X-Men Origins: Wolverine rates a mid-gauge sheet metal. Sturdy as an early summer tent pole yet fragile enough to snap once the heavy fronts roll in, Fox's notoriously leaked actioner should stand strong against the gentle breeze of Battle for Terra, though it's likely to be blown away by the blustery winds of Star Trek and Terminator: Salvation a few weeks out. From a non-fanboy perspective, it has some exciting action and colorful characters; unfortunately, the special effects vary from impressive to embarrassing, and some additional trimming at the story level might have helped elevate the metallurgical rating to steel status.
The story gets under way as the boy who will become Wolverine makes a shocking discovery about his family bloodline, and gains a brother in the process. Flash forward to a cleverly edited title sequence that finds the mutant siblings battling side by side through two world wars and Vietnam -- where they are sentenced to death for killing a commanding officer -- and we get to the main plotline: Logan (Hugh Jackman) and his brother, Victor Creed (aka Sabretooth, played by Liev Schreiber), are part of a top-secret government task force when the conscientious Logan becomes fed up with all the killing and escapes to the Canadian Rockies, where he builds a home with pretty schoolteacher Kayla Silverfox (Lynn Collins). Informed by his old commanding officer William Stryker (Danny Huston) that the members of his old team are being targeted for death, Logan is heartbroken when Victor finds and kills Kayla. Vowing revenge, Logan agrees to take part in a dangerous experiment that will fuse his bones with a powerful metal alloy called adamantium, which makes him virtually indestructible and gives him the strength needed to defeat his formidable brother. Subsequently betrayed by Stryker, Logan (now Wolverine) sets out to find his blood-lusting brother and stop the cycle of violence once and for all.
If it all sounds a bit operatic, well, it is. This being an origins story, screenwriters David Benioff and Skip Woods work to strike a careful balance between plot and action, and while they largely succeed, the results aren't always satisfying. After the frenetic opening credits scene and an action-packed intro, it takes a while for the action to pick up again; when it finally does, it comes only in brief bursts that get progressively more intense leading toward the final confrontation -- an exciting, occasionally dizzying fight against a single genetically engineered mutant that possesses the power of many. It's in this scene that Nicolas De Toth and Megan Gill's editing truly shines, and Gavin Hood's talents as an action director are fully realized. As anyone who saw Tsotsi can attest, Hood does have a talent for staging coherent action scenes, and moviegoers tiring of the Bourne school of ADD action filmmaking will appreciate the fact that Hood always gives us a solid sense of spatial relations. Not only does this help to ensure that we lose ourselves in the action, but also that every blow carries actual impact rather than just devolving into an ineffective montage of flying fists and bone-crunching sound effects.
It likely goes without saying that Schreiber possesses more than enough talent to take over the role of Sabretooth from Tyler Mane, and while the latter made a formidable impression with his brief but memorable appearance in X-Men, the former has the dramatic chops to lend the monstrous character a much-needed human dimension. Humans and monsters merge in the character of William Stryker, a snake in human's skin instilled with reptilian verve by Huston, but the real showstopper here is Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds), a frightening Frankenstein-like mutant of few words. His disturbing appearance gives the final showdown a much-needed gruesome edge after a series of conspicuously bloodless action sequences. Perhaps the trick to enjoying X-Men Origins: Wolverine is to not ask too many daunting questions, and to keep in mind that, like any comic-to-screen adaptation, these aren't the "official" origins of the character, but his comic-book genesis as filtered though a Hollywood lens. leave a comment --Jason Buchanan