Jackman has proven time and again, most recently as host of the Academy Awards, what an able and charming performer he is, so it's a little disheartening to see such a humorless interpretation of this mutant with healing powers, fiercely manicured claws, and something called "berserker rage"—which, prior to this film, we had only experienced with Faye Dunaway's Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest.
The film opens with a backstory set 150 years ago, establishing the family dynamics of Logan, aka Wolverine, and his half-brother, Victor Creed, aka Sabretooth (Liev Schreiber), a feral who serves in several wars with his brother but eventually goes a different way, causing endless conflict between the two. Main action is set circa the 1970s as they are recruited by the devious Col. Stryker (Danny Huston) for a special mutant unit. After one massacre, Logan quits and leaves for a life of peace in the Canadian Rockies with his girlfriend Kayla Silverfox (Lynn Collins), an idyll broken up six years later when Creed murders Kayla; Logan, seeking revenge, accepts Stryker's offer to make him, now Wolverine, indestructible. This ends in a double cross and discovery of an evil Stryker plan to kidnap mutants and perform dangerous experiments on them. Now it's Wolverine versus the army and everyone in his path as he says, "You point me in the right direction, and get the hell out of my way."
Jackman is buff beyond the call of duty and grunts and growls with the best of them, but it seems odd that in this prequel to the X-Men films his character has lost so much of the flavor that made him work in the first place. Granted it's tough being a mutant, but lighten up a little, guy! Jackman's work in the action scenes is good, though most of those scenes, typical of the tendency to CGI everyone to death, lack credibility. Schreiber is a decent bad guy and has three well-choreographed fight scenes with Jackman, but he's given a one-dimensional character to play. There's a new group of mutants formed under the name Team X, well-played by Ryan Reynolds, Black Eyed Peas musician Will.i.am, and especially Kevin Durand as Fred J. Dukes, aka The Blob, who has a choice scene opposite Jackman in a boxing gym. Huston is a good heavy as Stryker, while Collins adds a much-needed touch of human warmth to Kayla.
Wolverine should please nondiscerning action aficionados, but the X-Men fanboys and anyone else looking for a shred of humanity with their explosions would be better off renting the movies that inspired this spinoff.
Written by: David Benioff, Skip Woods
Directed by: Gavin Hood
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber, Danny Huston, Ryan Reynolds, Dominic Monaghan, Taylor Kitsch, Will.i.am, Kevin Durand, Lynn Collins