|Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber, Lynn Collins, Danny Huston, Taylor Kitsch, Ryan Reynolds|
Say you're immortal, and you've served in the battlefields of the Civil War and the trenches of World War I. Wouldn't you eventually want to sit out World War II and Vietnam? Yet Hugh Jackman's mutant Wolverine and his brother (Liev Schreiber) serve in all four wars during a prologue for X-Men Origins: Wolverine.
The battles set a predictable tone for Wolverine from which director Gavin Hood rarely deviates. The prequel telling the back story of one of the X-Men trilogy's favorite heroes is all about tough guys fighting, with every trick and weapon imaginable.
This check-your-dramatic-exposition-at-the-door spectacle is lean, mean and not terribly interesting unless you've always wondered how many different materials Wolverine could cut through with those handy retractable claws (They slice, they dice, they skewer and tenderize. They should have their own late-night infomercial).
Hood, whose quietly gripping drama Tsotsi won the 2005 Academy Award for foreign-language film, here presents one duel after another, with a brief respite for sappy romance so Wolverine can get really mad and hellbent on vengeance over his dead girlfriend (Lynn Collins).
Bryan Singer's first two X-Men flicks delivered well on a far more daunting task, herding a large ensemble and delving into big ideas (big for a comic-book adaptation, at least) about racist fear of mutants with superhuman powers.
Wolverine is a story on a straight and simple trajectory, landing a lot of rungs below Singer's tales but a notch above the mutant muddle Brett Ratner made of the trilogy's finale.
Jackman's Logan and Schreiber's Victor Creed, who possesses a savage disposition and catlike claws, make the most of their seeming immortality and ability to heal.
After battling through a century of warfare, they join a military strike team of fellow mutants led by William Stryker (Danny Huston), who eventually hatches a plan to create an ultimate weapon with the powers of every mutant he can round up.
The script is credited to novelist David Benioff (whose screen credits include The Kite Runner) and Skip Woods. Based on the all-action, all-the-time results, you have to figure the bigger contribution to the finished product came from Woods (Hitman, Swordfish).
It's a string of episodes where Logan fights Victor, Logan fights eventual ally Gambit (Taylor Kitsch), Logan fights Victor some more, Logan fights Deadpool (the super-mutant created from a mouthy swordsman played in an early scene-stealing role by Ryan Reynolds).
As part of Stryker's mutant experiments, Logan chooses the nickname Wolverine and undergoes a nasty outpatient procedure to graft indestructible metal on his skeleton, including his claws, so becoming the semi-man of steel Jackman played in the X-Men trilogy.
Jackman and Schreiber manage fine if superficial rapport as brothers at odds. The supporting cast, including Will.i.am as a teleporting mutant, are engaging enough given how little they get to do beyond beat on one another.
But there's never much real sense of adventure. Unlike the upcoming Star Trek prequel, which truly casts the starship Enterprise crew into an uncharted future, Wolverine is a setup for stories fans already have seen. We know Logan's going to take his lumps but come out OK (though minus his memories) by the time the credits roll (and stick around after the credits for a bonus scene).
So it's the journey, not so much the destination, that's supposed to grab us. Sadly, Wolverine's journey is one long run-the-gauntlet scenario, with people pounding on him from all sides until he emerges at the other end as the lone-wolf amnesiac bound for membership in the X-Men gang.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine, a 20th Century Fox release, is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, and some partial nudity.
Running time: 107 minutes
Rating: Two stars out of four