X-Men: Origins Wolverine is not a very good movie, but it is a great case study on the precarious nature of big budget IP management as filmmaking era Hollywood finds itself in. I have often argued the X-Men film franchise is the generic spine of the modern gener, Origins Wolverine was a first in that a studio was forced to reconsidered its plans after two perceived strikes at the plate (counting X-Men: The Last Stand.) It is a place not too dissimilar from where Sony was only 5 years later after the lackluster performance of Amazing Spider-Man 2.
That historical context is more interesting than the film itself. It just isn’t very good, but not in an excessively egregious way. The lack of quality on display is similar to other pre-Iron Man Marvel features – for a time not named “Spider-Man” or “X-Men.” Due to a terrible production filled with interference as the studio, produers, and director Gavin Hood argued over what they expected the film to be audiences were greeted in theaters with a film not far from Mark Steven Johnson’s theatrical cut of Daredevil: some how amazingly emotionally hollow with a lacking yet somehow over developed plot. Which is a strange thing to have from a film that has an easily messaged and understood emotional narrative and plot, it’s right there in the title. Instead FOX delivered a film that was cut to the bone and lacked the emotional tendons and ligaments that transform it into a mainstream Hollywood film. Everything is amazing slapdash for what is effectively a road film, only episodes are not so much allowed to end as crash into one another like a cinematic trainwreck.
When I first watched the leaked workprint online, it was immediately clear this film had storytelling issues and lacked the charm of a brainless action film. Kevin Feige is found of the studios constant test screening process, and while the process can sand down a films rougher more interesting edges he has a point about using that to gauge if audiences are connecting with the characters and storytelling irrespective of finished effect shots. You can tell when there’s something there to a story or a film, even if it isn’t 100% there yet. Watching the work print, just revealed the hollow filmmaking on display. It isn’t like this film needed the effects work the cast featured Will.i.am, Meriadoc “Merry” Brandybuck aka Dominic Monahan (who pretty much says 5 lines), and a little Canadian heartthrob named Ryan Reynolds. The lead is one of the best examples of how this genre can make someone into a legit movie star Hugh Jackman. But without the slack and those ligaments you just had action and action and more action.
FOX will take it the grave that the leak hurt their box office, and they’re probably a bit right, but all it did was expose to potential customers how bad everything was. Besides box office success is all a matter of perspective. Origins Wolverine pulled $373.1 million on a $150 million budget. Making this movie for that much money is absurd. A consistent theme in the superhero movie arms race of is Marvel being very frugal about everything, smart with casting, and efficient while their established competitors throw money and believe some capitalist myth about scale and spending money to make money. At $373.1 million it likely barely broke even on the box office, which mean only a small profit from licensing and not what FOX wanted at all. While equating artistic quality with popularity is a fallacious argument, in the marketplace people who like something are more likely to go see it again and pay for it as opposed to something they do not enjoy. The massively frontloaded nature of Origins box office indicates not many people were repeat customers.
Origins Wolverine was supposed to be the start of a new sub-franchise for the X-Men, and open up that new idea of a cinematic universe. Instead along with the equally poorly produced and ill-conceived X-Men: The Last Stand it nearly took out the entire franchise. All it took was a pair of poor steps and everything was in disarray, which is what happens when you only bet big.Continued below
Not everything about the film was bad, sure in the immediate aftermath it was terrible and everyone involved still made a terrible film, but it forced FOX to regroup and figure something else out. They jumped on the new hotness: the reboot, and surprisingly managed to produce a legitimately great film in First Class. Yes that film helped screw up the timeline and “continuity” of the franchise but that also helped them jump on big post-Avengers trend of the team-up/crossover movie with Days of Future Past, another good entry. Spurred by the whole ordeal, Hugh Jackman managed to get friend and Kate & Leopold director James Mangold to direct a pair of Wolverine films that are some of the best the genre offers and watermarks for genre convention. And, of course, it would eventually give us a proper Ryan Reynolds Deadpool(itself a product of well timed leaking.)