Your calendar will tell you that summer doesn’t start for another month and a half. However, as far as Hollywood is concerned, summer is already here and the high-spectacle, blockbuster season has begun in earnest with the release of “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.”
The character of Wolverine, brought to the world by actor Hugh Jackman, has previously carried three other X-Men movies on his regenerating, muscular back. His mysterious backstory had remained unknown until Marvel Studios decided a movie about his past might make a cartload of money.
There is no question that Wolverine is incredibly cool. He’s got metal claws that extend from his hands; he’s virtually indestructible; he’s got a problem with authority, and he’s prone to make wisecracks. If teenaged boys could have their own god, it would be Wolverine.
The problem with “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” is that while it delivers the goods as far as butt-kicking and explosions are concerned, when it drifts into the deeper emotional waters so expertly handled by last summer’s superheroes (“Iron Man” and “The Dark Knight”) it flounders.
Instead, the movie feels more like a missed opportunity as Wolverine is a character that could have withstood some delving as far as his motivations and inner struggles are concerned. What we get is simply a slight skimming of the surface and everything seems to be serious just for seriousness’s sake.
When the movie begins we meet a young Wolverine – known then as James – along with his brooding half-brother Victor (Liev Schreiber), who shares Wolverine’s quick-healing ability along with some wickedly long fingernails.
Their power renders them practically immortal as we learn in an awesome opening sequence that shows the duo surviving battles from the Civil War all the way up through Vietnam.
After Victor behaves particularly badly in the Vietnamese jungles, the pair are pressed into the service of Colonel William Stryker (Danny Huston) who assembles a team of mutants into his own strike force.
Wolverine walks away from the group after souring on the team’s bloodlust and goes to live a life of quiet solitude in the Canadian Rockies. But when Victor shows up and blasts the tranquillity all to hell, Wolverine turns to Stryker who injects the mutant’s skeleton with his trademark, indestructible metal so he can seek his revenge on Victor.
“X-Men Origins: Wolverine” is directed by Gavin Hood who is best known for delving into harsher and less fantastical topics in “Tsotsi” and “Rendition.” He tries his best to bring a little depth and reflection to the “Pows!” and “Bams!” but is constantly hamstrung by the “ever-forward” pace of the script.
Jackman knows this character like the back of his own clawed hand, so he tries his best to find some added depth and dimension to Wolverine even while the plot is overly focused on simplistic themes and cramming even more mutants down our throats.
While a few are solid additions, including Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds), John Wraith (Will i Am), and Gambit (Taylor Kitsch), the rest just seem to be there to sell more action figures.
What gets shoved to the side is the most interesting part of the movie, mainly the troubled dynamic between Wolverine, Victor, and Stryker. This is made even more regrettable by the fact that Schreiber has constructed such a fascinating foil to Jackman’s unwilling hero.
Marvel gets a lot of credit for continuity between films and there are many subtle references to the events that will take place in the other X-Men movies. There is one glaring exception and that is in regards to Victor, aka Sabertooth, who showed up as a minor and rather disposable character in the first X-Men movie with zero references to his being Wolverine’s brother. I guess they were hoping we wouldn’t notice.
“X-Men Origins: Wolverine” delivers enough eye-popping action sequences to make it acceptable summer-movie fare even though it takes itself a little too soberly without any emotional heft to back all the seriousness up. It’s a summer movie, somebody should be having fun. Even in the mega-bleak “The Dark Knight” at least the Joker was having a good time. I suppose at the very least Marvel will be laughing all the way to the bank.
“X-Men Origins: Wolverine” is rated PG-13 for language, violence, intense action sequences, and some disturbing images.