X-Men Origins: Wolverine

In theaters.

Wolverine is the kind of movie that gives summer movies a bad name. The action scenes have no flair, just some fake-looking explosions and uninspired, poorly filmed martial arts. The humor is cheap and limp; one scene is just one long, stupid fat joke, like something from one of Eddie Murphy’s recent execrable “comedies.” The plot is hole-ridden and predictable, the pacing is saggy, and the director never comes across an emotional moment he can’t ruin with a trite, tacky flashback.

The whole thing never tries to be more than third-rate. It’s lazy and dumb, coasting on the charm of its star and the durability of the preexisting characters. In fact, Wolverine is the most pathetic sort of summer movie: something that had potential, that could have been good, if the filmmakers had only taken the time and nurtured the talent to create something worthwhile. True, it isn’t as actively bad as the repellent X-Men: The Last StandWolverine might be half-assed, but it’s not an infuriating, character-assassinating mess—so … yay, I guess. Hooray for low expectations.

As the title implies, X-Men Origins: Wolverine is a prequel, filling in the title mutant’s personal history before he became the amnesiac of the previous three X-Men movies. Hugh Jackman reprises the role of Wolverine (first known here as James, in his pre-Logan/Wolverine incarnation), and Liev Schreiber plays Victor, James’s brother, who shares his powerful regenerative mutation. The invincible pair, born in nineteenth-century Canada, manages to spend nearly a century fighting in various wars before the U.S. government picks up on the fact that they can’t be killed. The brothers are recruited for a top-secret military program, headed by William Stryker (Danny Huston), but James quits when their missions become too bloody. Several years later, though, the angry, sociopathic Victor kills James’s girlfriend, Kayla (Lynn Collins), and a distraught James accepts Stryker’s offer to make him truly unbeatable by replacing his bones with adamantium, a virtually indestructible metal alloy. The adamantium process is agonizing, even more so when James realizes that Stryker has not been acting in good faith, so he heads off on his own again, as Wolverine, to pursue vengeance as he sees fit.

There’s good, primal material here—fraternal bonds and blood revenge and the whole am-I-a-man-or-an-animal? thing—but the screenplay, by David Benioff and Skip Woods, is hopelessly stilted, and Gavin Hood’s amateurish direction might make Last Stand’s hack Brett Ratner look a little bit better. The clichés in Wolverine—both narrative and visual—come hard and fast and unredeemed. At one point, James actually pulls that hackneyed stunt where the hero sets the fuse under the bad guys and then walks away without looking back as it explodes. And it isn’t even a good explosion! It looks computer generated or something—really fake. And as if I weren’t rolling my eyes hard enough, Hood also keeps giving us broody overlaid images to underline the fact that Wolverine is upset because his girlfriend is dead, or because he remembers leaving the psycho top-secret strike team, or because his brother is a sociopath. We get it! These aren’t difficult concepts, and Jackman is a good actor, so there’s no need to keep using flashbacks that would have looked cheesy and dated back in the ’80s.

Jackman, game for anything, does his charismatic best with the lackluster material, and Schreiber, too, makes the most of his underwritten character. I enjoyed seeing Taylor Kitsch pop up as Gambit, another mutant, if only because Kitsch is, uh, really hot, but others in the cast are distractingly weak. Will.I.Am is awkward and stiff as the teleporting John Wraith, and poor Ryan Reynolds isn’t talented enough to give spark to what is clearly supposed to be a fun, smart-ass character. It doesn’t help that Reynolds’s “martial arts” choreography in his big opening scene looks more like a beginning baton twirler routine than flashy swordplay.

Wolverine doesn’t even bother to differentiate between the powers of the strike team, which is crazy because discovering everyone’s power is half the fun of the X-Men series. Yet this latest gives us superstrong and superagile with swords!, superstrong and superagile with guns!, superstrong and superagile with “the fingernails of a bag lady!”, and it’s boring! The showdowns in the previous movies (even Last Stand, which I hated) showcase a wide variety of mutant powers, but Wolverine just offers a lot of unimaginative martial arts. And standards are higher now for that sort of thing! Hong Kong’s ingenious action choreographers made their way to Hollywood and raised the bar back in the late ’90s! There’s no excuse for the big fight scenes to be so tame and colorless.

It’s just so bland—not even fun to hate like Last Stand. I feel overwrought in writing this review—despite the fact that I believe every word—because the movie is really too forgettable and dull and vacuous to be worth so much bile. Wolverine isn’t bad; it’s just a monument of mediocrity, but in a way, that’s worse. I only worked myself up about what a waste of time it is after the fact. I wasn’t angry as I was watching. I didn’t feel anything: I was bored. And that, for a summer movie extravaganza, is the truly unforgiveable sin.