions of dollars to producing something forgettable.

Hugh Jackman and Liev Schreiber spend the first ten minutes fighting through every good war movie of the last century (Glory, Saving Private Ryan, Full Metal Jacket). Colonel Stryker recruits them out of the brig, appealing to their love of country (aren’t they Canadian?) instead of their desire to get out of prison. On their first assignment he sics them, along with a bunch of other mutants, on an oddly conspicuous Nigerian diamond smuggling operation. Jackman, Schreiber, Will.i.Am, two guys from Lost and Ryan Reynolds slaughter a building full of security guards just so Col. Stryker can ask their boss where he got a paperweight. This turns out to be a Nigerian village, where Schreiber slaughters a bunch of civilians. Jackman, who’s lived through Gettysburg, the Somme, Normandy and My Lai, has finally had it with his psycho brother and walks home to Canada.

I could go into more detail about how shopworn the movie is: how Stryker treats Wolverine’s memories like a cassette he can record over. How characters get sympathetic just in time for them to get killed. How the need for continuity with the first three movies hamstrings the plot so much that Wolverine, Stryker et al don’t have motivations so much as checklists. How Wolverine’s invulnerability gives him the same problem as Superman: it’s hard to put him in compelling danger. When he’s fighting a super-mutant on top of a reactor cooling tower, what’s the worst thing that could happen to him? It’s not “falling,” that’s for sure.

Rather, let’s break one scene down beat by beat, as a synecdoche for the rest of this $150,000,000 tuna melt: the scene in New Orleans, where Wolverine and Will.i.Am go to pick up Gambit.

  • I’ve never been to N’awrlins, but I imagine the part of the French Quarter that’s open to tourist foot traffic is closed off to motorcycles. Yet Wolverine and Will.i.Am get to amble theirs through parting crowds like it’s nothing.
  • I wonder if they’re on Bourbon OH GOOD THERE’S A STREET SIGN.

  • The two of them walk into a bar, where they pick out Gambit by the fact that he’s arcing cards into the air and catching them in his opposite hand. I’m not a professional poker player, or even a ranking amateur. But if I walk into a bar in New Orleans looking for a game and I see a guy with a diamond-topped cane shuffling cards in mid-air, I’m finding another table.

  • Will.i.Am.: “That’s cool.”

  • Will.i.Am slips out the back, where he spots Victor Creed pacing in a back alley. He teleports down there to tussle with him. “I’m gonna kill you,” he says, ” ‘fore Logan even gets a chance.” He teleports out of the way of Victor’s wild swing and punches him in the back of the head.

    Didn’t Will.i.Am spend months fighting with Victor back when they were in Stryker’s unit together? He’s seen Victor shrug off bullet wounds. And his brilliant plan is to punch him to death?

  • Wolverine gets conveniently blown out the back wall of the bar, where he spots Victor having just freed his hand from Will.i.Am’s spine. The two of them get in a tussle. Wolverine, now weighing four hundred pounds and laden with a metal harder than titanium, makes quick work of Victor. But just when he’s about to finish him, Gambit vaults down from a rooftop and blows the two of them away from each other with a kinetic burst.

    How’d he get on the rooftop, since the last place we saw him was “behind Wolverine’s elbow”? And if he doesn’t trust Wolverine, what interest does he have in stopping him from killing Victor (who did kidnap him, after all)? And if he can generate enough kinetic energy to knock a four-hundred pound man and a two-hundred and twenty-some pound man to opposite ends of a street, how does Wolverine even get close enough to lay a finger on him later?

  • Later in this fight, Gambit clings to a fire escape that’s teetering away from a wall. Wolverine brings him down by disintegrating the escape’s metal ladder. He doesn’t just shred through it (which his claws are capable of doing). He vaporizes it, like Mario would a hovering block.

  • Finally, Gambit promises to fly Wolverine to “the island” where the final fight’s going to be. At the risk of spoiling this awesome movie, suffice it to say the secret island isn’t especially secret. It definitely isn’t somewhere you’d have to fly to get to.

Anyhow, the movie ends with so many double-crosses, triple-crosses, heel turns and face turns that, by the end, no one who’s died has actually died. Our hero’s rewarded for his efforts with the gift of amnesia and staggers off into a wildly successful sequel. Or prequel. Or something.

Did I mention Wolverine walks away from an explosion? Because that happens, too.

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