Welcome to The Takedown. Since this is the very first of the series, that means I get the opportunity to explain what it is we do here. This is the weekly NitWitty series where I will pick a topic – be it a game, or book, or in this case, a movie, and go through the details about how it failed spectacularly, and why it’s truly dreadful. So while other sites may simply tell you that a movie made you feel like your dick was punching itself, it’s my mission with this series to at least let you tell your friends if the punch is left or right handed.
Anyway, for a film, let’s look at some of the core aspects of cinema, and why X-Men Origins : Wolverine sucks harder than this incomplete metaphor.
Maybe out in the world you’ve heard that one pretentious guy say something to the effect of, “That movie looks like shit.” There’s a decent chance you were walking out of a Kevin Smith movie. But, and this may surprise you, lots of movies look like the cinematic equivalent of an Arby’s Beef and Cheddar. XMOW is no exception. On a base level, the cinematographer has a couple of jobs. Job #1 : the action of the frame must be clear. Job #2 : the mise-en-scene should at least try to make sense. That’s, very basically, the placement of the objects in the frame. There are other things they do, like command the lighting dudes to aim their limelight lasers at whatever the director wishes to
To illustrate my point, and because I really do feel that you should know what diabetes looks like, I’ve included some examples. They’re terrible examples, but they’re of terrible objects, so it works out.
Now, to be clear, these are no closer to being delicious food as XMOW is to being a movie you can watch without crying. Let’s assume however, that these are in a (non-horror) film, and talk about those jobs that a cinematographer is supposed to do. #1 is the action of the frame. In that I mean that what is going on in the frame is clear, has a sense of place and some perspective. The roadkill on the left is shot wonderfully in this case. Notice the difference in lighting between the sammich and the background. That difference causes the eye to be able to easily pick out the outlines. In terms of the mise-en-scene (literally – the placing on stage), right below the beefs is the world’s smallest cutting board, and it’s there to give you an idea, however rough, of the size of the things in the frame. Granted, there is nothing sexy about the dismembered cow parts on the left, but at least job #1 was done well. By comparison, look at the shit show on the right. The foreground (the nominal “food”) and the background have the same lighting, which has the effect of making the wrapper and the SARS delivery system blend all together in the frame. On top of that, there is nothing else to let you know how big this thing is, and how much hurt, by weight, you’re in for if you order one of these on a dare. Basically, it looks like crap, and leaves out information.
Which brings us to our first example from XMOW:
Let’s play the meat sammich game, shall we? Job #1, do we know what’s going on here? The answer to that rhetorical device is “no.” We can assume that Gambit is whipping a stick around, but that’s not the first thing that draws the eye. That’s because the mise is screwed because of those shiny assed lights to the left. The reason, other than Taylor Kitsch’s screen presence, is how this is lit. Like the post-op on a bun in the example above, there is something that stands out in the frame, it’s just not anything that anybody really cares about. Although in fairness, even if this was perfectly shot, there would still be nothing in the frame worth caring about. Maybe the stick. Maybe.
The effect that this has is that a lot of things happen in this scene and it looks confusing, boring, or both.This is what film snobs mean when they talk about the scenes looking, “muddled.” Here’s another example, because you’ve done bad things.
So much brown. Also, out of focus lights.There is just so much wrong with this on a technical level. The first has to do with those thrice damned lights. I know you’re not going to ask, “which lights?” because they are the lights that immediately call attention to themselves. Then notice, much like the right hand picture of a quarter pound of regret above, that the rest of the lights do nothing whatsoever, and make the whole thing look brown, and sad, and all the same. Speaking of badly put together things that brings us to:
Holy shit Batman, this crap makes no sense. I almost don’t know where to start, but luckily for you, I am an internet professional and a masochist, so here goes.
In the beginning, there was kid named James, and his brother Victor. Something happens with some stuff (this is pre-credits, so nobody cares), and James stabs his step dad with his boner claws. I’m sure there’s a metaphor about adolescence in there somewhere.
So with nobody to tell them what to do, James and Victor go on up the river on a raft and learn important lessons about race relations. Actually that’s the plot for a better story. In this one they just go kill a bunch of people throughout history, because that’s what happens without a father figure. Actually I should say that they get shot a whole bunch of times in a montage. The worst part of it is, the montage is the highlight of the film. I’ll explain in a minute.
Eventually the two of them, fight in Vietnam, Victor does something stupid, and to make a stupid story short, they get shot by firing squad, don’t die because of reasons, and then recruited by a William Stryker to join up with the 90s as hell group called Team X. After which they go along with Deadpool, Maverick, Agent Zero and will.I.am on a secret mission to steal adamantium. It goes really well, a whole bunch of dudes get killed and James / Logan / Wolverine / Princess Buttercup starts thinking plot-oriented thoughts like, “What am I doing with my life?” and, “How much does this pay again?” and, “No, like, seriously. How big is the dump truck full of benjis and blow?” and he decides to peace out.
What does an immortal do when he’s out of a job? Well it turns out that he decides to be a lumberjack, and that’s okay. Not that it matters all that much, because Stryker finds him anyway and explains that lots of his old team mates caught a bad case of dead, and Victor probably did it. In an effort to make this shorter, Victor and Wolverine fight, Wolverine gets his ass kicked, gets adamantium installed in his bones like it’s a new kitchen, and promptly escapes with untold amounts of Canadian R&D money bonded to his skeleton. Somewhere along the way Stryker tries to erase Wolverine’s memory.
