With recent reboots and origins films from “Batman” to “Iron Man” any new superhero films need to understand that the bar has been significantly raised. In the first of many potential introductory films, “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” gives us a glimpse into the mind of the snarling, cigar-chomping tough guy. Unfortunately all of the action doesn’t obscure the film’s lack of heart and soul.
Right out of the gate, the film stumbles badly with a puzzling back story that only serves to bond young Jimmy Logan (Hugh Jackman) and his older half brother, Victor (Liev Schreiber). After mistakenly killing his father, Jimmy and Victor make a break for it vowing to always be there for one another. Over “The Watchmen-esque” opening credits, the two battle enemies – and sometimes their own troops – through World Wars I and II as well as Vietnam. When Victor’s evil nature gets the best of him, the two are locked away never to see the light of day again.
But just as they were getting comfortable in their confinement, the two are offered a special deal, be a part of a special covert unit serving their country or rot on lock down. Soon they are paired with a special group of mutants led by the manipulative Stryker (Danny Hutson) off doing God knows what in God knows where! The assignment doesn’t agree with Logan who leaves his brother and their unit high and dry in search of a “normal” life. (Don’t ALL comic book characters with special powers yearn to be normal?) Several years later, Logan has relocated to the Pacific Northwest where he has created a new identity and found love with the exotic looking, Kayla (Lynn Collins). But while he is trying to lay low, others from his former crew are finding that task much harder to accomplish.
Reminiscent of “The Watchmen,” someone is taking out former members of his old unit. Soon, Logan gets a visit from Stryker who asks for his help to solve the killings, but when Logan turns him down he loses something very close to him and uses his super sense of smell to track down the culprit – his former ally, Sabertooth. After suffering a savage beat down, Wolverine is offered a chance at redemption by Styker make the previously immortal mutant indestructible. But much like a used car salesman, it doesn’t take the slimy operative long before he is trying to stab Wolverine in his impenetrable back. With several enemies to take down and his only hint that many bad deeds are taking place “on the island,” Wolverine must enlist the help of a couple of special friends to take down the people who are destroying people like himself.
Helmed by South African director Gavin Hood (“Tsotsi”), the film offers some useful nuggets into the psyche of the talon-wielding bad ass who will one day be an integral member of the X-Men crew. The problem with the screenplay is that too much time is spent relying on cool special effects, mostly performed on green screen, instead of providing more insight into exactly why he turned out the way that he did. For example, are we to assume that since he accidentally kills his father that he will hate himself for his “special abilities” as an adult. For people such as myself who never read the comics, where is the explanation of why Logan/Wolverine has such long life. But my favorite is why would a man who doesn’t age and has the ability to heal himself put himself through such a rigorous exercise to make himself indestructible?
In light of the new direction for comic superhero films released last year, no longer is just strong special effects sufficient in place of developing a fully fleshed out story. Screenwriters David Benioff (“25th Hour) and Skip Woods try mightily but when the audience can anticipate the lines before they are delivered onscreen, chances are that’s usually not a good sign. Jackman acquits himself well in the title role flashing his six-pack ads every chance he gets. Too bad the filmmakers couldn’t have backed up their physical specimen with with a story that was equally buffed.
The first major studio release out of the box, “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” is not putrid, but falls far short of the standard and hope of it’s predecessors. The film felt like a glorified version of “Heroes” with a helping of “The Watchmen” an a tiny pinch of “Superman” to boot. Poor Wolverine, based on his work in the “X-Men” franchise he deserved much better . . . and as a matter of fact, so does the audience!