Summer movies whimper to a start with the wheezing Wolverine, a transparent attempt to squeeze a faltering franchise for its last drop of box-office juice. It should work for at least a week, until Star Trek opens and blows it out of the water by showing how an origin story should be done. Anyone looking for dangerous thrills is out of luck unless they risk federal prosecution by illegally downloading the movie on the Web.
The movie itself is all PG-13 prim and proper. Look at the drag-ass title — X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Presumably, that will separate it from the first two X-Men movies, directed by Bryan Singer, which were pretty good, and the third one, directed by Brett Ratner, which should have been subtitled, X-Men: Piece of Shit.
Wolverine, directed by South Africa's Gavin Hood of the Oscar-winning Tsotsi and the widely reviled, Oscar Kryptonite that was Rendition, isn't an outright disaster like X3. Hugh Jackman's Wolverine was always the best thing about these X movies. And he's center screen here, repeatedly waking up pissed off, claws extended like raging hard-ons, and howling his rage at a world that's done him wrong. Jackman is a world-class charmer and it's a shame to waste a whole movie showing him pissed off. But, hey, Marvel Comics created him that way.
The opening credit sequence gets us up speed as we meet little mutant Jimmy Logan in 1845, coping with daddy issues and a half-brother, Victor Creed, with a bug up his ass. The boys conveniently stop aging when Jimmy becomes Jackman and Victor morphs into Liev Schreiber (with fangs befitting his new ID as Sabretooth). Soon the boys are manning it up through a series of wars, from the Civil to Vietnam, though the scenes look like outtakes from Glory, Saving Private Ryan and Apocalypse Now. We learn that the evil militarist Stryker (Danny Huston) is hellbent on organizing an army of mutants called Team X. But, after a grisly campaign in Africa, Logan has had it with inflicting death and never dying. He just wants to settle down shirtless by splitting logs in Canada and banging a hottie schoolteacher (Lynn Collins). But before you can sing "I'm a lumberjack and I'm OK," Stryker has killed Logan's chances at a love story and our vengeful hero submits to an operation that gives him a skeleton of impenetrable adamantium. Presto, Wolverine as Weapon X! Am I going too fast for you?
Screenwriters David Benioff and Skip Woods, who should know better, cave to pressure to crowd the movie with incident. All kinds of characters are introduced. I could have done with more of Remy LeBeau, aka Gambit (Taylor Kitsch), a New Orleans gambler, and less of Fred Dukes, aka The Blob (Kevin Durand), a fat bastard who looks like Mickey Rourke's character in The Wrestler gone to blubber and seems to belong in another movie, aka Austin Powers in Goldmember. It's all a jumble and, worse, a damned impersonal one. The assault of digital effects (OK, Wolfie and the helicopter is a keeper) makes you feel trapped inside a video game. The climax on Three-Mile Island (you heard me) connects to the mutants we met in X1. But it's too little and too late. At the end of the movie, Wolfie has his memory erased. I'm envious.