Following the incomplete film that was X-Men: The Last Stand in 2006, the powers that be head back to the drawing board with X-Men: Wolverine. This is a prequel and spin-off to the series based on the comic book characters and it tells the tale of the adamantium-clawed titular character and how he comes to find love and passion in the Canadian wilds. Or something.
Gavin Hood directs, with a screenplay by David Benioff and Skip Woods. Benioff based his input in part on Barry Windsor-Smith’s Weapon X storyline, with Frank Miller and Chris Claremont’s Wolverine series serving as provocation. The latter would inspire James Mangold’s 2013 film The Wolverine, the sequel to X-Men Origins: Wolverine.
The picture opens in 1845 in Canada as young James Howlett (Troye Sivian) sees his father killed by the groundskeeper Thomas Logan. This not only “activates” Howlett’s mutation of bone claws protruding from his knuckles but sets him on a path of immortality with his half-brother Victor (Michael James Olsen). Victor (Liev Schreiber) and James (Hugh Jackman) grow up and fight in all the wars.
Ages later, they meet Major William Stryker (Danny Huston). He presents the opportunity to join a group of mutants called Team X, but James wants no part of the bloodshed after a while. He leaves. Six years later, James is a lumberjack and he doesn’t care. Not only that, he goes by Logan. When Victor resurfaces, the skeletons of the past invade his Canadian life.
There is a lot of exposition in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, plus there are a lot of characters. This runs the risk of crowding Logan out of his own story, as there’s always something else going on with the development of different mutants. From will.i.am’s John Wraith to Ryan Reynolds’ turn as Wade Wilson to Taylor Kitsch as Gambit to Kevin Durand as the Blob, there are many other characters to encounter.
Fortunately, Wolverine is still the cornerstone and the best scenes come in those rare moments when Hood slows down and lets Jackman take a look around. A pastoral sequence at a farmhouse evokes Superman, but even this is just more fuel for Logan’s rage tank. His relationship with Kayla (Lynn Collins) is likewise feed for the Big Plot.
To an extent, that’s kind of the point. Everything in Wolverine’s life comes down to his mutation. Everyone wants him on their side, everyone wants to try to kill him. He’s the perfect weapon and Stryker’s incessant pursuit of his services is an interesting fixture, even if it comes at the expense of everything else.
Regardless, Hood’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine features more than its share of preposterous scenes that beg questions it has no answers for. It’s hard not to chuckle at the opening montage, which features the Sideburn Brothers fighting in the American Civil War, both World Wars and even Vietnam. They even storm the beach.
There are a lot of coincidences and “so that’s how he got ____” moments in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but there’s not a lot of novelty. At its core is a standard revenge story, which is undone by the last act. Along the way Logan decides on calling himself Wolverine, lands a cool jacket and gets his adamantium reinforcements.
X-Men: Origins is more checklist than movie. The action scenes are rushed and the emotional components are tapered down to a lot of grumbling and bellowing. It’s very primitive and that suits the character on one level, but it still feels routine and decidedly inert.
If there’s a trend here, it’s that X-Men Origins: Wolverine just kind of sits there. It’s not a vibrant and fascinating movie. It doesn’t weave a fresh story and doesn’t delve into the character in ways that are unanticipated or convincing. It’s well-done to an extent, but it’s also bland, pointless and forgettable.