Anyway, people get killed by Victor for no reason and are never mentioned again, a trait I will follow to the letter. Wolverine finds out that a bunch of mutants, including Stryker and Victor, are on a “secret” island and only one person knows where this island is: Gambit! That’s right, we are introduced to the staff-wielding guy from Figure 1, and in the 2nd best scene in the film, will.I.am dies horribly. Before you get all excited, the scene is complete shit and manages to make a fight with involving a teleporter boring, but like I said, will.I.am gets wrecked and there was much rejoicing.
With Gambit in tow, Wolverine goes to the “secret” island : 3 Mile Island. Now for the record, 3 Mile Island is in Pennsylvania and is about as secret as Megan Fox’s Toe Thumbs. Which is to say obvious and something you can’t unsee. A bunch of fighting happens and Victor and Wolverine have to band together to fight Deadpool, because the writers needed a 3rd act, dammit. Then before the credits, Styker shoots Wolverine in the head with an adamantium bullet, and makes him forget everything, because there’s a short bus level of continuity to preserve and this is a prequel.
Whew, I am glad that is over. Let’s get out the knives.
Good gods, is this insipid bullshit. The best part of the stupid film is the credits, and you know you’re in trouble when the opening credits are the good part. Seriously, stretched out the credits would be a better movie. Consider if you would the magic fairy land of cookies and ice cream, where XMOW is just about Victor and Wolverine fighting in the Civil War together. Maybe they have exciting mutant adventures during The Great War too. Don’t forget that Captain America showed us all that a Chris Evans can in fact act, and that a superhero WW2 flick just fundamentally works. But no, we live in this world where everything sucks and the bright idea is to make this movie take place in the 80s.
Anyway, once the good part is over it gets into the classic 3 Act Structure, and then falls apart because of a combination of gross incompetence and even grosser catering choices (please don’t click that). The 1st Act of a film is supposed to establish the characters, setting, and the core conflict. Instead XMOW uses that all important time to putz around in a bunch of samey looking jungles and introduce characters with neither redeeming qualities nor unique traits. The entire first act seems to be just a long work print of the trailer. Then for no reason that anybody, anywhere, can think of, it’s time for Wolverine to be a lumberjack. You may think to yourself that this doesn’t make any sense, and you’d be exactly right. This is one of those “character” choices that exist purely to move the plot along.
Act 2 does nothing but reintroduce the characters without traits from Act 1. Unfortunately, we were never given a reason to care about any of them, and then they start getting killed off and the film acts like it’s high drama. When you kill somebody in a movie, you had to have gone through the effort of making them interesting. It’s one of the reasons that horror flicks use such stock stereotypes – it gives you as little information as possible to tell the characters apart so you know who is who when they start coming apart. But slashers don’t expect you to grieve the loss of Jock Douche #2, just to enjoy the spectacle and the schadenfreude.
Finally, (thankfully) Act 3 is upon us. Act 3 is usually the easy part, since it is where you get to start tying up all of the loose ends. Instead, it’s time for some sweet plot implosion. Let’s start with the plot holes. Now I get you’re trying to be cute by implying that the titanic Victor, Wolverine, and Deadpool fight was the cause of the 3 Mile Island disaster. Sure, whatever you want, hombre. But don’t go through the effort of implying that 3 Mile Island is some kind of secret military facility. That’s dumb. There’s nothing secret about anything in Pennsylvania other than those Quaker Cults. It also implies that Gambit is somehow a stupendous badass because he escaped from Pennsylvania. I normally wouldn’t care about this, and it might seem a little nitpick-ity, but since the entire 2nd Act is based around finding this “secret” facility that’s an hour outside of Philly.
Second, Deadpool is stupid and poorly handled and the resolution to the whole plot with Wolverine is full on special needs. So let’s skip right along to…
The thing about characters is that it really helps if they are either likable, or relatable. Usually those traits go together, like youthful fun times and the clap. It gives the audience somebody they can root for. This movie has none of those things. The title character, Wolverine, assumes that you’ve seen him in other films before. Coincidentally, it short hands all of the character development since it figures you already care. It then adds no reason whatsoever to make you care on its own terms. Throughout, Wolverine is curt and stoic, and quiet loners aren’t likable, which is why they are the most likely to shoot up a business or place of higher learning.
Let’s explore the character arc of Wolverine in this movie: stuff happens, bullet to the head, forgets everything. The only character growth throughout the entire run time is that the character forgets all of the growth. He starts as a child and is reduced back to that in the end. Kurt Vonnegut once said, “Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.” XMOW wasted everybody’s time and should go sit in the corner and think about its life choices.
Everybody else is even worse. You know all of that sweet description I gave you about the characters in the rundown? That’s about what you get in the movie, only it takes longer and is more painful. The characters are all interchangeable and their powers are never used in a way that’s character building or interesting. For example, let’s talk Deadpool. He starts off as a psychopathic mercenary who makes funny quips. In the comics that’s sort of his thing. The film does nothing with the character however, and at the end the main contribution to his arc is to give him a bunch of extra powers and make him mute. In other words, take the one thing that made him interesting and do the exact opposite of that. To sum it up the characters that have the slightest hint of a personality get it ripped out of them like it’s a Mortal Kombat Fatality, and everybody else is just so much replaceable plot parts. You could literally have replaced every character in the movie with a Jurassic Park Raptor and gain more than you lose character wise.
And that is the Takedown. If you have any thoughts or future targets, drop them in the comments. Otherwise I will accept your cold and stony silence and a de facto round of applause.
Until next time.