Tuesday, October 23, 2012

James Berardinelli reviews XMO:W (with commentary)

This past week we put up our most recent audio podcast for X-Men Origins: Wolverine. We criticized the movie's bizarre plot, tone issues, and lapses in budget, but still found the movie to be at least decent (more than I'd say for X3: The Last Stand).

We've also singled out lazy and/or incompetent film critics in the past, including James Berardinelli, one of RT's "top critics" who is pretty representative of basically everything wrong with Rotten Tomatoes system of rewarding mediocrity. James also reviewed X-Men Oranges: Tangerine, and while some of his basic assertions are similar to ours, he manages to say it in such a way that I thought I'd give some of the choice bits, with commentary. James' full review is here, although be warned, his site appears to have pop-up issues.

 "2008 was the year in which the comic book superhero came of age. Films like Iron Man and especially The Dark Knight illustrated what was possible when a motion picture dared to take its characters out of the comfortable box in which too many superhero franchises reside."
I love his 9th grade English padding of "films like" when really he just means those two films. Unless he really thought The Spirit or Wanted or the (admittedly fun) Punisher: War Zone also dared to take its characters out of their "comfortable box." Also, what a weak metaphor. At first I thought he was going somewhere with toys in boxes, but nope, just franchises living in boxes. James continues:
"When it comes to superhero tales, the two least appealing types are origin stories and prequels. Wolverine has the double disadvantage of being both."
Quick, name a superhero prequel! I guess James just meant if we expand "superhero" to "all science fiction and fantasy stories..."

From a paragraph summarizing the plot: "But Logan's past pursues him, and it catches him in the form of Stryker and Victor, who has become disillusioned by what he believes to be his brother's betrayal and abandonment."

Do you know why your English teachers used so much red ink on sentences like this? Because they need to be read repeatedly to understand what on earth is being communicated. From the lazy pronoun use of "his/him/he" being applied to separate characters in the same sentence to the lazy padding qualifier "what he (Sabretooth, I think) believes to be," this sentence is just a mess.

"Wolverine pays lip service to the most complex and intriguing aspect of X-Men mythology - the political and cultural struggle between humans and mutants - but it's more of a plot device than an integral element. Stryker, in fact, was deeper and better motivated in X2, when Brian Cox portrayed him, than he is here."
Actually Wolverine doesn't address that struggle at all! There's none of the social issues of the other X-Men movies because except for Stryker, basically everyone is a mutant. There's no scared humans, no references to the Holocaust or "don't ask, don't tell" or any of the other devices used to connect mutants with other minority groups, because it's an action movie. While Stryker is seemingly anti-mutant based on his long-term plans to kidnap and use them for super-weapons, he doesn't seem to have any problems working with them. As Nick put it, "he hates mutants but also loves mutants?"

I also love the complete non-sequitur of shifting gears entirely to tell us that Stryker was better motivated and also played by a different actor in a previous film; I'm still not sure how that connects to James' bigger point, but since he put those sentences in that order, he seems to think they connect. James concludes with:
 "In terms of tone and content, Wolverine is a nearer match to Daredevil than Iron Man, but its box office gross will undoubtedly be closer to the latter. Marvel Comics movies have a history of 'opening' the summer; this is one occasion when the splash may be bigger than the material warrants."
I broke my brain trying to understand James' point here. Ignoring that James never addresses Wolverine's tones and the issues therein (from mourning death to humorous boxing in minutes), how on earth is Wolverine like Daredevil? Daredevil is a death wish-y vigilante cross between Burton's Batman and Raimi's Spider-Man. Wolverine is set in a crazy science fiction world where everyone Wolvy meets has super powers. How are these things tonally similar? Maybe just in the fact that they are "B" list in execution? And why on earth does he feel the need to guess that Wolverine's box office will be "closer" to Iron Man's?1

I understand and even agree with some of the core points James makes in this review, it's a shame he seems incapable of articulating those points in a way that doesn't come across like a bad high school essay. 

1. He was wrong, too. Iron Man blew away box office expectations, grossing $318 million domestically, while Wolverine made $180 in the domestic market, perhaps due to sequel fatigue after X3's $234 million.

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