It is fair to say if there was a break-out star from the X-Men franchise it would have been Wolverine. No one could complain about Hugh Jackman’s performance in the role which fit like a glove. In the first spin-off from the main franchise would the origins story of Wolverine capitalise on the evident appeal for the man who is the best at what he does, even if what he does isn’t very nice?
The story starts with a pre-title sequence set in the 19th Century introducing us to a the boy James Logan who appears sickly until he is confronted with three traumatic life-changing news regarding his mutant abilities, the death of his father and the truth about who his father is. Now on the run, he’s accompanied by his brother Victor (Liev Schreiber), the two become guns for hire highly regarded not only for their fighting skills, but also for their regenerative powers that means they can go through many ‘deaths’ and keep coming back for more. It appears, however, that Victor is the more hungry for conquest and domination than Logan who already has some concerns about his brother’s behaviour.
This culminates in the two being put before a firing squad during the Vietnam War after Victor kills an officer trying to stop him raping a member of a village being attacked. Logan is up for the firing line as he seeks to defend his brother. As the firing squad go about their business, they discover what has been the truth of the brother’ ability. This draws the interest of Major William Stryker (played by Danny Huston, though you may remember him being played by Brian Cox in X-Men 2) who is putting together a group of mutants to carry out clandestine missions that are under the radar of conventional warfare.
The nature of the killings and such involved is right up Victor’s street, but it’s not to Logan’s tastes. After a mission that sees them search in the heart of Africa for a rare metal and involves the group seeking to massacre the village that has it, Logan finally quits the team, but Victor refuses to do so. This sets in motion a larger story of intrigue and double-crossing involving Stryker’s plans for using mutants and how Logan turns into Weapon X to finally confront his brother, even though a greater threat may yet be around the corner.
Origin stories are a good way of establishing a character and recent times have seen some very good origin stories for super-heroes including Superman, Spiderman, Batman (in Batman Begins) and Iron Man. The challenge Wolverine has is that we already know quite a bit about him from the three X-Men movies that have in some way revolved around him, his abilities and his mysterious past. So he is very familiar to us. At the same time there is the thing of catering to those who are coming to the character fresh.
An advantage in the movie is the presence of Jackman as Wolverine. The theme of exploring whether he is just an animal or a human is one that Hugh inhabits very well. This is also supported by some good fighting scenes and action set-pieces. I’d say there was more in this film than there were in the other X-films and it’s good, because the one thing that Wolverine is known for is being a man of action. Not for him the reflections and wistful contemplations. So he’s working out the identity crisis in the light of things happening to him that requires him to act. Jackman revels in the role.
Other decent characters was Schreiber as Victor, Ryan Reynolds playing Wade Wilson and Huston as Stryker. Schreiber continues the line of quality performances by good actors who don’t take the character and lampoon him, but actually invests more dimensions to the man, and the interaction with Jackman is brilliant. Reynolds, it can be argued, has a cameo performance in the film, but he does it superbly. Wade is meant to be a wise-cracking assassin and Reynolds nails it well, almost getting you to wish he could take that character to other places … I loved Brian Cox as Stryker in X-Men 2 and Huston does the role justice in continuing the character’s clinical and driven quest to address the mutant problem.
Sure there were flaws – aspects of the ending seemed a bit pointless, Weapon 11 although well conceived, didn’t translate that well to the screen, especially when his identity is revealed. For the comic buffs who have an idea about the link between that and another familiar comic character, the route taken was all the more disappointing. Also the credits and post-credits scenes don’t elicit that much interest or excitement at all, which defeats the point of having them. Worth noting in passing the appearance of Scott Summers (Tim Pocock) later to be Cyclops – just to say that he probably had just as much screen time and importance in this film as he did in the previous three X-Men films!
For the action scenes and interesting storyline, there is something understated about this film. It doesn’t have the same impact as the other big name origin stories mentioned previously. To some degree, especially with the underwhelming ending there appears to have been a missed opportunity to blow away the market with a compelling presentation of the character’s origins. Having said that, it’s not a poor film and is worth watching for its own merits.