I paid actual money to see a movie last week. In the pre-BitTorrent era, this wouldn’t have been a big deal, but all those starving-actor, anti-bootleg ads the Motion Picture Association of America runs before film trailers and the “movie thieves” alerts they post on their website lead me to believe buying a movie ticket is a fairly rare occurrence these days. I’m actually going to be pretty disappointed, in fact, if the MPAA doesn’t send me a cookie and a pack of smiley-face stickers to reward my selfless humanitarian act. Understand, it wasn’t just that I paid real money to watch a movie I could’ve illegally downloaded from the dreaded internet — I dropped $8 cash (during a recession, mind you) to watch X-Men Origins: Wolverine, a movie I’d not only already seen via illegal download (note to any government agents or film-studio attorneys who happen to be reading: I was forced to watch it at gunpoint by masked computer geeks), but knew for a fact to be kinda shitty.
Statistically speaking, several other people probably did this, too. A copy of an unfinished workprint of the film leaked to torrent sites last month, and it was downloaded more than 1 million times, but the film (which, incidentally, has a 37-percent favorable rating on movie-critic aggregator Rotten Tomatoes) still made $87 million in its opening weekend.
True, Iron Man, last year’s summer-kickoff blockbuster, topped $100 million its first weekend, but it had several advantages, including a decent script, a charismatic and talented lead, favorable advance reviews, and an admirable dearth of will.i.am. Considering Wolverine has none of the above, Fox studio execs should have a hard time convincing shareholders they got screwed at the box office.
The leaked workprint proves to be disappointingly close to the finished product. Many of the more complicated graphic effects (including the much-advertised motorcycle-to-Humvee-to-helicopter hop) are unfinished in the bootleg version of the film, but the film’s bigger issues — the uneven and largely irrelevant plotting, the tone-deaf line delivery, the painfully belabored winks to series fans (which create more continuity issues than they address) are left disappointingly unaltered in the finished film. Taken together, the two versions are a case study in the benefits and limitations of computer-generated imagery in film.
Wolverine begins with a quick nod to the Origin comic series, depicting young James Howlett on his 19th-century sickbed, talking briefly to his loving father. When Dad leaves to check on the violent-sounding commotion at the front door, comic-book fans don’t need a spoiler to know he’ll be staring dramatically up from a puddle of his own fluids before the opening credits. If you’re stuck in a line at the urinal, don’t worry. The scene seems to exist solely as fodder for the interior struggle of every 8-year-old boy in America: his powerful desire to not see his parents violently murdered vs. his overwhelming urge to become Batman.
The information you (sort of) need to take from the scene is that James Howlett, who sprouts claws at the sight of his father’s exposed innards, is a mutant, the next step in human evolution. So, too, is Victor, some kid who was hanging around the house for unspecified reasons when James’s father is killed, and who turns out to be James’s half-brother. James also has incredible self-healing powers, which don’t kick in until he watches his father die (sorry, kids), but then instantly cure James of whatever the hell disease he had. None of this, oddly enough, is ever mentioned again. Thankfully this frilly-shirt nonsense only continues until the opening-credits sequence.
The boys are now men. James (now played by Jackman), is now Logan, the mutant who will soon come to be known — via a scene telegraphed so clearly it makes Samuel Morse look like a bitch — as Wolverine. And Victor (Schreiber) has prominent canine teeth that sort of resemble those of Sabretooth, that evil fellow from the first X-Men film. The brothers have joined the U.S. Army, and they quickly serve in wars Civil through Vietnam. After Logan fails to lose his shit in Vietnam (brutal war crimes were like a weekly requirement there), the government (oddly unconcerned when they had 100-plus-year-olds fighting in WWII) notices the brothers’ peculiar talents and decides they’d be perfect for a new special-forces squad consisting entirely of mutants. These mutants include sword-wielding assassin Wade Wilson (Reynolds, one of the film’s high points), cowboy-hatted teleporter John Wraith (will.i.am.), and Fred Dukes (Durand), some dude who gets really fat later.
If this all sounds ridiculous, imagine watching the workprint version, complete with unedited guide-wires in all the stunt shots and filler graphics resembling a computer game I bought at Sears for $5 in 1993 in place of most of the
A version of Wolverine stripped of all its digitized explosion effects has the same appeal as a bootleg Annie Hall minus the dialog track, so it makes sense that the widespread workprint version doesn’t seem to have drastically reduced ticket sales. With the green-screen helicopter crashes and structure implosions to distract from some of the truly bad choices made by the screenwriters and casting director, the film’s … well, even if it is better than that unforgivable atrocity X-Men: The Last Stand, Origins is still brain-dead and pretty underwhelming. But the theatrical version’s full of shit falling down and catching on fire, and as the box-office proves, that’s pretty much the only reason we still buy movie tickets.