Friday, May 08, 2009

'Wolverine' is overstuffed

“X-Men Origins: Wolverine” is a tough one to review. It isn’t a mind-blowing movie-going experience, but isn’t an unmitigated disaster either. There are large stretches that are entertaining, but it is too unfocused to be fully satisfying.

Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), also known as Logan, is a mutant with powerful healing abilities, heightened animal-like senses and who ages slowly. He also has retractable metal claws, and in this film we see how and why he gets them.

His origin story is a pretty straightforward revenge tale involving his half brother Sabretooth (Liev Schreiber, “The Manchurian Candidate”), also known as Victor Creed. Victor has similar abilities to Logan, but where Logan attempts to suppress his animal instincts, Victor embraces them.

Their brotherly bond is severed when Victor kills Logan’s love interest. With the help of William Stryker (Danny Huston, filling in for Brian Cox from “X2”), Logan gets those oh, so shiny claws and becomes Wolverine.

The film opens with a great title sequence showing the brothers fighting alongside each other from the Civil War through to the Vietnam War. I would’ve liked more of that and to see these characters interacting throughout the ages. What was Logan like during the roaring '20s or during The Depression?

Jackman and Schreiber’s dynamic is the best thing in the film. They are fantastic together. Schreiber, who has never played a role quite like this, is completely convincing. He is oddly charismatic and menacing at the same time.

This is Jackman’s fourth time playing Wolverine, the role that put him on the map. He has the role down cold as he ably tosses out dry one-liners, is believable in the elaborate action scenes and hints at deeper emotions hidden just below the surface.

Unfortunately, the emotion of the Wolverine/Sabretooth plot line gets lost. As with the third “X-Men” film, that human element is largely missing as the focus in “Wolverine” has been placed on action and the screen is overpopulated with too many underdeveloped characters.

Several secondary characters are given five to 15 minutes of screen time and then are killed off or just dropped. We don’t get enough time to get to know these characters and they just take away from the real star of the film.

One such character, Wade Wilson, also known as Deadpool, is particularly under-utilized. Deadpool is a wisecracking mercenary who is ideally played by Ryan Reynolds at the beginning of the film, but he returns so drastically altered at the end of the film that fans of the comic won’t even recognize the character they love. For the average moviegoer, the character works within the context of the film, but for fans it is sure to be a sticking point.

Another popular “X-Men” character that finally makes his long-awaited appearance in the series is Gambit (Taylor Kitsch, “Friday Night Lights”). His few scenes are flashy and he seems interesting, but his appearance in the film has little to do with making the film better, but rather appeasing fans.

There is a lot to like about “Wolverine,” including a great action sequence involving Jackman taking down a helicopter, but it could’ve been so much more. What made the first two films in the series work was that even though the films were action-packed there was a thoughtfulness at the core. Mutants were used as an allegory for social prejudices and to explore moral ambiguities.

“Wolverine” is simply a summer action movie with some decent acting and some fun scenes. Fans of the series should see it, but don’t expect it to be this year’s “Iron Man” or “The Dark Knight.”

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