X-Men Origins: Wolverine (PG-13) **½
Hugh's sharp, but the script's a bit dull.
By Connie Ogle, The Miami Herald
The latest film in the good mutant/bad mutant franchise takes us back in time to discover how Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) got his surly attitude, his adamantium claws and the muscles that bulge provocatively from his white undershirt and get more screen time than some of the minor characters. Not that we're complaining.
Whether this journey to the past was necessary is definitely up for debate: Wolverine's history turns out to be only moderately interesting and not terribly surprising, and the whole injecting-adamantium-into-his-skeleton surgery turns out to be less traumatic than the earlier X-Men movies indicated. You can easily discern which characters are going to end up dead, and all the interesting allegories of the original comics are more or less forgotten.
On the plus side, the stiff, dreadful Storm (Halle Berry) is nowhere to be found. There's a lot of Jackman, who has been the best thing about the franchise all along, and Liev Schreiber as the violent Sabretooth makes a fabulous, menacing villain.
Sabretooth and Wolverine (known alternately as Victor and Logan) share a past that unfolds in the Canadian wilderness, then in vignettes that show them fighting together in a series of wars, Civil through Vietnam. They're mutants: They don't age, and they don't die. But their bond falls apart once they're recruited by William Stryker (Danny Huston) as part of an elite team of mutants that includes Will i Am, Daniel Henney, Kevin Durand, Dominic Monaghan and a sword-wielding, buffed-up Ryan Reynolds. Can you blame him for hitting the gym, what with Jackman's pecs glistening all over the screen?
The group's violence grows too intense for Logan, and he bolts back to the mountains to find simple joys with a pretty school teacher (Lynn Collins). But Logan the lumberjack is not to be, alas. Bad things happen, and the desire for revenge overwhelms him. Adamantium -- the indestructible substance from outer space that renders you impenetrable to everything except decapitation and subprime mortgages -- flows. Logan becomes Wolverine, and soon he's engaged in mortal battle with Sabretooth, who seems to have made a pet project of killing everyone he can get his ugly yellow claws on.
Director Gavin Hood (Rendition, Tsotsi) quickly runs out of ways for the two to fight; more than once he has the actors just run headlong at each other, Jackman screaming and Schreiber snarling. We get the usual but not especially remarkable explosions as cars and helicopters crash and burn. A couple of other mutants show up along the way, notably Taylor Kitsch (Friday Night Lights) as Gambit, whose underwhelming power appears to be throwing playing cards around in a threatening manner.
Jackman is the key to what makes X-Men Origins work when it does, and his transformation from the dapper song-and-dance man we saw at the Oscars is as remarkable as it ever was. His personal trainer deserves a pat on the back, but Jackman's charisma breathes the fire into Wolverine, not the rather pedestrian script or the by-the-numbers action. The only troubling notion: Wolverine is clearly one of the few mutants with a background worth excavating, so this series must stop here. Nobody wants to weather the horrors of X-Men Origins: Storm.
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber, Danny Huston, Lynn Collins, Will i Am, Dominic Monaghan, Taylor Kitsch, Ryan Reynolds.
Director: Gavin Hood.
Screenwriters: David Benioff, Skip Woods.
Producers: Hugh Jackman, John Palermo, Lauren Shuler Donner, Ralph Winter.
A 20th Century Fox release. Running time: 107 minutes. Action violence. Playing at: area theaters.