“X-Men Origins: Wolverine”
20th Century Fox
At Quality 16 and Showcase

Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

1.5 out of 5 stars

Even by superhero movie standards — hell, even by “X-Men” movie standards — “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” looks remarkably fake. Take aside the screen saver-quality backgrounds for a minute and just focus on the claws. Logan, a.k.a. ol’ Wolvie (Hugh Jackman, “Australia”), gazes at his claws in wonderment numerous times throughout the film, but there’s never any sense that three stainless blades are actually protruding from his knuckles. Instead, it just looks like there are three animated lines that the special-effects guys shined up by pressing a button.

Believing that Wolverine’s claws are real should be a major factor in audience enjoyment of a film based entirely around his character; after all, they’re on the freaking promo poster. But the fact that they’re easily discernible in any given shot as cartoonish computer effects is akin to surgically removing the part of a young man’s brain that enjoys comic books. Yes, of course they’re fake. But for the price of a movie ticket, is it too much to ask for 107 minutes of being convinced they’re real? Apparently so.

The origins of Wolverine include him discovering his mutation at an early age, and the film’s (admittedly cool) opening credits show him fighting in every major war of the past century alongside his brother, Victor (Liev Schreiber, “Defiance”). The two of them plow through unaged and unharmed because of the healing powers that come free with their mutations; Victor’s is similar to Logan’s, only with fast-growing nails instead of claws. They are approached by Lt. William Striker (Danny Huston, “30 Days of Night”), who recruits them into a secret legion of mutants doing misdeeds for a mysterious higher purpose. Logan disapproves of these actions and leaves the group and his brother behind.

The rest of the story focuses on Logan’s attempts to seek revenge on his brother for attacking his lover, which leads him back into the hands of Stryker. An experiment is performed on him to channel his animal instincts and make him an unstoppable killing machine. The experiment is a rousing success, but Stryker still decides he wants Wolverine dead, which seems like an awful waste of time and energy on his part. It makes one wonder exactly what Stryker was hoping to accomplish with the experiment in the first place.

Although we may not be able to predict exactly where the story is going, the film is obvious enough about its twists that anyone paying the slightest attention can read several scenes ahead at any given moment. This is a problem for a film that’s far too dependent on plot already. It’s tough to rest emotion on Wolverine’s plight when we can predict exactly where, under what circumstances and whom he’ll be fighting in ten minutes.

Some diversion comes from playing guess-that-mutant: Recognizable characters like Cyclops and Wraith pop in for some effects shots, then retreat before they can contribute anything useful. All of this only adds to the idea of a mostly empty movie presented in not-shiny-enough plastic wrapping. It appears the filmmakers couldn’t put in the effort to create an engaging, slightly unpredictable story with characters that stick around. Everyone here’s just going through the superhero-movie motions.

There’s still some fun to be had, though. There’s an engaging, climactic showdown between Wolverine and Weapon XI (Scott Adkins, “The Bourne Ultimatum”), a hybrid mutant with all the cool powers implanted from everyone else — he’s like a bag of Chex Mix that can kill people. The special effects here still have a cheap, glossy look to them, and there’s absolutely no substance to what’s happening, but by this point it’s quite clear the movie isn’t going to be the next “Iron Man,” or even the next “X-Men: The Last Stand,” for that matter. With mid-level expectations dashed, all that’s left is to enjoy this one decently assembled action scene.

With all due respect to Hugh Jackman (who’s still a fantastic snarler and well worthy of anchoring a decent action-movie franchise), here’s hoping the guy doesn’t have to stare at his computerized claws again in the near future.

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