Prickly mutant loses his edge

Hugh Jackman is Wolverine and Liev Schreiber is his fierce and feral brother Sabretooth. The two are recruited by Col. William Stryker to join Team X, a covert military squad made up of mutants.
Hugh Jackman is Wolverine and Liev Schreiber is his fierce and feral brother Sabretooth. The two are recruited by Col. William Stryker to join Team X, a covert military squad made up of mutants.
Posted: May 01, 2009

Remember the Monty Python "Lumberjack Song," the one that goes, "I'm a lumberjack and I'm OK, I sleep all night, and I work all day."

Well, at a pivotal point in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Hugh Jackman's Logan - the brooding dude with the retractable talons, anabolic musculature, and modified Amish beard - is living in the Canadian Rockies. He has a chainsaw and an ax, chops trees for a living, and shares his cabin with a lovely schoolteacher (Lynn Collins). He's a lumberjack, and he's OK.

Except that he's also an invincible mutant who has been alive since the 1840s, is a veteran of the Civil War, World War I, World War II and Vietnam. And now a sinister Army colonel wants him back in the fold so he can fuse Logan's bones with adamantium - a unique metal alloy. (Named for that 1980s Brit-pop phenom Adam Ant? Just asking.)

In X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the cigar-chomping loner hero of the X-Men megahits is forced to give up his deforestation gig and come to terms with the ferocious animal buried in his soul. More than once, the cameras of director Gavin Hood's Wolverine swoop above Jackman so as to better capture the actor as he tilts his head skyward and gives a mighty roar - his veins popping and his biceps bulging as he rages at the cruelty of it all.

And cruelty it is - for him, and a little bit for us, too: A mash-up of meaningless combat sequences (meaningless because Logan/Wolverine is just about unstoppable), sub-par visual effects, template backstory, and some goofy Liev Schreiber-as-a-villain thespianizing, Wolverine falls into the origin-story trap that only Iron Man, of recent superhero screen projects, deftly maneuvered around. That is, how the hero acquired his special powers turns out to be a whole lot less interesting than what he does with them, and how he (or she) copes with being a freak.

Speaking of Schreiber, he's Victor Creed, a.k.a. Sabretooth, Logan's fierce and feral brother. Victor has embraced his predatory animal self without hesitation - or conscience - making him even deadlier and more dangerous than his sibling. Beclawed and befanged, he's one nasty-looking dude, and Schreiber gives it his crazy-eyed all.

As X-Men Origins: Wolverine begins, Sabretooth and Wolverine have been recruited by Col. William Stryker (Danny Huston) to join a "special team with special privileges" - Team X, a covert military squad made up of mutants. They are: Wade Wilson, a.k.a. Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds), a sword-wielding jabbermouth; Agent Zero (Daniel Henney), a pistol-packing acrobatic ninja; the teleporting John Wraith (Will.i.am); the super-strong, super-fat Fred J. Dukes, a.k.a. the Blob (Kevin Durand); and Bradley (Dominic Monaghan), who can manipulate electricity.

Team X flies off on a stealth mission to Nigeria. Violence and ugliness ensue, and Logan declares he's had enough - walking into the jungle and emerging as the happy lumberjack high on the hilltop with the lovely Kayla Silverfox (Collins) at his side.

Judging by the clothes, the cars, and the weaponry, Wolverine is set in the 1970s and '80s, but it's a generic sort of recent past, not the ultra-specific and hallucinogenic pulp ugliness of Watchmen's Nixonian period piece.

As for Jackman, he scowls and growls, clenches his fists and goes through his action-pose routine with a straight face and a moral heaviness. There's little of the seen-it-all, wise-guy acerbity that made his character in the X-Men trilogy stand apart from his fellow mutants. Here, he just glowers.


Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://go.philly.com/onmovies.

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