X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)

Claws for thought

Origin stories seem to be Hollywood’s current obsession; no surprise given the mega-bucks generated by Bond restart Casino Royale and Batman reboot The Dark Knight. Throw in the huge success of Marvel’s X-Men franchise, and a film exploring the birth of fan favourite Wolverine is an absolute no-brainer. But does X-Men Origins: Wolverine have any bite to go with its bark? Yes, although it would best be described as a satisfactory growl, rather than a knock-you-out-of-your-seat roar.

After we see a young Logan witness the brutal death of his father and discover the shocking truth about his mutant identity, an exquisitely crafted opening sequence establishes the strength of Logan’s relationship with his similarly-talented brother Victor (Schreiber). As we watch them battle side by side through every major international conflict from the US Civil War to Vietnam, so their bond is absolute and unbreakable – unbreakable, that is, until William Stryker (Danny Huston) arrives on the scene. Stryker is assembling an army of mutants, and recruits Logan and Victor to Team X, a group of talented warriors including master swordsman Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds), teleporter Wraith

(Will.i.am) and the electric Bradley (Dominic Monaghan). When Wolverine realises the brutality Stryker is demanding, he walks away from the team – and his brother – to live a peaceful life with the beautiful Kayla (Lynn Collins). But, of course, we know there can be no happy endings here, and it’s not long before he’s involved in top secret military experiments that will push him to his very limits.

It’s always a gamble to go back to the beginnings of an established and much-loved character, particularly one who has gained a legion of fans through comic books, TV shows and movies. But screenwriters David Benioff and Skip Woods obviously have a great deal of respect for Wolverine and the universe he inhabits, and the script spends a great deal of time exploring the metamorphosis of Logan into Wolverine, both physically and emotionally. This was always going to be one of the most potentially difficult aspects of the film, balancing the psychological genesis of
the character with the claw-fisted action that fans will expect, and director Gavin Hood (Tsotsi, Rendition) manages to keep a firm hand on both sides of the character. By giving equal time to both Logan and Wolverine, to the grief and anguish that overwhelm him and the screaming revenge these feelings give way to, by making him a man as well as a super-mutant, Hood gives the audience the opportunity to connect with the character and to understand what drives him. And Jackman is all-powerful, all-consuming in a role he so clearly loves, and is ably supported by an aggressive, snarling Liev Schreiber who looks as if he was born to play Sabretooth.

But, like Wolverine himself, the film is not without its flaws. Some of the CGI is wobbly to say the least, the movie’s 12A certificate puts obvious restraints on the action and and, at times, the dialogue falls into the inevitable genre clichés. And the mutant cast are underused across the board – unsurprising given that this is Wolverine’s turn in the spotlight, but it would have been fun to see interesting characters like Wade and Gambit develop more on screen, while Deadpool looks fantastic but is disappointingly short-lived. Nevertheless, fans will love playing ‘spot the mutant’ during the film’s explosive climax.

Toothy, energetic and wild, X-Men Origins: Wolverine may not live up to high fan expectations, but it’s entertaining enough to tempt new viewers to the franchise – and admirers of Hugh Jackman will most certainly go away with a smile.

3 stars

Stars Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber, Danny Huston, Ryan Reynolds
Director Gavin Hood
Screenplay David Benioff & Skip Woods
Certificate 12A
Distributor Twentieth Century Fox
Running Time 1hr 48mins
Opening Date April 29th