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X-Men Origins: Wolverine Review – An Action Hero Played Straight

X-Men Origins: Wolverine Review – An Action Hero Played Straight” width=”560″/>

Our expectations of superhero movies have changed drastically in recent years: The standard has become nuance, depth of character, and layers of allegory. It’s a wonderful thing, and we’ve been spoiled by the multifaceted delights of Spider-Man , Iron Man and The Dark Knight. But it’s also the reason that X-Men Origins: Wolverine is likely to be a bit undervalued. Plagued by bad buzz and a much-ballyhooed work print leak, Wolverine turns out to be an odd sort of surprise: A straightforward, unpretentious, reasonably effective action movie.

The prequel ditches all the pretentious civil rights metaphors of its franchise predecessors. Indeed, apart from a fleeting and perfunctory nod to “preemptive war” and “taking the fight to the enemy before he takes the fight to us,” Wolverine is devoid of subtext. It gives us a supernaturally-enhanced hero who thirsts for revenge, puts a bunch of paramilitary goons on his trail, and the rest is a string of handsome, well-staged, effects-heavy action.

The last high-profile comic book entry to take this approach was The Incredible Hulk — the “rebooted” Edward Norton version — which had a clunky silliness that kept it from taking off. Wolverine has fewer kinks. Expertly directed by Gavin Hood, who made his name with headier fare like Tsotsi and Rendition , the movie has a plot that moves briskly, and even constructs something like a coherent fictional universe around the loud (and occasionally breathtaking) set pieces. It’s eminently disposable, but that’s almost the point: Wolverine remembers the days when action flicks were action flicks, and we were content with visceral thrills and basic storytelling competence.

The characters rarely waste time to explain stuff, or even talk much. No speeches are delivered. There’s a romance, but it sets the plot in motion, acts as background motivation and little else. This is a movie that knows its limitations, and also its bread and butter.

Contributing to the overall painlessness is a cast of ringers who handily accomplish the vital task of rendering the ridiculous credible. After three movies, Hugh Jackman has Wolverine down to a science, alternating a cold stare with a menacing grimace; the movie succeeds at fleshing out his character in a basic way, and Jackman has a bit more to play with. Liev Schreiber, playing Logan’s tiger-like mutant brother, makes a splendid villain, as does Danny Huston as the unscrupulous originator of the titular “X” program. And Taylor Kitsch gives his movie star chops a successful test run as the acrobatic, card-throwing Gambit.

Naturally it isn’t all smooth sailing. The movie gets distracted with some extended comic relief involving a character called the Blob, who is really one mutant too many. The resolution of the conflict between Logan and his brother, central to the film, is wholly inadequate and so abrupt that it drew laughs. But Wolverine comes in at under two hours, doesn’t drag, doesn’t insult our intelligence and gets the job done.

Fox has jerked the X-Men franchise around enough to give audiences whiplash. The first two movies were epic and dazzling — some of Bryan Singer’s best work. Then the studio handed the series to Brett Ratner, who made it soap-opera-ish and weird. With Wolverine, Gavin Hood has stripped away all adornments (except the computer-animated, expensive ones) and made an efficient, thoroughly palatable blockbuster. He’s also seemingly surrendered any claim the franchise had to distinction. Then again, this sort of dogged, straightforward competence might nowadays be distinction enough.

For a different take on X-Men Origins: Wolverine, check out the movie review at AMC Filmcritic.

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