According to Wikipedia, a wolverine is the largest land-dwelling member of the weasel family. It resembles a creature somewhere between an otter and a bear. It certainly doesn’t coiffure its hair and wear red and yellow spandex, but this the world of Marvel comics and, as such, you have to suspend belief.
Hugh Jackman is back playing the super-healing, adamantium-reinforced James Logan, aka Wolverine, whose mysterious and extended life played a large part in the X-Men trilogy. Apparently not large enough, however, as this fourth instalment in the X-Men series is a prequel determined to tie up all loose ends.
The film jumps right back to 1845 when Sabretooth and Wolverine Jr discover they’re half brothers in circumstances so dramatic they’re enough to make the young cub emit his first roar. The pair then go on the run, age thirty years, and then stay looking that way during the next century and a half, as depicted by a montage of all the major wars during that time. Just as the brothers' longevity is about to be called into question, along comes Col. William Stryker (Danny Huston) who offers them a chance to really serve their country, by joining his exclusive gang of mutants and going out on seemingly unrelated missions.
Their new gang, Team X, includes Bolt, played by Dominic Monaghan looking increasingly like a shaved monkey, John Wraith, who can disappear and reappear at will, Agent Zero, with the power of marksmanship, pre-weight gain The Blob and Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds), whose blades are as sharp as his tongue. You’d think he was the mercenary version of Oscar Wilde, the way the other characters react to him.
It isn’t until the group’s inevitable parting of ways that the action really gets underway. Six years later and Logan is trying to lead a normal life as a cigar-chomping lumberjack, while living in a log cabin with his girlfriend, Kayla Silverfox (Lynn Collins). It isn’t long before his past comes back to haunt him, however, and he’s soon swearing revenge on his unruly sibling for an act of violence. Finally, he comes to the conclusion, with Stryker’s helping hand, that having the metal alloy adamantium fused to his skeleton is the only reasonable answer to his problems. Then he roars. A lot.
The increasingly volatile Sabretooth is now played by Liev Schreiber, as opposed to the bouffant Sabretooth of the first X-Men film, who was more hair than man. The gleefully ferocious Schreiber acts as a good enough foil to Wolverine and his tortured conscience and their consequence-free fight scenes are some of the most entertaining in film. Even so, X-Men Origins takes itself far too seriously for a testosterone-fuelled film that features so many grown men grunting, wrestling and running around naked that it must be bordering on female-friendly porn.
There are a lot of new mutants in play and most get lost amongst the standout few. Taylor Kitsch’s Remy LeBeau, aka Gambit, is one such fantastic creation. The definition of cool, he provides the desired spark to Wolverine’s dry tinder box and his presence helps give the film some much-needed credibility.
Unfortunately, bad guy and collector of mutants, Col. Stryker, isn’t so much a threatening presence as a way to provide the needlessly dumbed down version of events. “This is Weapon X,” he says at one point about his new mutant creation. “X?” asks a confused agent. “Roman numeral,” Stryker replies helpfully. “Ten.”
The plot is both bound and driven by the need to unravel Wolverine's origins and in places becomes so contrived that even his leather jacket gets its own back story. As such, it’s a good while before we get to see some true destruction – but when Wolverine blows, he blows – executing bone crunching fight scenes and ripping his way through metal doors while barely ruffling his quiff.
You have to forget the niggling doubts to enjoy X-Men Origins: Wolverine – the brothers don’t age and yet they’ve made it to their 40s, the film is relatively bloodless and, for a big budget movie, the CGI is genuinely terrible in places. Basically, we learn that Wolverine has a tortured past – but don’t we know that already from watching the first three films? Still, you do get to see Hugh Jackman naked, and that tops Dr Manhattan’s quivering blue member, hands down.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine (12A) is on general release now.