Looking back objectively, the first X-Men: Origins movie (because there was supposed to be a Magneto follow-up, believe it or not) has some real redeeming features. At least viewed away from everything else, anyway. Liev Schreiber is great as Victor Creed, Ryan Reynolds is good as Wade Wilson (before it all goes to hell when he's tampered with) and the opening montage is exceptional, but you can't bury roses in a bed of weeds and expect anyone to notice.
Eventually, all anyone ever remembers is the weeds.
And that does suggest that the films whose redeeming features tend to be washed over by the tide of garbage might deserve a second look. Or that their stories deserve exploring in a little more detail to find out exactly what went wrong. Exactly how they managed to suck.
Because if you think about it, X-Men: Origins - Wolverine should have been great. It was the first spin-off in a planned series that would also have included a Magneto origin movie too at the very least and Fox were doing the right thing by leading with it. This was a Wolverine property after all and even after the comparative travesty of The Last Stand, Hugh Jackman's popular berserker was the most valuable brand under the X-Men banner. In terms of commodities, alone, this was basically a slam-dunk.
Add to that the creative decisions to add a new Sabretooth played by a legitimately great actor, the promise of some answers to the mainline X-Men's biggest mystery and THREE fan-favourite characters in the shape of Deadpool, Gambit and Blob and it all looked like a winning formula. There was even some intrigue about the casting of Black Eyed Peas' front-man Will.I.Am - next to the other cast members, that looked incredibly brave.
Sadly, it all ended up being worse than The Last Stand and that made Will.I.Am's casting (and lots of other little problems) look incredibly stupid, instead.
So how did we get here? First, you add too little focus...
3. Gavin Hood's Movie Vs The Movie Fox Wanted To Make
The major problem with Origins was the lack of focus that ensured that none of the individual elements that looked so good laid out on their own weren't allowed to mesh together properly. Director Gavin Hood - who had made Tsotsi to critical acclaim and Rendition to considerably less - tried to make too much out of his story and ended up making nothing at all.
Hood was trying to make an origin movie for Jackman's Wolverine explaining the Weapon X programme, which should have been the chief agenda, but Fox needed it to be an X-Men movie (hence the entirely unnecessary title tag). They needed to add more characters than just Logan to justify that tag and to appease their fans (or at least their presumed expectations), but the end result was a soup of under-cooked iterations of characters who deserved considerably more.
When Ryan Reynolds was cast as Deadpool it was announced as a cameo and so too was Blob's and Taylor Kitsch's appearance as Gambit was designed only as an introductory one in a contracted trilogy. None of that should have inspired confidence that Hood was going to be able to use them all to their full potential.
It's not like Hood was faultless though. Perhaps because he was so poorly suited to the movie in the first place, his production ended up with a serious identity problem. At times it's a vengeance flick, at others a pure origin, but there are at least five or six other genres in there too: body horror, sci-fi, romance, superhero, action, even comedy... It never settles on just one of those heads.
When you consider the issues with the production, it's not all that surprising that it lost its way...
2. The War On Set
Much like LucasFilm's issues with hiring directors on the back of successful movies but then pulling away creative control and not allowing their hires to make the movies they wanted to make, Fox made a mistake hiring Hood.
Sure, he'd won an Oscar for Tsotsi and had followed it up with the "positive experience" of making Rendition, but working on such a huge blockbuster was an entirely different prospect for him. He was robbed of creative control and freedom, which would have led to him making a movie “about a guy who is a superhero, but doesn’t really like what he does and has all this post-traumatic stress disorder" had it been allowed.
It wasn't and we got the other version of Origins. The messy one.
Hood says he was flattered to be given the opportunity to make Origins, but by all accounts, the production was troubled. He clashed with the studio over their differing visions (including on the design of Deadpool), he was forced to use actors he didn't want to, he clashed with his second unit director and he didn't even have a completed script as Ryan Reynolds later revealed:
“So we were in the middle of production, there were no writers, no anything. Every line I have in the movie I just wrote myself.”
It was, in the oldest terms, an absolute sh*t-show, which managed to somehow take the talents of Game Of Thrones' show-runner David Benioff and waste them entirely because his darker vision (which would have earned it a R-rating) wasn't commercially viable. That was partly why the cast were often given new script pages the day before filming: this was not a smart way to make a movie.
And just as worryingly, Hood also balanced everything poorly when all of the unwelcome elements were in place.
1. Spectacle Over Substance
There's a reason some moments in Origins stand-out. Specifically, there's a reason why the opening montage stands out. It's because it's the only completely well-made sequence, thanks to the director's eye for style and the spectacular lack of substance behind it.
Origins is essentially a series of action skits framed by moments of grand melodrama that completely mishandles the required emotional heft (no doubt because of the script being written on the fly) and delivers on none of the drama it targets. It even reimagines Logan and Sabretooth as brothers for the sake of manipulating the emotional stakes rather than simply writing it properly.
When your script can't be even remotely relied upon, it's no wonder a film-maker would double down on something he would rely upon like spectacle. It ended up being the only element of control he could claim for himself.
In the end, the unfortunate cherry on the Origins sundae was the fact that someone leaked the film online before it was intended to be officially released. Fox might claim that 15 million people saw that rogue print (which would have killed a significant slice of the box office), but the leak didn't help whip up more hype. Instead, the critical voices were echoed a lot louder and pretty much everyone went in already believing it was terrible.
Thanks to everything that went into making it, they were all right about that, too.