[NOTE: The following review contains some spoilers for "X-Men Origins: Wolverine."]
"X-Men Origins: Wolverine" greatest asset is the title character. Both in the pages of a comic and personified by Hugh Jackman, Wolverine never fails to charm audiences. The film offers us a Wolverine rarely seen in mass-media, one in complete possession of his memories. Though quite similar, this Wolverine questions the thing he is best at doing. He would very much like to stop doing it, since it ain't pretty. However, this is still an X-Men picture.
The movie sets out to remove every single lingering question film audiences might have about the rough Canadian. The film begins in the late 1800s, revealing Logan's first claw attack. We also see that he and his brother Victor decide to run from that incident into a title sequence showing the two engaged in every major American conflict from that point until Vietnam.
There, Victor finds he enjoys the brutality while Logan begins to reject it. The two come into contact with William Stryker. Like in "X-Men 2," Stryker comes off as a charismatic fellow until his xenophobia bursts through. At this point, though, Stryker leads a team of mutants - though that word will not be heard for some time - into some black ops/wetworks field missions. Victor and Logan join up with Wade Wilson, John Wraith, Frederick Dukes, Chris Bradley, and Zero to fight nebulous forces at the behest of their superiors.
After a mission that leads Stryker to a lump of rock, Logan calls it quits.
The film flashes forward one year with the team disassembled and Logan now working as a lumberjack somewhere in Canada. After the suspicious death of Bradley, Victor comes and kills Logan's girlfriend.
Hoping to have revenge against his brother, Logan volunteers for the Weapon X program. Here he gets his Adamantium claws and Wolverine dog-tags. The reason he chooses that name is revealed in the film.
Following the metal transfusion, Logan escapes to track down Victor; a plotline which will lead back to Stryker and Weapon XI. Along the way, he meets up with his former comrades, encounters the New Orleans mutant named Remy LeBeau, and has a confrontation with Stryker that sets the stage for the original X-Men film series.
While one of Wolverine's classic traits was his lack of origin, the film actually meshes ideas from stories such as "Origin," "Weapon X," and "God Loves, Man Kills" into an internally consistent back story for the film character. Surprisingly, Logan does not suffer for the revelations contained in the film. While not all the answers are satisfying, they compile into a life that makes sense for the character. Also, the character's struggle with violence is strengthened from knowing this element.
Beyond Stryker's team and Remy LeBeau, there is also Kayla Silverfox, Scott Summers, Emma Frost, and various other background mutants that may or may not be cameos for the fans. It is simply too much. For his part, Remy appears only to add an extra fight scene to the film. While many X-Men stories are overstuffed with characters and ideas, it is not the best strategy for a major motion picture.
The number of characters necessitates the film have a road-movie format. Logan goes from location to location, meeting odd and interesting characters, including Ma and Pa Kent. Consequently, the film never sustains tension. Individual scenes are interesting, but the film lacks unity.
Like the first "X-Men," the film also lacks jeopardy. Logan and Victor are nigh-immortal and we know Stryker will survive the movie to appear in the form of Brian Cox in "X-Men 2." You never doubt for the characters safety. All of Logan's stunts are missing a spark that comes from the possibility the character could die or be hurt. This is underscored by the effects used in these stunt scenes; many of which never gel with the live action photography.
Similarly, Stryker and Victor never come off as credible opponents for Logan. In "X-Men 2," Stryker and Magneto share the villain's role and project a sense of jeopardy into the plot that neither could do alone. Victor's childish vendetta is nowhere near as compelling. Stryker, meanwhile, is ultimately just a bureaucrat.
Despite these problems, the film does have a sense of fun and humor. Both Logan and Wade are characters quick with a wisecrack. The film retains that common characteristic. Throughout the film, Logan gets plenty of chances for wry observation. Stryker quickly becomes annoyed with Wade's quips.
One standout sequence involves Frederick Duke's ultimate form as the Blob. Now a retired mercenary, Duke is said to have developed an eating disorder. When Logan comes to visit Wraith's gym, he sees Duke sparing. Pressing the Blob for information, a misunderstanding leads to Logan and Duke fighting. This scene, played largely for humor, works remarkably well. The first meeting between Logan and Remy has a similar tone. Whenever the movie relaxes to show us two people interacting, it gains a confidence it does not have in the larger action set pieces.
However, Logan's final opponent, Weapon XI, is a fairly smart choice. Not exactly any one established character, Weapon XI actually feels like a credible opponent. Unfortunately, most of their fight takes place in a blue-screen computer generated mish-mash.
Liev Schreiber deserves mention. While Victor's role in the film is split with Stryker, Schreiber really is the best non-wrestler for the part. Generally feral even when he is the good guy, Schreiber plays a character that could easily be called Sabertooth. It is a shame Schreiber never quite gets an action scene worthy of some of the pre-fight trash talk he and Logan like to throw at each other. While not exactly Victor Creed, Schreiber plays a version that works great if the character's vital stats say, "The Hero's Brother."
"X-Men Origins: Wolverine" is a lot of fun ideas bumping up against each other, sometimes uncomfortably. Like many summer movies, it would benefit from a tighter cut and a shorter runtime. It is generally entertaining and continues the trend the previous films established by generating a desire in the audience to see another X-Men picture.
"X-Men Origins: Wolverine" opens this Friday, May 1st, at theaters everywhere.