If you’re debating whether or not to see X-Men Origins: Wolverine, let me make it easy for you: it’s not The Dark Knight. I’ve come to the conclusion that for the indefinite future comic book movies are always going to be compared to The Dark Knight by both critics and comic fans, and will always be found to be lacking in some way. What no one seems to remember is that The Dark Knight was a fluke, a truly great example of a genre in which most films rank somewhere between “pretty good” and “abominable.” Wolverine isn’t up to that standard. It isn’t even as good as Iron Man. But it’s entertaining, and perhaps I’m a bit cynical, but it seems to me that that’s the best you can expect from a film series about people who have mutations that range from giant angel’s wings to being able to hop around like a toad.
As the title suggests, Wolverine is about what happened before James “Logan” Howlett became the muscle-bound, hirsute, claw-bearing Wolverine, arguably the most popular member of the X-Men. The film opens with young Logan in mid-19th century Canada running away with his brother Victor after a double murder in their home. Though they’re not related in the comic book series, Victor will later become the villainous Sabretooth, albeit Sabretooth before he became the grunting, Sasquatch-like creature played by Tyler Mane in the first X-Men movie. Logan and Victor stick together throughout the years, growing up to become the devastatingly handsome Hugh Jackman and Liev Schreiber and fighting in the Civil War, World Wars I and II and Vietnam. For no discernible reason, Victor becomes progressively more unpredictable and violent, resulting in his killing their commanding officer. The brothers are saved from death by firing squad by Stryker (Danny Huston, playing the role usually reserved for Michael Ironside), a mysterious military operative who recruits them, along with fellow mutants Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) and Kestrel (will.i.am) to help gather the materials for a top secret experiment. Nothing suspicious about that, right?
After one too many innocent people are killed in order to acquire the materials, however, Logan abandons the team, and Victor along with them. A few years pass, and we see that he is living quietly in the mountains somewhere in his native Canada, working as a logger and living with a pretty girlfriend, who tells him a corny Native American folktale that foreshadows how he’ll come to adopt the name “Wolverine.” His idyllic life of turning big pieces of wood into little pieces of wood comes to an end when Stryker tracks him down and informs him that Victor is systematically killing everyone on their team, and that either Logan can wait to be next or come with him to his secret guv’mint mutant lab. Logan blows him off, but when Victor shows up and gives Logan’s girlfriend a few extra holes, he changes his mind. Stryker’s plan is to make Logan into “Weapon X,” filling his body with adamantium and rendering him all but invincible, a formidable opponent against the evil Sabretooth. To absolutely no one’s surprise, he soon learns that he’s just another pawn in a malevolent plan to create the ultimate mutant, one that is created with parts from other mutants, sort of like a Frankenstein’s monster that can move really fast, teleport and do all sorts of other badass shit.
First, the bad: Wolverine has some Beast-sized plot holes in it. It’s never really explained why both Logan and Victor age normally from adolescence to mid-thirties or so, then stop aging altogether. The meant to be shocking revelation at the beginning of the film that Logan was raised by a different man than his real father is never mentioned again. Characters such as Bolt (Dominic Monaghan) and Gambit (Taylor Kitsch) are either wasted entirely or introduced with the sole intent of setting them up for their own films (indeed, it was announced yesterday that a Deadpool movie is in the works). The cliches are plentiful: twice Logan kneels before a dead loved one and yells “NOOOOOOO!” to the cruel heavens. People keep trusting a character whose motives are based entirely in deception and are shocked when he betrays them. There is much evidence of sloppy, lazy screenwriting present, and sloppy special effects too, particularly in the rendition of a grotesquely obese former member of Logan’s team, who looks like Jabba the Hutt in workout clothes.
Now, the good news: Liev Schreiber. He’s pretty great, and honestly I don’t know how he doesn’t have a half-dozen Oscars by now. He was the best part of a very bad sci-fi horror movie about ten years back called Phantoms, playing a nerdy, bespectacled fellow taken over by aliens, and his creepily calm presence, telling someone “You’re so fucking cute!” while grinning at her like a wolf eyeing a sugar-cured ham made it almost worth watching. He’s the best part of Wolverine as well, filling the screen with icy cold menace and yet still tipping a wink at the audience. It’s a nice contrast to Hugh Jackman’s performance, which is decent but without a shred of humor. Also, while it’s a little embarrassing for me to rate a film’s value on such a thing, there is a spectacular amount of eye candy present. Seriously, Wolverine is the closest we’ve gotten so far to a comic book film made for the ladies, with enough beefcake shots of bared chests and biceps (and even some Wolverine bum) to fuel a thousand slashfic stories.
It also clocks in at a quick and easy one hour and thirty-seven minutes long, a nice change of pace from the epic two and two and a half hour most comic book movies stick with these days. It’s a fun movie that goes down easy, like a box of Raisinets, or the Hugh Jackman that will visit many a fevered dream in Wolverine‘s viewers. If nothing else, it’s a healthier alternative to Ghosts of Girlfriends Past. Then again, a sharp stick to the eye is a healthier alternative to Ghosts of Girlfriends Past.