Beastly badass Wolverine (Jackman) is a member of elite military squadron Team X. But when he tries to leave violence behind to become a family man, he finds his past catching up with him in brutal fashion — not least his carnage-loving half-brother Sabretooth (Schreiber).
Poor Hugh Jackman. For his second movie as both star and producer (after flaccid erotic thriller Deception), he had to rise each day at 4am, presumably swearing, stumbling about and tripping over cats in the process, to drink a protein shake. After a long gym session, he’d head to a set plagued by whispers of studio interference and directorial incompetence. And then, when it was all over and he’d finally managed to have a lie-in, an unfinished print of the film leaked onto the internet, getting downloaded 75,000 times within a single day.
He must have winced as news of the leak broke; after all, he has a lot at stake. Not since 2004’s Van Helsing has the weight of a blockbuster rested squarely on his burly shoulders, and even then he had Dracula, Frankenstein and the Wolfman to help draw in the punters. But through it all, the nicest man in Hollywood remained upbeat — launching his most iconic character as a standalone hero is, it seems, a labour of love. So were the results worth the pain? Sadly, the answer is no, not really.
Wolverine is not as hateful as X-Men: The Last Stand, but it’s still a big old mess. Even a brief prologue in 1840s Canada, showing Wolvie and his half-brother Victor Creed (aka Sabretooth) as kids, raises questions that are never answered. Like, why does he stop ageing when he becomes Hugh Jackman? Or, who the Weapon X is his father and why do we care?
The plot is riddled with more holes than a holiday resort for moles. A key scene – which has been teased in flashback stabs throughout the X-Men series – sees James Logan become Wolverine via extraordinarily painful surgery that coats his skeleton and bone-claws with indestructible metal adamantium, overseen by evil army czar Stryker. But it’s hard to take a villain seriously when he’s dumb enough to wait until after an invincibility operation to attempt to erase the hero’s memory. Later, realising there’s not much in the way of tension when nothing can harm the protagonist, the writers introduce something that can: a gun with adamantium bullets. But later still, Stryker changes his mind and declares that an adamantium bullet would only make Wolverine forget things. How would he know?!
Such questions would be less pressing were there more of a sense of fun. But Fox, no doubt casting a jealous eye on Warner Bros’ rebooting of Batman, have opted to make this ’70s-set prequel a fairly glum tale of revenge and betrayal. So it’s Mutton-Chops Begins, with the gruffly tortured, sarky character we love from the X-Men movies modified into an angsty, generic Hero Who Just Wants A Quiet Life But Is Forced Back Into Action. It’s like trading in Han Solo for Luke Skywalker. Or, considering the mountain-top log cabin and at-one-ness with nature, Steven Seagal from On Deadly Ground.
It doesn’t help that Ryan Reynolds, who turns up near the start of the film as sword-spinning mutant Wade Wilson, oozes charisma and the kind of deadpan, one-liner-dispensing attitude the neutered Jackman used to possess. His screentime is annoyingly brief, as is that of Dominic Monaghan, whose ill-fated Bolt has an appealing sadness. Much more time is dedicated to rubbish mutants Wraith (rapper Will.i.am) and The Blob (Lost’s Kevin Durand), who belong in another film or Sky1’s Gladiators. Gambit’s a let-down too.
It’s not all bad — Liev Schreiber’s Sabretooth is satisfyingly feral, though confusingly motivated; there’s an ace opening credits sequence with the siblings in various US combat flash-points; and linking the end battle to the Three Mile Island meltdown is smart — but the effects are often shonky and the big twist is a rip-off of Heroes. Wolverine’s catchphrase is, “I’m the best at what I do.” Judging from this evidence, what he does is star in deeply average actioners.
Can everyone stop making moody origin stories now, please? While not a disaster, this isn’t the claws-out, rampaging adventure we hoped for. No-one cares where Wolverine found his jacket — a spin-off with him kicking ass in Japan would have been way more fun.