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Stalked in the Forest, Too Close to Hide

MOVIE REVIEW
X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)

XMOW-254
Michael Muller/20th Century Fox

It’s fair to question whether the “X-Men” cinematic franchise would be remotely viable were it not for the presence of Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, its bad-ass centerpiece and seemingly the only mutant more prone to kicking butt than moping. He oozes charisma in the role, snarling and pounding away at his enemies with gusto while projecting wells of anger sprung forth from deep, hidden pain.

So it’s perfectly logical that he’d serve as the focal point of “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” the first spin-off. The film, directed by Gavin Hood from a screenplay by David Benioff and Skip Woods, reveals the tumultuous, century-spanning back story that led Wolverine (née James Logan) to Prof. Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and his team. It begins with the defining traumatic event of his childhood, spans the major American wars, incorporates his brief time working on an illicit operation spearheaded by William Stryker (Danny Huston) and culminates with his quest for blood years later, after Victor Creed/Sabertooth (Liev Schreiber) murders Kayla Silverfox (Lynn Collins).

The film incorporates a rather pedestrian narrative, sending Wolverine on a halfhearted trail of revenge that requires ample doses of brawn and precious few of brains. Sabertooth shows up to rumble so many times that you begin to wonder if Wolverine’s been implanted with some sort of honing device. Stryker is an everyday power-hungry military figure, albeit one portrayed with Mr. Huston’s characteristically cerebral affect. In general, the characters speak with the sort of laughably rigid, formalist style characteristic of the earnest comic book adaptations of the past, not their more realistically-oriented recent counterparts.

It is, therefore, hard to take any of the picture seriously; but as a simpleminded summer spectacle, one couldn’t ask for much more. Mr. Hood, of “Tsotsi” and “Rendition” (relative) fame, imbues the action scenes with the requisite kinesis while he lends the film some epic scope, incorporating impressively scaled long shots of our hero leaping naked into a waterfall, or driving through the green expanse of the Alberta countryside.

But the film really flies thanks to the longstanding synergy between Mr. Jackman, a gifted showman, and the character that has defined his career. Wolverine, a hulking mass of physicality who behaves entirely as his emotions dictate, is the perfect figure for such a primal performer to embody. In this origin story, from the first frame to the last, Mr. Jackman generates the pathos required for us to understand the lifetime of pain and suffering that turned the man into the beast.

X-MEN ORIGINS

Wolverine

Opens on May 1 in the United States and on April 29 in Britain.

Directed by Gavin Hood; written by David Benioff and Skip Woods; director of photography, Donald M. McAlpine; edited by Nicolas De Toth and Megan Gill; music by Harry Gregson-Williams; production designer, Barry Robison; produced by Lauren Shuler Donner, Ralph Winter, Hugh Jackman and John Palermo; released by 20th Century Fox. Running time: 1 hour 48 minutes. This film is rated PG-13 by the M.P.A.A. and 12A by B.B.F.C.

WITH: Hugh Jackman (Logan/Wolverine), Liev Schreiber (Victor Creed), Danny Huston (Stryker), will.i.am (John Wraith), Lynn Collins (Kayla Silverfox), Kevin Durand (Fred Dukes), Dominic Monaghan (Bradley), Taylor Kitsch (Remy LeBeau), Daniel Henney (Agent Zero) and Ryan Reynolds (Wade Wilson).

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