X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)

There's a reason why Wolverine is a perennial
X-Men fan fave. Several reasons, really: he's funny, he's unlucky at love (very unlucky, though not so much as his almost invariably dead lady friends), he's politically incorrect, he's got those way-cool adamantium claws, and he's Canadian. Also, "wolverine" is a fun word to say. There's one reason why Wolverine took off as a character in the X-Men movies: Hugh Jackman. Jackman's back as Wolverine in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the title of which suggests that many more non-Wolvie X-Men origin stories from the X-pantheon are in the pipeline. The movie efficiently ticks off plot points, characters, and backstories, as if working through a to-do list for future X-Men Origins movies.

The story begins in 1845, when young future Wolverine James Logan suffers through a difficult adolescent transformation (as all young mutants must). His transformation achieves completion when he murders the man who murdered his father, who wasn't really his father, although the man who murdered him was. The filial situation is a little sketchy on details. The incident, at any rate, leaves both his fathers dead, and James and his brother (or is it half brother?) Victor Creed, also a mutant (the future Sabretooth), are soon on the lam. Next stop, the American Civil War, where young Canadians were known to escape their troubles. A montage of conflicts -- from World War I through Vietnam -- follows, with Victor and Logan always there. They are, thanks to their mutant powers, indestructible and unkillable, and rather good at fighting and killing. Logan, the more sensitive of the two, eventually loses his taste for war and murder. Victor (Liev Schreiber) is just getting started.

So, some time in the 1980s, Logan and Victor go their separate ways. Logan sets up housekeeping in a nice cabin in the Canadian Rockies with his girlfriend Kayla Silverfox (Lynn Collins). Then Logan's former mutant cohorts -- part of an elite government assassination squad called the X-Team -- turn up dead. Logan is unlucky at love, becomes Wolverine (thanks to government-issued adamantium-infused bones and claws), escapes government custody (duh -- he's indestructible!) and goes after Victor while being chased by the military. This occasions several expensive-looking action sequences.

There is nothing really wrong with
XMO: Wolverine. Nothing, that is, that a little rewrite couldn't fix. The movie focuses rather single-mindedly on plot, on laying out all the pieces of the origin story and programming Logan's revenge motive in a way that is fairly mechanical. The result is a movie in which all the gears mesh neatly, but the messy and appealing complexity and incongruity of Wolverine as a character is blunted. XMO: Wolverine is about the creation of the berserker Wolverine, and about showing off that super strength, and Jackman's seriously jacked up biceps, which are as well-oiled as this machine of a movie. But by rubbing off the rough edges that give his character depth, Wolverine is diminished. The psychological complexity of Marvel Comics characters has always been their distinguishing feature, but XMO: Wolverine reduces the hairy, beastly Wolverine to a sleek, shiny, revenge-seeking missile.

Director Gavin Hood (
Rendition) is known for movies with social and political themes, and there are hints here of some effort to make more than a clockwork superhero movie, to reveal what really makes Wolverine tick, and to show the softer side of the adamantium man. But the emphasis on action over character makes the movie feel both rushed and hollow. Humor surfaces all-too-briefly -- XMO: Wolverine is not filled with the kind of eminently quotable one-liners that make their way into the pop culture canon, despite Wolverine's well-known (among fanboys and girls, at least) rep for remarks that are almost as cutting as his ginsu claws. On the other hand, the movie is not terribly chatty altogether, except when mutant-exploiting William Stryker (Danny Huston) is around -- he's definitely a villain in the expository mode. A movie in which you're looking forward to a long-promised decapitation to make things more interesting is a movie that really needs to be sharper and brainier. XMO: Wolverine is unpretentious and all-business, which is good, but it feels more like a coming attraction than a proper introduction.