Despite appearing in three “X-Men” films so far, the character of Wolverine — played with growly intensity by song-and-dance man Hugh Jackman — remains something of an enigma. Viewers have wondered: How did Wolverine lose his memory before teaming up with Professor X and his squad of mutants? Where did he get his marvelous adamantium claws? And is his adherence to Civil War-era facial-hair fashions the result of his having been born around 1840? Now, in “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” at last the questions are answered: [spoiler], [spoiler], and yes!
The film starts out more campy than it intends to be and only occasionally recovers, with an uneven screenplay by David Benioff (“Troy”) and Skip Woods (“Hitman,” “Swordfish”) and only serviceable direction by Gavin Hood (“Tsotsi”). It’s 1845 when we begin, in Canada’s Northwest Territories, in what seems like the climactic moments of some other movie. Startling revelations are made about who is and isn’t somebody’s father, and somebody gets killed for reasons that are not shared with us, and the kid who we understand will grow up to be Wolverine, young James Logan (Troye Sivan), kneels over a dead body, casts his eyes heavenward, and shouts, “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” Which would be really intense except that he’s like 10 years old, so instead it’s merely adorable.
Over the opening credits, we see an adult Logan (now played by Jackman) and his friend/enemy/brother Victor Creed (Liev Schreiber) fighting for the United States in various wars, up through Vietnam, teamed with a squad of soldiers who also have mutant powers. If that sounds a bit like the opening credits of “Watchmen,” wait’ll you see what happens next: One of the soldiers is murdered years later, and it looks like someone is going around bumping off superheroes one by one.
Logan has retired by now, living a peaceful life as a lumberjack in Canada with his girlfriend, Kayla (Lynn Collins). Logan felt there was too much indiscriminate killing perpetrated by the mutant squad, encouraged by the commanding officer, Stryker (Danny Huston) and enthusiastically carried out by Creed — and wait, that sounds like “Watchmen,” too. And wasn’t Liev Schreiber just in a movie called “Defiance” where he played a man who was too murder- and vengeance-minded for his brother’s tastes? In other words, didn’t I already watch “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”? WHY AM I WATCHING IT AGAIN??
For reasons I won’t disclose, Logan is motivated to go along with Stryker’s plan to replace his skeleton with adamantium, which would make him indestructible, which, wait, I thought he already was. Apparently not. Apparently all those bullets being fired at him before were just missing him. Anyway, NOW he’s indestructible, the bony protrusions that pop out of his knuckles supplanted by smooth, stainless adamantium. Later, someone gets the idea that since Wolverine’s skeleton is made of adamantium, he can therefore be killed if he’s shot with an adamantium bullet. This is so stupid that I can’t believe anyone even wrote it down, let alone filmed it.
Wolverine spends most of the film being angry, with about one-third of story devoted to him and Creed fighting. Usually they’ll stand at opposite ends of a long corridor, run at each other at top speed while screaming, then beat the crap out of each other. When time permits, other mutants, some good and some evil, show up. These include (fans, watch for your favorites!) Bolt (Dominic Monaghan), Gambit (Taylor Kitsch), Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds), and the Blob (Kevin Durand), who gets his name due to having inexplicably ballooned to about 500 pounds.
I get the feeling the film was made exclusively for hardcore fans of the “X-Men” comics. It is rife with characters, events, and details that have nothing to do with what’s going on but that have clearly been included to produce fanboy salivation. That’s good pandering, but bad filmmaking. In good films, you don’t include things (or not a lot of them, anyway) that are wholly irrelevant to the story at hand. If this turns out to be a separate trilogy, as planned, then perhaps all of this set-up will prove worthwhile. As a standalone, though, it’s loud, chaotic, and goofy, one of the more negligible entries in the comic-book genre.
(Note: Be sure to stay through the closing credits for an extra scene that will make you say, “I stayed through the closing credits for THAT?!”)
C+ (1 hr., 47 min.; )