Imagine if Wolverine directed a movie himself. Now, try and get over the idea of Logan in a director's chair, snarling at heroines to make them cry convincingly, and think of the sort of movie the man would make. The most loved X-Men hero of them all isn't the cerebral sort, and were he making his own biopic, it'd be a discordant, episodic series of dry, narrative-less flashbacks, flashbacks of the he-killed-her-I-killed-him variety. For Logan isn't given to talking too much now, is he?
X:Men Origins: Wolverine is just the sort of film Logan would have made. It's clumsily handled, and goes from action to action with high drama in between, for the 150-year-old cigar-chewing hero isn't likely to have crafted something with subtlety, clever dialogue or anything besides the very barest adamantium skeleton of a plot. Which basically means reading a plot summary of this film on Wikipedia and watching it aren't any too different at all, sadly.
So what happens in this Wolverine, this action figure soap opera? Well, we see how young Logan (Hugh Jackman) grows up in the mid-19th century after having orphaned himself. He and his brother Victor (Liev Schrieber) appear to be a pair of Canadians fierily patriotic about the US, and fight many a battle until the two manicure-needing mutants are enlisted into a top-secret mutant squad called Team X.
Led by William Stryker (Danny Huston) Team X has an all-star mutant lineup, and as they storm a random stronghold in Africa, it's hard to fathom just why any one from this group of showboating mutants couldn't have knocked the joint over solo. Anyway, Stryker is a man of questionable morals and no boundaries, and so while Victor stays, his eyes gleaming with bloodlust, Logan marches off to be a lumberjack. But what was it they used to say about there being no easy way out of the mob?
Director Gavin Hood tells quite a packed story, but one wishes every single moment wasn't as eventful, making the film into a highlight reel about a gruff character who likes killing people. And that really doesn't make for either fascinating viewing -- or a single character you really care about.
In the Marvel Comics universe, Wolverine has a rich backstory culled over hundreds of issues, telling us how he went from being a supersoldier to getting a metal exoskeleton, but here, presented one by one in serialised order without a hint of emotion between the melodrama, the story seems drab and pointless. And the cheesy dialogue is way, way more lethal than those shiny claws.
Jackman is an actor you feel sorry for, a genuine talent trapped in a role that requires a scowl, a glare and a furrowed brow, plus the ability to carry off ludicrous mutton-chop sideburns and yell every once in a while. Jackman's Wolverine was seriously awesome in the X:Men movies (especially the first two made by Bryan Singer) but here the sheer unidimensionality of the character weighs the actor down hard. The X:Men movies gave him other characters to riff off, which is why Wolverine's attitude and quips really shone, but a movieful of punchlines fatally lacks all edge.
Schrieber grinningly sinks his teeth into Victor, but it's a hard role not to enjoy, the stronger and meaner elder brother who defines Logan more than he himself can. Huston makes for an adequate Stryker, but isn't a patch on Brian Cox from X2. Ryan Reynolds, on the other hand, delivers strongly as smartmouthed mercenary Wade Wilson, later to be seen as Deadpool in a spin-off all his own.
A few other characters from the X-Men universe show up, including a young Cyclops and Emma Frost, not to mention a digitally young-ed Patrick Stewart as a spry, uncrippled Professor Xavier, but the filmmakers hardly have any fun despite all the potential on offer.
So is this film about the stunts, then? Well, there's one high point involving a motorcycle chase and a helicopter, but if you've seen that in the trailer, you're pretty much done. The graphics don't push the envelope at all -- if anything, they pull it back a couple inches -- and there really isn't anything spectacular to the setpieces. Some duels are choreographed well, but staged too fast for one to appreciate possible niceties. I daresay there won't be a single stunt you'll remember an hour after seeing the film.
All in all, it's a definite dud. Jackman conjures up some moments with those claws and there's nothing offensively bad about the film -- save for the fact that a truly awesome hero has been straddled with a truly boring film. And that deserves claws, not applause.
PS -- Marvel movies always have a hidden scene at the very end of the end-credits, and this one is no exception. Yet if you love Logan as a character, I'd advise fleeing the theatres instead of facing seriously cheesy disappointment and a horrid, horrid line.