2009 | Director: Gavin Hood | Writers: David Benioff (“The Kite Runner,” “Troy”) and Skip Woods (“Swordfish,” “Hitman”)
It’s hard not to compare current films to past output by an actor or director. A critic is implored to judge a work for itself, but it’s difficult to pinpoint where a film goes wrong if there is nothing similar to hang it against. Not that “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” would be any less woeful if it was a standalone feature, but the movie proves to be even more pale and robotic when contrasted with the deep-by-comparison superhero series that spawned it.
Mixing and matching bits from Marvel’s various Wolverine-themed comic series, the movie recounts the lame events that led the fast-healing mutant James Logan (Hugh Jackman) to his life as one of the leather-wearing and human-sympathizing X-Men. Beginning with an admittedly clever montage showing Logan and half-brother Victor Creed (Liev Schreiber) fighting in the Civil War, World War I, and Vietnam, the film quickly regresses into a predictable rhythm: exposition followed by an unbelievable action scene, repeated ad infinitum. To make a long story short, Logan joins a secret mutant black ops team led by William Stryker (Danny Huston), quits the team, finds happiness, loses happiness, vows revenge, slashes a lot of things, fights a bunch of unnecessary fights, and finally, butts heads with the powers that be in a confusingly anti-climactic and ludicrous last reel. But wait—lest you forget, Logan can make razor sharp claws come out of his hands, and a bunch of random X-Men pop in to say hello. Now do you want to see it?
Bryan Singer’s “X-Men” films were interesting allegories for racial and sexual prejudice—and especially the excellent “X2”—but perhaps his greatest achievement was his spot-on version of Marvel’s most beloved blade-fisted character. In those films, Wolverine, also portrayed by Jackman, is as gruff, sarcastic, individualistic, and bloodthirsty as in the comics that shaped him, but the strong sense that he desperately seeks his place in the world, despite his nature as a born killer, gives the movies their satisfying anti-hero bent. In comparison, Gavin Hood’s Wolverine is a pure-hearted Good Person, pushed to kill only by the most unlikely series of unsolicited circumstances, a pouting Pollyanna to Schreiber’s vastly more interesting Creed, and by extension, boring.
Not all of this is Hood’s fault. It’s only natural that an origin story takes the mystique out of a character, and the Oscar-winning director has an excellent eye for explosions, giving him a near-pass in my book; but the film features such painful dialogue, such wince-inducing line-readings, and so preposterous a non-canonical plot that there’s really no way to acquit the director of the crime that is “Wolverine.” It’s somewhere near the level of the sub-par Brett Ratner entry “X-Men: The Last Stand” in the grand scheme of X-Men films, but there’s no rule that says you have to see the most recent entries to enjoy the first two.
Rating: Two of Five Stars