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Friday, May 08, 2009

Film Review: 17 Again and X-Men Origins: Wolverine

17 Again (2009), Offspring Entertainment
D: Burr Steers
S: Zac Efron, Matthew Perry, Thomas Lennon, Leslie Mann

X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009), 20th Century Fox
D: Gavin Hood
S: Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber, Danny Huston

Zac Efron’s latest film, 17 Again, apart from triggering recalls of images of the actor as a high school basketball star in a recent trilogy of teen musicals, has a very familiar plot. X-Men Origins: Wolverine is also familiar as it follows the fairly recent X-Men trilogy that also featured Hugh Jackman as the mutant Wolverine.

The question posed, therefore, is whether or not either of the films provides anything new. Mike, the protagonist of 17 Again, is played by Zac Efron as a teenager. As a grown-up, he is played by Matthew Perry. The casting of the film was actually a concern of mine (and of a friend too I think) given that I initially did not see much resemblance between Efron and Perry. Much surprisingly, however, I was later able to notice similarities in diction and mannerisms between the two. This can possibly be a credit to Efron’s acting ability.

The premise of 17 Again, for one, closely resembles that of the 1988 film Big, although in reverse. Big showed how youth can triumph over the materialism, competitiveness and selfishness of the grown-up corporate world. 17 Again reverses this as it demonstrates how the experience and hard-earned wisdom of age can solve serious teenage issues. In 17 Again, because of some strange occurrence, Mike somehow grows younger practically in an instant. Perry thus becomes Efron, and, as with Big, Mike’s best friend doesn’t recognize him at first. Mike then goes back to high school as Mark. In one favorable scene in the film, Efron as Mark bravely expresses his stand for abstinence—a position I very rarely see in media today. His character fights for this with such emotional intensity, primarily for the sake of his daughter (Michelle Trachtenberg), that the entire classroom is moved and inspired to follow Mark’s example. Unfortunately, other points in the film sort of negate this. As John Mulderig wrote in his review, the film has important messages but has elements in it that limit who can watch the film.

17 Again, by extension, can also fall under the category of such films as Freaky Friday (1976 and 2003) and Vice Versa (also 1988), although this related set of films involves a switching between a parent and a child. Interestingly, according to IMDb trivia on Vice Versa, 1987-1989 saw the emergence of five films with similar premises, one of them actually titled 18 Again!.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine, meanwhile, also comes from a long, if not longer, line of comic book hero movies. Two recent and very successful films, in particular, make the situation challenging for X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

“This film [‘The Dark Knight’], and to a lesser degree 'Iron Man,' redefine the possibilities of the 'comic-book movie',” writes Roger Ebert in a review.

I personally liked Iron Man (2008) very much, and although I haven’t seen The Dark Knight (2008), a lot of the feedback on it that I received were positive. One could then say that X-Men Origins: Wolverine had a lot to live up to. Now, the character of Wolverine, as my father says, is in itself interesting because of the tension between his animal instincts and his human morality. It would be unfair to say that, after The Dark Knight and Iron Man, every comic book film must then entirely shun and abandon the classic format of the genre, but considering Ebert’s statement, which I must say I agree to, I found X-Men Origins: Wolverine lacking in that its plot didn’t seem to be as solid and as structured. Furthermore, like 17 Again, there are parts of X-Men Origins: Wolverine that I wouldn’t want younger kids to watch.

Mulderig uses the words “unremarkable” and “formulaic” to describe 17 Again, and X-Men Origins: Wolverine was not as interesting as Iron Man was for me. So what therefore is the answer to the question posed? Do they indeed provide anything new? Maybe a little, but more would have been much better.

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