[Text] X-Men Origins: Wolverine, by David Benioff and Skip Woods [review]

Ryan Reynolds is returning to the comic book genre next week, which has prompted me to look back at some of his previous efforts. We begin with X-Men Origins: Wolverine, by David Benioff and Skip Woods. After the success of the X-Men trilogy, 20th Century Fox decided to continue the franchise by producing a film which starred a specific mutant, but was still recognisably part of the franchise. Which means that, in the end, nobody is quite able to tell if X-Men Origins: Wolverine is actually X-Men Origins feat. Wolverine or Wolverine in “X-Men Origins”.

I’d argue that X-Men Origins: Wolverine is both of those things, which is why the narrative is such a mess. No mistake – in a spin-off focused on James “Wolverine” Howlett, we also see Victor “Sabretooth” Creed (from X-Men, by David HayterTom DeSanto and Bryan Singer), John Wraith, Kayla Silverfox, Fred “Blob” Dukes, Chris “Bolt” Bradley, David “Agent Zero” North, Wade “Deadpool” Wilson (Reynolds), Scott “Cyclops” Summers (from X-MenX2 by Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris and X-Men: The Last Stand by Simon Kinberg and Zak Penn), Emma Silverfox and Charles “Professor X” Xavier (from X-MenX2 and X-Men: The Last Stand). So that’s ten other mutants who appear in Howlett’s origin story. Hence calling it X-Men Origins: Wolverine, rather than Wolverine Origins or just Wolverine.

How can such a situation exist? Well, the truth about X-Men as a concept is that the characters only work when they’re together. That was the whole point of X-Men when they were created – to be a team, rather than just individual heroes. So as soon as one’s given the spotlight, and the others relegated to a supporting cast, they become another generic character.

The mutant abilities are only used as plot devices, it’s the relationships that matter. So the first mistake of X-Men Origins: Wolverine is in its approach, because it forgot the heart of the franchise that had even made it possible. The Critics Consensus shown on Rotten Tomatoes’ X-Men: The Last Stand page declares

X-Men: The Last Stand provides plenty of mutant action for fans of the franchise, even if it does so at the expense of its predecessors’ deeper character moments.

What happened to X-Men: The Last Stand? Well, X-Men and X2 were directed by Singer, who departed X-Men: The Last Stand to direct Superman Returns, and Rotten Tomatoes’ Critics Consensus says:

Bryan Singer’s reverent and visually decadent adaptation gives the Man of Steel welcome emotional complexity. The result: a satisfying stick-to-your-ribs adaptation.

Singer’s not just been praised as an emotive X-Men director, but as an emotive direct overall. To say that the reception to his two X-Men films at that point had only increased their reception, it’s not irrelevant that the following two X-Men films had decreased their reception. Singer’s absence from X-Men was noticeable, and it gave us X-Men Origins: Wolverine. But what exactly is wrong with it?

Well… it’s the extreme of what’s wrong with all prequels: X-Men established perfectly well that Howlett can’t remember his early life. And that’s all we needed to know for X-Men to be a well-told story. But X-Men Origins: Wolverine decides to reveal what happened anyway, despite the story being written around the inevitable crux of Howlett inevitably forgetting it all. Therefore, I’m inclined to ask – why does it matter?

The reason we started where we did with Howlett in X-Men is because it’s what we needed to know for the story to work. Any information before that, therefore, is something that was irrelevant to the story, so will be impossible to justify including. X-Men Origins: Wolverine feels like a footnote in a character history, the unimportant details of a biography that was excised and placed into its own film just because the information was there. It’s like one, long deleted scene that was deleted for a reason.

Road to… Hitman: Agent 47

Last week, 20th Century Fox released Hitman: Agent 47Michael Finch and Skip Woods‘ adaptation of the video game Hitman: Codename 47 (Peter Gjellerup Koch and Morten Iversen), which began the Hitman franchise, originating with video-games. They combined horror and noir, and followed the assignments of Codename 47, a clone of ambiguous religious beliefs, as he assassinates corrupt powerfuls who’ve committed acts even beyond their standards.

Hitman: Codename 47 was amongst the earliest video-games to employ rag-doll physics, as well as cloth simulation and foliage as further game engine elements. It introduced the audience to “Codename 47”, a cloned Hitman who escapes his facility and is recruited by the European “Agency”, which takes him on several missions to assassinate powerful targets. Its most-criticised aspect was the unfriendly nature of Codename 47, who’s trained in various murder methods explored by different levels.

Hitman 2: Silent Assassin (Morten Iversen) is the peak of the Hitman series, selling more than 3.7 million copies – the highest-selling instalment so far. This developed and advanced the considered potential of Hitman: Codename 47, by increasing and improving game-play elements and mechanics. Levels were smaller in scale, but more focused on problem-solving rather than experience, while the artificial intelligence became more intelligent still. Chloroform was added to merely knock-out opponents that aren’t targets, and a crossbow was now available to assassinate silently. All these additions were part of a story taking-place after the events of Hitman: Codename 47, in-which Codename  47 comes-out of retirement to rescue his mentor.

The series continued with Hitman: Contracts (Greg Nagan). Events occur concurrently with sequel Hitman: Blood Money (Greg Nagan), which is narrated by a former, wheelchair-bound FBI director to a journalist, describing the way the FBI tracked Codename 47 over two years, involving his arrival in the United States. While game-play elements remained largely unadvanced, decision-making was expanded, allowing the player to make assassinations appear as accidents, along with the additions of sniper rifles and scoping.

The next instalment, Hitman: Absolution (Greg NaganTore BlystadMichael VogtLars DetlefsenKejeld VejrupOliver Antonio WindingEskil M∅hlHans LuchtWilliam StahlSimon UngerTore BlystadMartin BrennanMichael Jackson), took Codename 47 to a low place which would conclude the plot at a point that would continue in the next game with him rebuilding himself. This was the most polarizing entry into the series, with some feeling the advancements and changes made resulting in a defining Hitman game or a noticeably unfamilar, generic game.

After the mobile game Hitman Go, the next entry in the series, simply titled Hitman, is scheduled for release in December.

But before then, the film Hitman: Agent 47 will have already been released as the directing debut of Aleksander Bach. Originally in the role of “Agent” 47 was Paul Walker, who was replaced with Rupert Friend after Walker’s death. It generated an opening weekend of $8.7 million, opening in fourth above The man From U.N.C.L.E., which was in its second week. This is the second Hitman feature adaptation, after the original Hitman (also by Skip Woods), which altered Codename 47’s origins to being a raised-from-birth assassin. A sequel was planned (with Kyle Ward attached), but the critical response was low, leading to the Agent 47 remake.