It’s amazing how much your perspective can change as you age. I remember seeing X-Men Origins: Wolverine on opening night. It was about ten years ago and I was with a group of my university friends, all crammed into the front row of a tiny, pseudo-butter smelling theatre. The place was packed. Everyone was excited and at the time we rationed that even if X-Men Origins was action schlock it could still redeem the franchise from the heartbreak of X-Men: The Last Stand. Hindsight is indeed sobering.
This was a different time. In 2009 the MCU wasn’t the moneymaking behemoth that it is today and the 20th Century Fox-produced X-Men films were among the more polished and praised in the genre. I mean, you’d be forgiven for calling X-Men the “good” superhero franchise in an era of Hulk, Daredevil, Electra, and Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. The X-Men had clout which has since been lost.
When I went to see X-Men Origins: Wolverine with my gang of weirdos we took the movie seriously because we desperately wanted it to be good. All of us were fans of the X-Men and had been brought up on The Animated Series. So, you can imagine how it felt for us to witness this train wreck unfold on the big screen, opening night to audible disappointment and thrown popcorn.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine was received so terribly by audiences in 2009 that it led directly to both a reboot and eventual continuity retcon.
My friends and I were all very frustrated at the time. X-Men Origins’ awfulness was a regular topic of conversation during our late night truck stop meetups, in-between classes, and while watching arguably worse movies. Some of us rationed at the time that with a different ending and perhaps no Deadpool X-Men Origins might have made for a half-way decent film. If you also ignored the many questions it raises that is.
Why are Wolverine and Sabretooth now brothers? Why would anyone make Deadpool the merc without a mouth? How did Scott Summers get his Ruby-Quartz glasses? Why is Will.I.Am here?
There are no good answers and the more you dig into production the more it seems like it’s a miracle things turned out as mediocre as they did. The film faced regular delays due to weather issues and Hugh Jackman’s PR commitments to other flicks. When X-Men Origins actually started shooting the screenplay was still undergoing heavy rewrites due to competing creative visions.
The original script was written by David Benioff (the co-creator, showrunner, and writer of Game of Thrones) and was developed with an R-rating before being reworked by Skip Woods to make it more general audience friendly. Later writers would include Suicide Squad‘s David Ayer, The Amazing Spider-Man‘s James Vanderbilt, and 8 Miles‘ Scott Silver – all of whom were involved in last minute revisions. The slapdash approach to a plotting scenes was a turn-off for the director and the cast alike, with scripts often arriving the night before filming. Worse, no one knew what the movie would actually look like when in post-production because of all the special effects.
The superheroics required a ton of wire-effect technicians, green-screened soundstages, and digital animation studios – there were seventeen in total with three different effects supervisors working on this catastrophe. According to Animation World Network, more than 1,000 shots of X-Men Origins have visual effects in them and boy howdy it shows. Smudgy CGI permeates the film and it’s particularly noticeable in the many close-up shots of Logan’s claws. Some fans of the movie actually prefer the leaked workprint edit which has weird placeholder special effects for days.
That workprint was an almost-theatrical cut of the movie which was leaked without a timecode or watermark and featured a lot of early audio. I think it’s an untapped meme treasure trove, if you know how to use Photoshop. A lot of people downloaded this copy of the movie instead of going to theatres. In fact, this workprint has been downloaded at least 15 million times as of 2014, according to Wayback Machine. 20th Century Fox still blames this early leak for the commercial disappointment of this sweaty blockbuster, even though the entire production was fraught with issues.
The set of X-Men Origins was known to have frequent blow-ups due to studio requested creative compromises. At one point Richard Donner, the director of Superman II, had to be sent in to try and ease tensions. The many “marketability” changes were like the culprit for the final act feeling like such a hodgepodge of awful. It’s kinda sad, really.
The director, Gavin Hood, saw Wolverine in a way that makes sense to me – a noble, but brutal warrior. If he had full creative freedom we might have seen a much better film. What we got instead was a fairly traditional origin story with no real stakes and a lot of mindless action. Important moments are spoiled by characters saying dumb things like, “nobody kills you but me,” and the final showdown is between three people who can’t actually die.
As a dork in my 20s I hated this. As a bigger dork in my 30s I kind of love it.
X-Men Origins now stands alone as the one superhero movie I can watch and ridicule in the same vein as Tommy Wiseau’s The Room or Claudio Fragasso’s Troll 2. It’s a great film because it stumbled so hard. That the creative forces really tried to make a good movie and failed. It’s because of that earnest yet awful execution that X-Men Origins is elevated into being fucking hilarious.
There’s a moment after Logan gets his adamantium that the barnhouse he’s in explodes and he rides out on a goddamn motorcycle, only to face down an oncoming Hummer and fling it into a helicopter. Logan then launches into the air and cuts off the helicopter’s blades before riding it into the ground. All of this is played with such sincerity that it demands a chef’s kiss. It’s just one of a dozen confusing and unbelievable moments that are only terrible if taken seriously. Thankfully, I don’t anymore.
Do I enjoy this movie ten years later because the continuity it established has basically been ignored? Is it because the squandered potential of Deadpool was later recovered and this film lampooned by its own franchise? Or am I just old enough now to not take everything so seriously? All I know is that I’ve spent the past few months evangelizing the crap out of what was once one of my least favourite superhero movies.
You owe it to yourself to find a copy of X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Buy some snacks, invite some close friends over, and having a good old hate-watch. Maybe take a drink every time it looks like Sabretooth is floating or Logan stares at his claws. Take two whenever there’s an explosion that no-one is looking at. Finish your drink when Logan dices a metal staircase into cubes with his claws. You’ll learn to appreciate this film in a whole new way, I promise.