Fox may have been robbed of box-office booty when a leaked workprint of X-Men Origins: Wolverine landed online last month, but the real victim of theft in this ordeal seems to have been the adamantium-clawed Canuck himself. Purists will surely bristle at the alterations made by Gavin Hood’s prequel to the origin story of feral Canadian mutant Logan (Hugh Jackman). Yet far more troubling than the specifics surrounding his transformation into the nearly indestructible Wolverine is the film’s fundamentally wishy-washy characterization of its protagonist, whose inherent animalism is oft-mentioned but never witnessed. In an attempt to pay lip service to his inner struggle with unseemly bestial instincts while simultaneously maintaining his unquestionable heroism, Wolverine turns its future X-Man into a blandly brooding bore too grumpy to be a prototypical do-gooder yet too noble to be a cold-blooded antihero.
Such indecisiveness is married to a more wide-ranging lack of imagination, as Hood expends so much time and energy on stuffing his narrative full of lame cameos of fan-favorite mutants—including wise-cracking assassin Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) and ragin’ Cajun Gambit (Taylor Kitsch)—that his combat centerpieces receive embarrassingly short shrift, and in the case of a boxing match between Wolverine and the Blob, also devolve into cartoonishness. With the exception of an adequate helicopter attack, the action is perfunctory and forgettable, albeit no more so than the script’s range of clichés, whether they be shots of Wolverine screaming in anguish to the heavens (employed three times!), stoically walking away from a fiery explosion, or standing shoulder-to-shoulder with his squadmates.
Once Wolverine escapes the fish tank where his former government employer General Stryker (a pleasantly menacing Danny Huston) has bonded his skeleton with unbreakable adamantium, Hood indulges in an interlude featuring Ma and Pa Kent photocopies that throws into sharp relief the film’s lack of identity. After rewriting numerous character backstories without any appreciable gain, most notably in the case of Wolverine’s antagonistic central relationship to bloodthirsty brother Victor Creed (Liev Schreiber), Hood concludes matters by interjecting some real-world history into his throwback proceedings by bizarrely positing Wolverine as responsible for the Three Mile Island disaster. The catastrophic capper is apt.