***MINOR SPOILERS IN REVIEW***
The summer movie season gets off to a bad start with the brainless and cartoonish “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”. Hugh Jackman looks amped on steroids and is physically monstrous in reprising the character that made him a star. The problem is the acting performance. It is dialled in, even more so than the weakest of the X-Men films, “X-Men: The Last Stand”. Wolverine is a rote action film with a weak plot, PG-13 friendly CGI effects, and some of the worst character acting we’ve seen from a supporting cast in a big budget superhero franchise.
The story opens in 1845 with two Canadian boys fleeing a horrific tragedy. They have learned they are brothers with unique abilities to kill and heal. They grow into deadly soldiers that fight every war from the Civil War to Vietnam. But as each conflict passes, Logan (Hugh Jackman) and Victor (Liev Schreiber) move farther apart in their lust for blood. Vietnam introduces the villain, a younger William Stryker (Danny Huston), played by the far superior Brian Cox in “X2: X-Men United”. Stryker enlists the brothers to his team of mutant killers. Logan’s stay is short-lived. He leaves the group for refuge in the Canadian wilderness, where he finds a lover (Lynn Collins) and has a normal life for the first time. Victor, aka Sabretooth, is not so forgiving of his brother’s abandonment. His actions turn the brothers into mortal enemies. Fury and vengeance consume Logan to the point where he undertakes a dangerous procedure that will make him invincible.
If all you are looking for is a guaranteed action scene every ten minutes, then Wolverine is the film for you. If character development, plot, and acting mean something – then you’re tremendously let down. Wolverine had the opportunity to take the best X-men character and give him something to really sink his teeth into. Instead we get a by-the-book, corporate marketing driven exercise in mediocrity. Classically trained theatre actors like Schreiber and Jackman are utterly wasted. They have the physical stature to carry out their roles, but look like buffoons with the subpar dialogue. I can’t help but think that the action scenes were scripted first, and then the plot written to incorporate them.
Wolverine as an origin story is pretty weak. Granted they had to factor in the history established in the first three films, but the opening montage cuts out ninety percent of Logan’s life. All the events take place within a short space of time. The relationship of the brothers is never explored. We see them as boys, fast forward, now they’re men and on an elite mutant team. What happened to that in between period of a hundred years? Also, there’s loads of cameos from mutants we know and others that fandom has been pining to see. Gambit (Taylor Kitsch) and Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) have key parts, but are only involved in action scenes. It’s like there was a concerted effort to insert new mutants with different powers every other scene.
Normally I would lay blame for the entire product at the foot of the director. Not this time, Gavin Hood (Tsotsi, Rendition) is a skilled director. There’s no way he had final cut approval for Wolverine. I can just picture studio executives giving notes on what to cut and what to keep in the final print. I understand they couldn’t make a hard R film with blood and violence dripping from the screen. But they could have looked at the Bryan Singer films and realized they were well acted with decent scripts. Wolverine doesn’t hold a candle to the X-men trilogy and is a big step back for the franchise in general.