Wolverine’s claws aren’t enough to scratch out a stand-alone franchise, in this fourth entry in the X-men universe.
Origins drops Hugh Jackman back into the hairy body of Wolverine once again, as his history is chronicled in a hit-and-miss feature that doesn’t quite do justice to the role that made him famous.
Opening in 1845 in the Northwest Territories, a sickly boy named James goes berserk, sprouts bone claws and skewers a man, then lambs it with half-brother Victor.
During the course of the opening credits, the adult–and apparently indestructible–James and Victor (Liev Schreiber) will snarl and slash their way through America’s biggest wars in a montage that the U.S. Army would be proud to dream up for a fourth of July recruitment push. After surviving a firing squad in Vietnam, the brothers get recruited into a “special” special ops unit that features an always sleeveless Ryan Reynolds and is led by Stryker (Danny Huston).
The missions quickly prove stomach-churning for James, not so much so for the more feral Vic, so Jackman says goodbye, dons a flannel shirt, and heads to the Canadian wilds to chop down trees and woo a sexy schoolteacher (Lynn Collins). After someone pays a visit to the homestead, however, James undergoes a procedure that coats his skeleton in indestructible metal and goes on the warpath.
The biggest problem with Origins is the natural limitations of a prequel. We know Wolverine will live to fight on in (at least) three more movies, so the draw is on the details. Lucas’ Prequel trilogy coasted on the steam of its mythology, banking everything on seeing Darth Vader slowly take shape. Here, the story just isn’t enough to fill in the pot holes, so we’re left with fight scenes that are mostly devoid of meaning.
The strength of the X-men films came from the team aspect, like a super powered chess set. As a lone hero, however, the mutant Wolverine loses his charm, leaving us with battles that contradict the rules established in the previous films. We’ve seen Wolverine get his adamantium-laced ass kicked before, but here he’s treated more like Superman than a useful but limited co-hero.
“Evacuate immediately,” Stryker growls, after Wolverine makes his nude escape over a waterfall. “This facility is compromised.” Really? Yes, it’s true that shooting Jackman in the head with a sidearm won’t stop him, but doesn’t a secret organization with enough cash to drop half a billion dollars into one guy have something lying around that makes him vulnerable enough to capture? A rusted-out pickup truck to drop on him, at least?
Along the path to vengeance, Wolverine encounters a cast of lackluster mutants, such as a former team member whose power happens to be that he is a really, really good shot. Huh. The Black Eyed Peas’ Will. i. Am. makes an appearance as a cowboy hat-wearing hero who teleports into the corners of a room and makes jackass remarks, like a mutant Gary Coleman.
The film shines in a few key moments, such as Wolverine’s inevitable memory loss, and in the pulpy relationship between Jackman and Schreiber. But that too raises some regret, because it’s impossible to reconcile Schreiber’s Victor Creed with the dull Sabretooth mutant in the first X-men film. There’s no real way to connect the dots, so we’re left with a film that feels more like a re-imaging than a gap filler for the X-men trilogy.
Jackman owns the role once again, but he’s not given enough to raise the material to the quality of the previous films.
2 out of 5 stars.