The prequel that promised insight into the tortured mutant isn't up to scratch.
After a promising start with two thought-provoking films by Bryan Singer that cast the alienated mutants as members of a tragically despised minority, the franchise detoured into demolition-derby excess in the heavy hands of "Rush Hour" director Brett Ratner. Now Hugh Jackman's spinoff proves that the series had a lot farther to fall. And it lands with a clunk loud enough to shatter Adamantium.
This is a popcorn movie with no pop, a routine expedition through comic book clichés, a return to what most superhero movies were before "Spider-Man," "The Dark Knight" and "Iron Man" elevated our expectations.
After a thrilling title sequence establishing the origins of half-brothers Wolverine (Jackman) and Sabertooth (Liev Schreiber) and following them through tours in every major U.S. war through Vietnam, we have a clear understanding of their back story. Wolverine is more man than beast, a fearsome fighting machine but one that knows the meaning of mercy.
Sabertooth has given in to the animal.
Recruited into a special forces military unit led by sneering Maj. William Stryker (Danny Huston), Wolverine goes AWOL for a quiet life of lumberjacking in backwoods Canada. He doesn't like to dwell on the sins of the past, evasively telling his gentle schoolteacher love Kayla (Lynn Collins), "I'm the best there is at what I do, and what I do isn't very nice." Naturally, the sinister Stryker isn't content to lose one of his superhuman Dirty Dozen, and Wolverine is soon up to his chiseled pectorals in exploding helicopters, collapsing walls and crashing Humvees.
Lollapalooza action sequences are often called showstoppers, but never has the term been so apt. The repeated (and repeated and repeated) rumbles between scowling Wolverine and snarling Sabertooth are loud and fierce but anticlimactic. Each is invulnerable and heals instantly after any trauma; after all these years of sibling rivalry, haven't they figured out they can't hurt each other?
The special effects are routine, in fact subpar for a $100 million movie. The best effect is probably Jackman's Olympian physique, displayed in a "Die Hard" sleeveless T-shirt (or less) whenever possible. His lean torso contrasts nicely with Schreiber's bearlike bulk; just as in TV wrestling, the bodies instantly tell us who's the hero and who's the heel. A film that concentrated on their superhuman sibling rivalry might have held our attention, but "Wolverine" piles in so many extraneous X-Men, Women and Kids that the story feels like roll call at a comic book convention.
If you don't already have a deep fanboy emotional investment in Vanishing Guy, Electricity Guy, Card-Throwing Guy, Ninja Guy and Sharpshooter Guy, there's not much here to make you care. Their main mutant quality appears to be personality-deficit disorder. You can draw a big X through this one.
Colin Covert • 612-673-7186