X-Men Origins: Wolverine

 

Wolverinestarts with a roar before sliding into a chaotic, preachy mess, writes DONALD CLARKE

BUT IT’S not really a proper X-Men movie, is it? Surely, the point about those films was that there were loads of mutants. They huddled together in their dormitories – making plates fly, staring through walls, brewing hurricanes – while Dr X fumed metaphysically in his wood-lined office. The X-Menfilms were the St Triniansof superhero flicks. The characters lived to be supernumerary.

Well, anyway. If we are to have a spin- off series, better it focus on Wolverine than on any of the other, less lively crimefighters. As you may recall, the surly, wise-cracking brawler, whose sideburns appeared to have escaped from a Wishbone Ash LP cover, was played by Hugh Jackman as a landlocked lifeguard with retractable rapiers in his knuckles.

Wolverine is a mean piece of work, but that twinkle in Jackman’s eye encouraged us to believe that the mutant was constantly on the point of breaking into a song-and- dance number. So the character should be just about interesting enough to sustain his own film. There are grounds to believe that – using television as a comparison – X-Men Origins: Wolverinemight be more of a Frasierthan a Joey.

Certainly things start off well enough. It being the law these days, the film focuses on the early life of our superhero. We join the young (functionally eternal) Wolverine as an everyday mutant lad in 19th-century Canada. Following a slightly confusing altercation with his violent father, he forms an uneasy alliance with Victor (Liev Schreiber), his half- brother, who also has magic claws, and the two men set off to engage in all wars that come their way. They charge on the Confederates. They storm the beaches of Normandy. They do terrible things in Vietnam.

Eventually they end up as part of a mutant posse, organised by one of Marvel Comics’ archetypal deranged military officers. This particular nut, who comes in the surprisingly urbane form of Danny Huston, has a plan to capture all the mutants and (if I understand him correctly) focus their powers into one terrifyingly potent super-being.

Appalled at one too many atrocities, Wolverine abandons the team for life as a lumberjack. He carries an axe to work. He enjoys the stars. He marries a woman who, though she doesn’t actually drag a tombstone around with her, could hardly appear more doomed. Sure enough, before the leaves have fallen, her estranged brother-in-law turns up to do awful violence.

The X-Menfilms always suffered from a surfeit of self-importance. Not content with having mutants hit each other about the face with unearthly protrusions, the pictures felt the need to say something about the Holocaust, Iraq, civil rights, the flat tax or whatever else was on the writers’ minds that day.

For its first hour, Wolverine manages to avoid these temptations and offers us a fairly lively, lean exercise in old-school superhero action. Jackman is very easy to watch and the rivalry with Victor, who will become a creature known as Sabretooth, allows two decent actors plenty of opportunities to exercise their snarl glands. (Mind you, Schreiber is such a cerebral character that, rather than kicking Wolverine in the head, one half expects him to pen a withering attack in the New Yorker.)

The second half of the film is, however, a noisy, disorganised, poorly directed mess. Gavin Hood, who came to attention with the intense South African film Tsotsieand went on to direct Rendition, has argued that Wolverineis his most political film yet. He may be right, but is that necessarily a good thing? More attention has been paid to teasing out vague allusions to the war on terror than to developing a satisfactory villain, composing convincing effects or clarifying the characters’ muddled motivations.

Confused? Over-serious? Half- formed? Hang on. Maybe it is a proper X-Menfilm after all.