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Movie Reviews

Film Review: “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”

(20th-Century Fox. 1 hour, 48 minutes. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, and some partial nudity. Directed by Gavin Hood.) Hugh Jackman (Logan/ Wolverine), Liev Schreiber (Victor Creed/ Sabretooth), Danny Huston (Col. Stryker), Lynn Collins (Kayla Silverfox), (John Wraith), Ryan Reynolds (Wade Wilson/ Deadpool), Dominic Monaghan (Bradley), Taylor Kitsch (Remy LeBeau/ Gambit). Music by Harry Gregson-Williams.

Fourth entry in the popular Marvel Comics franchise is competent when it needs to be compelling. Star and first-time producer Hugh Jackman’s got a lot riding on this one. This last year saw him voted People’s “Sexiest Man Alive,” hosting the Oscars, and getting his hand and foot prints permanently displayed at Mann’s Chinese Theatre. His ambitious epic Australia didn’t make a big impact in U.S. theaters last fall (though it’s doing well on DVD). He’s known for taking chances with his career, and so he chose the now-popular origin story for the latest installment featuring his most famous movie persona.

Wolverine’s up on the high wire without his old pals Storm, Mystique, and the rest. Holding the safety net as one of Jackman’s co-producers is veteran action director Richard Donner (Superman, Lethal Weapon). But Donner’s 79 now and the directing reins were turned over to 46-year-old South African Gavin Hood, whose only two feature films of note prior to this were Tsotsi (Oscar-winner for Best Foreign Film) and Rendition (the political thriller with Reese Witherspoon and Jake Gyllenhaal that few saw). Hood guides us a bit bumpily through the story of Wolverine’s violent past, his romance with Kayla, and his complicated relationship with Victor Creed. The proceedings, inevitably, rise or fall on Jackman’s wide shoulders (well the movie’s not called Cyclops), and his natural charm and great looks carry him through a role where he is on screen and snarling almost all the time. (He’s got a nude scene, here, ladies.)

Thanks to many hours in the gym, Liev Schreiber matches Jackman’s physicality, but the actor has never made much of an impression on me and I frankly had a hard time committing to the central Wolverine/ Sabretooth conflict. And as they teach you in Movies 101, if you don’t commit to the central drama, the goings-on can seem like so much window dressing. Taylor Kitsch’s Cajun card-player Gambit (pictured above) was fun and I wanted to see more of him; several other X-Men favorites pop up along the way. A standout scene is when Wolverine is first injected with the stronger-than-steel adamantium; it’s well-designed and executed. The backgrounds (the movie was filmed in Australia and New Zealand) are often beautiful and lush. The battle scenes should satisfy fans of the action genre, although by the big throwdown at the end, I felt like I was watching the video-game version of the movie. Overall, Wolverine has some good elements that don’t add up to a very cohesive whole. It will bring out fans of the franchise in droves opening weekend, as well as the casual moviegoer seeking popcorn fare. However, as origin stories go, it’s no Batman Begins.