Back in 2009, Gavin Hood came off some smaller independent character pieces to direct the big-budgeted superhero film X-Men Origins: Wolverine. After a work print leaked online, resulting in a string of negative reviews, the film still did well in the early summer box office. It was a hit from a financial angle, but it left a lot of fans cold and led to a very different approach taken in its follow-up film The Wolverine.
Now, looking back at the film, we can see how things played out behind the scenes as Hood talks over the movie in his commentary. Available on the original release DVD and Blu-ray, this commentary track highlights Hood’s love for Ryan Reynolds’ comedic timing and his views on how mutant powers manifest. But if you’re looking for an apology, it’s not here.
Here’s what is:
X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
Commentator: Gavin Hood (director)
1. The rat on Liev Schrieber’s shoulder while his character and Logan (Hugh Jackman) are in the Vietnamese prison was a huge nightmare for continuity, causing the crew to take much longer to shoot the scene than it would have without the rat.
2. The scene in Nigeria was inspired by Hood’s roots in South Africa. In particular, the shantytown outside of the office building resembled those seen in his earlier film Tsotsi. Of course, this and the office building were shot in Vancouver rather than Africa.
3. The line about being “stuck in an elevator with five guys on a high-protein diet” was improvised on set by Ryan Reynolds, who actually made the comment when stuck in the small space with the actors who were all — you guessed it — on high-protein diets for their physiques.
4. Hood spent time in the military, and he used his experiences with other soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder to characterize Logan and his emotional problems.
5. The weather during the scene in which Stryker (Danny Huston) came to recruit Logan back into the team was unpredictable with rain falling off and on. There was little time to set up and light each actor between rain showers, so most of the scene was shot with a Steadicam rather than on a tripod.
6. Several scenes made it difficult to achieve the desired PG-13 rating, including the bloody “death” of Kayla (Lynn Collins). In the end, the MPAA allowed the blood in the scene because she wasn’t really dead (even though Logan and the audience don’t find this out for another 45 minutes or so).
7. During rehearsal for the scene in which Logan wakes up in the operating room, Hood was trying to explain to the actor playing the doctor what was going to happen. Jackman spontaneously grabbed Hood and slammed him against the wall to demonstrate the action to the actor. Unbeknownst to Jackman, this gave Hood whiplash, which made it difficult for him to move his neck for several weeks.
8. There was great debate on whether to show the Alkali Lake sequence in which Logan is infused with adamantium because it was already shown in X2: X-Men United. Hood decided they needed to make the scene their own, but he increased the size of the set to show more action and dialogue, since the scene in X2 was just used for flashback purposes.
9. Originally, Logan was supposed to run into the woods after escaping the Alkali Lake lab, but during the location scouting in New Zealand, Hood discovered the waterfall seen in the film and decided to use that, having Logan dive into it to escape (hiding his naughty bits to achieve the aforementioned PG-13 rating).
10. The production originally considered using the ’48 panhead chopper that Logan mentions at the dinner table. However, that model had no suspension, so they chose the ’64 model (which was the first one that had a good suspension system) for the stunts. Even then, for the stunts in the movie, the bike was modified with an improved suspension.
11. Logan gets his signature jacket from the old man in the barn; however, he leaves it in Gambit’s (Taylor Kitsch) plane before the film’s climax. Hood suggests that he would later have another run-in with Gambit to get the jacket back.
12. The explosion of the barn was a one-take practical effect, with the barn’s exterior being built just to be blown up. The interior shots were done on a sound stage. Hood claims there were eleven cameras on the barn to capture the explosion. Similarly, the crashing helicopter was a practical effect suspended from a crane with the wires removed digitally. This shot also had only one take because the production couldn’t afford a second one.
13. Originally, Logan was scripted to kill Agent Zero (Daniel Henney) by stabbing him, but Hood was worried this would cause problems for the PG-13 rating (sensing a theme here). On the day of shooting, Hood saw the leaking fuel and decided to have Logan do something with his claws that they hadn’t seen: to create a spark against the gravel and light the fuel on fire. The result was ironically a more violent – but bloodless – death, as well as cause for a hero shot of Jackman walking away from the fireball.
14. It took Kevin Durand seven hours to get into his fat suit to play The Blob. At the end of the day, it took him three-to-four hours to get out of it.
15. The shots of New Orleans were done by a second unit in a single day. The exterior scenes in the alley with the main cast were shot on a stage because it was impractical to shut down a real alley for days while rigging all the wires, explosions, and other special effects.
16. For those unfamiliar with the other X-Men films or comics, the frozen child with the green and blue eyes on The Island is Stryker’s son, who killed Stryker’s wife.
17. Most of the set used for The Island was practical, aside from the mutant cages and Stryker’s office, which were built for the production. The crew were told not to paint the walls because the location was meant to be upgraded to a museum, giving it an authentic run-down look.
18. A deleted scene (which is available on the DVD and Blu-ray) features Logan choosing to have his memory wiped, in order to essentially commit suicide so he didn’t have to face the betrayal from Kayla. However, the scene was not included because Hood could not justify why Logan would allow Stryker to do this to him.
19. All of the wide shots of Deadpool at the end of the film were actually done by stunt actor Scott Atkins, who is credited as Weapon XI. His flips and fighting moves were all done without wires. The close-ups were then shot months later with Ryan Reynolds.
20. The underground tunnels of Three Mile Island were actually shot in the catacombs under an old insane asylum.
21. Stryker’s “kill shot” to the motionless Logan on the ground was one of the scenes Hood worried would ruin their PG-13 rating because of its deliberate violence (even though it’s a wide shot and features no blood).
22. There were two final scenes at the end credits, which were included in different screening prints. One features Deadpool picking up his severed head (demonstrating that you cannot kill a mutant with regenerative powers), and the other shows Logan in a bar in Japan (which is included in the “Deleted Scenes” menu on the DVD and Blu-ray).
Best in Commentary
- “So just off-camera in that wide shot, my arm is down in the water, holding onto Hugh Jackman’s big toe. Something you didn’t really need to know and will take up space in your brain where you could have had more useful information.”
- “Even though this is a big movie, you can only afford to do so many things. So you’ve gotta be careful you don’t destroy all those vehicles in the first few stunts.”
- “Every take is a rehearsal, and when you find the one you like, you stop.” (on shooting scenes by throwing people together without much preparations in order to get the right performance)
Unlike many people, I didn’t hate X-Men Origins: Wolverine. It’s not the best X-Men film by any stretch of the imagination, but I enjoyed it for the summer popcorn movie it was. (I also don’t have a seething hatred for Ryan Reynolds, nor did I have any pre-existing knowledge of the character of Deadpool, so those common criticisms were never a problem for me.) Still, while Hood’s commentary is somber and enlightening at times, it was really nothing special.
Hood does deliver some interesting anecdotes from the set, and for someone who never read the X-Men comic books like myself, it’s nice to hear him talk about how he relates the production of the film to the source material. My opinion of that might change, of course, if I had spend my formative years reading the books.
This commentary won’t explain why changes were made to the mythos or unveil any damning evidence for the film’s haters. However, for the casual X-Men viewer, it’s worth sitting through.