STARRING: Hugh Jackman, Live Schreiber, Dominic Monaghan

2009, 107 Minutes, Directed by:
Gavin Hood

X-Men Origins: Wolverine is everything one would expect from an X-Men movie, but unfortunately it cannot entirely escape its, er, origins as a prequel.

“I’m going to shoot Wolverine point blank with some adamantium bullets. It won’t kill him, but he’ll forget everything that has happened to him!” the villain snarls.
“Why?” a sidekick wants to know.
“Because this is a prequel, damn it!” the villain replies. “And we all know that Wolverine suffers from memory loss and has no idea of how he got to be Wolverine at the start of the first X-Men movie !”
And so he does . . .

Like most prequels a feeling of why? hangs in the air. If you had seen X-Men and X2 then you’d more or less have an idea how things pan out towards the end. Also, Wolverine is one of the more charismatic Marvel comic book characters and probably doesn’t really need a back-story or origin tale when one thinks about it. Fortunately the whiff of prequel pointlessness doesn’t distract too much from onscreen proceedings. Wolverine remains a fun comics outing that’ll probably have you going “that was okay” as you leave the cinema.

The movie kicks off unexpectedly in 1854. A young Logan (Wolverine) kills a man whom he believes to be the murderer of his father. It turns out that Logan is a mutant who has sharp bony claws protruding from his knuckles at will. Pretty cool, plus he is very strong, has acute animal senses and can recover from almost any injury. Logan’s brother Victor (Sabretooth) also happens to be a mutant who has, um, very long fingernails. That and - like the Immortals in the Highlander movies and Tom Cruise - they seem to be stuck in their thirties forever.

"The climax is sadly on the, um, anticlimactic side . . ."

Wanted for the man’s murder, they flee together and do what any mutant with animalistic super-powers would do: join the army and fight in “normal” people’s endless wars. Thus in an opening credit sequence similar to the one in the recent Watchmen we watch Wolverine and Sabretooth fight in countless wars: the American Civil War, the Great War, World War II, and Vietnam. (Actually it is kinda depressing just how many wars there have been throughout the ages. Only the dead have seen the end of war, as Plato said.) Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is however getting tired of all the endless bloodshed whilst his brother Sabretooth (Liev Schreiber) is however acquiring a taste for all the senseless violence.

Following an altercation during the Vietnam War both brothers are recruited by the government to become part of a top secret, Black Ops squad consisting of super-powered mutants. But Wolverine has had enough and after the squad executes some Nigerian villagers he quits. No-one simply quits however and six years later it would seem that Sabretooth has gone rogue and is gunning for former members of the squad and Wolverine is next on his list of targets . . .

There is at least one eye-popping action sequence (involving Wolverine battling a helicopter and two armored vehicles) that will leave a silly grin on your face. An early sequence involving the mutant squad tackling a Nigerian crime lord is also fun. South African director Gavin Hood (Tsotsi) may not have any experience with mega-budget blockbusters, but he stages the various action sequences well. Thankfully there are no Michael Bay-style shaky cam editing and Hans Zimmer hammering you on the head soundtrack music.

The ending is unfortunately on the anticlimactic side as Wolverine and Sabretooth together fight a mutant with various super-powers “taken” from other mutants (a bit like Sylar in Heroes one supposes). The finale doesn’t quite hang together that well and also suffers from leaps in plot logic. It’s as if the writers didn’t know what should happen next.

Wolverine boasts some neat special effects, some decent acting and, best of all, it runs for less than two hours unlike some recent bloated, butt-numbingly long super-hero epics (we’re looking at you here, Spider-man 3). It is everything you’d expect, but at the back of one’s mind there is still a nagging voice that perhaps the material would have worked better as a standalone movie instead of a prequel. Perhaps next time. Hopefully X-Men Origins: Wolverine won’t be a once-off and we’ll get to see Hugh Jackman in action again in a future Wolverine installment . . .

(Stuff we’ve learned from Wolverine: Three Mile Island isn’t a nuclear plant as we’ve all thought, but is actually a top secret government facility for storing captured super-powered mutants! Who could have guessed?)

(Note: This review is based on the final print of Wolverine shown to the South African press and not the unfinished “work print” that is floating around on the Internet as an illegal download. You really shouldn’t download movies like Wolverine and watch them on your small computer screen. Movies like this are meant to be seen in the cinemas! Interestingly enough all press corps members had to hand in their cell phones so that no-one can make an illicit recording of the movie and, um, post it on the Internet. Yes, we also believe that that is a bit like re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic . . .)



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