One of Marvel Comics’ biggest mistakes – and they’ve made plenty of them (X-Force, anyone?) – was bowing to reader demand and finally raising the curtain on the origin of Wolverine from the X-Men. The clawed mutant with the super-healing factor and unpleasant disposition became a fan favorite during Chris Claremont’s run on the comic. This eventually led to his own title and, finally, an origin story for the troubled hero known only as “Logan” which, let’s face it, was probably going to disappoint most fans no matter where it started.
Wolverine’s popularity successfully made the transition to the movie franchise, thanks to the Logan-heavy plots of the first two “X-Men” films as well as actor Hugh Jackman’s charismatic portrayal and frankly disconcerting good looks (there’s…no shame in admitting this). Given that and the box office success of the franchise, Wolverine was the natural choice to get his first “Origins” story.
The pre-credits sequence of “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” makes it feel as if we’re coming in during the season finale of a pre-Civil War “As the World Turns”: a sickly boy, James Howlet, lies in bed under the scornful eye of his friend, Victor Creed. Victor’s dad shows up, leading to an altercation with the Howlets, and James’ father is killed. Enraged, James unexpectedly sprouts bone claws from his knuckles and stabs the elder Creed, who confesses with his dying breath that James is his son as well. Barely allowing us time to ponder this turn of events that might be considered dramatic if we’d had more than 30 seconds of lead-in, Victor and James flee into the dark Canadian night.
The next 125 years or so go by in similarly perfunctory fashion. The lads spend most of this time conveniently fighting on the winning side of most major wars until Victor (Liev Schreiber) beheads their commanding officer in Vietnam. Not only does this act turn the tide of the war against the United States (and you have no evidence to the contrary) but the brothers are summarily tried and put in front of a firing squad. Naturally, this doesn’t have the desired effect, and they are soon approached by William Stryker (Danny Huston), who offers them spots on something called “Team X,” a black-ops mutant group in search of a mysterious alien metal of great interest to Stryker.
It’s about the point where Logan leaves the group (like the Predator, he appears to only enjoy disemboweling people who are shooting at him) where we realize that pre-op Wolverine is pretty lame. Great, he can heal – so he takes a bullet, or multiple bullets, well – and can sprout claws, but he’s not a crack shot like Agent Zero (Daniel Henney), or a teleporter like John Wraith (the atrocious will.i.am). He can’t deflect bullets like the katana-wielding Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds), or even run up walls like his own freaking brother. He didn’t quit the team because he’s against killing civilians; he quit because he sucks.
Wolverine eventually gets injected with adamantium (Stryker’s mystery metal), finally becoming nigh indestructible, and all it costs him is the love of his life, coincidentally the movie’s one major female character. Far from being grateful, however, the newly christened “Wolverine” flees Stryker’s base when he overhears him planning to erase his memory. Several more pointless encounters ensue before Wolverine learns (surprise) Stryker and Creed/Sabretooth were working together the whole time.
“X-Men Origins: Wolverine” has some serious problems. The biggest is that, aside from the dark and mysterious past, the character of Wolverine isn’t all that interesting. Sure, he’s “the best he is at what he does” (and minor kudos to writers David Benioff and Skip Woods for including the famous line), but the role doesn’t ask Jackman to do much besides snarl, throw out the occasional quip, and roar to the heavens when a loved one dies. And we get treated to that particular scene twice. Jackman and Schreiber both give it their all (the character of Sabretooth suffers from the same problems) but they can’t carry the film. This must be the reason the movie is crammed to the gills with the Marvel Universe’s mutant B-team. John Wraith? Bolt? Blob? Apparently Maggot and Cypher didn’t return calls.
And let’s not get started on Gambit (Taylor Kitsch), who can make cards explode! Thrown in to help Wolverine find Stryker’s hidden base, he was doubtless also included to give a sop to the half-dozen female X-Men readers, who apparently found his Cajun accent endearing. And really, with the Hunky Trinity of Jackman-Reynolds-Kitsch, 20th Century Fox almost appears to be trying to out-beefcake “Twilight.”
This pandering to young girls (and gay dudes holding out hope for Jackman) may be the studio’s only hope, since the main battle sequences are either yawn-inducing wire fu or Wolverine and Sabretooth bellowing and charging each other. Even the final fight, between the united brothers and the end result of Stryker’s amusing attempts to combine teleportation, accelerated healing, adamantium, and optic blasts into a super mutant, is as ridiculous and half-assed as the rest of the movie.