Three years have passed so it's time for another X-Men film; this new action-adventure probably won't let down ardent admirers of a super-buff, yet human-looking Hugh Jackman. As the summer movie season opens, this one will easily claw away the competition, wisely appearing soon before the rebooted Star Trek.
The fourth film in the franchise simply titled, X-Men Origins: Wolverine provides exposition into Jackman's troubled Logan, known as Wolverine. It's not the pleasure of the first two films, more like a high-powered mutant of the previous entry directed by Brett Ratner, X3: The Last Stand.
After a striking pre-credits sequence, having lived more than a century, Logan, and his seemingly equal, indestructible brother Victor, ala Sabretooth (Liev Schreiber of Defiance) are retained by the mysterious Gen William Stryker (Danny Huston, previously portrayed by Brian Cox). The siblings become estranged after a mission goes awry, and, six years later, Victor is after others of their kind, like Ryan Reynolds' Wade, or the lethal Deadpool with his epees.
The logically impaired storyline hinges on Victor's elimination of Logan's paramour Kayla Silverfox (Lynn Collins) that pulls him out of a serene lifestyle as a lumberjack. The tone and look of X-Men Origins is set up to allow the tragic to be relieved by combat. Swooping, slashing action-oriented set pieces (a memorable one involves a helicopter) are mostly executed with sobering, digital might.
South African helmer Gavin Hood (Rendition) can't do much beyond the superficial intrigue of the strung-along protagonist and introduction of an assortment of mutant characters. Fans of this series will like sequences like Logan's transformation inside plexiglas finding out, "What I do best is not very nice". Hood works effectively with his crew as locational shooting from Sydney's Cockatoo Island and New Zealand provide a verdant backdrop, though he may have had help in staging the more bombastic scenes.
Yet, there's little coherence and exposition in a prequel that slips among many genres, including the war film and rural drama. The primal, jingoistic nature of this cinematic beast is evident throughout with so much bloodless violence designed for gamers who'll want to play the game afterwards if they haven't already.
A forceful, yet vulnerable Jackman (mostly impressive in Australia) and Schreiber are wrapped up in their characters well enough to make the tension coalesce within a gritty, if ominous fantasy. Collins evinces a wistful, soulful quality to a persuasive young woman, Dominic Monaghan is edgy as Bolt, Will.I.Am (Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa) scene-stealing as the teleporting Wraith, and a smooth Taylor Kitch as card shuffling Gambit. And, Huston etches out a warped, diabolical villain that may remind older viewers of Peter Sellers and Sterling Hayden from the seminal Dr. Strangelove.
As razor-sharp as Wolverine is when it comes to being battle-tested for its many brutal, though ungratuitous encounters, this well-paced, mostly humorless spectacle conveniently has the technical goods on all of the action, drama and romance. Though its admirers will be left wanting more (those who stay through the end credits will be amused), this unimaginative, but elegantly mounted tracing of the beginnings of a comic-book series is nothing to Marvel about.