The question I am asked most often at this time of year “ besides “What’s your phone number, handsome?” “ is “When are the good movies gonna start opening?” In this case, “good” means “summer blockbusters,” and the answer is “last Friday.”
The movie is “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” which won’t mean much to you if you haven’t followed the “X-Men” series. The X-Men are mutants with extraordinary powers far beyond those of mortal men. Wait “ that’s Superman. Wrong comic book.
The most popular of the X-Men is Logan, whose nom de superhero is Wolverine (Hugh Jackman, “Australia”). In this prequel, we discover his back story. He was born in what is now Canada in the early 19th century, with the mutant ability to push long bone blades out between his knuckles. His brother, Victor (Liev Schreiber, “Defiance”), has abilities that are harder to pin down. In fact, excuse me a minute while I go to Wikipedia to find out what they are. Chat among yourselves. Pause.
OK, I’m back. Apparently, “Sabretooth is a mutant who possesses bestial superhuman physical abilities, most notably a rapid healing factor, razor-sharp fangs and claws, and superhuman senses. He is a vicious assassin responsible for numerous deaths both as a paid mercenary and for his personal pleasure.” All these elements are included in the film, but they are not explained or emphasized for non-Marvel Comics fanboys.
After a century of fighting wars (Civil, WWI, WWII, Vietnam), Logan has had enough. He leaves a unit of mutants, including Sabretooth, led by Col. Stryker (Danny Huston, “30 Days of Night”) to return to Canada and lead a normal life with his schoolteacher girlfriend (Lynn Collins, TV’s “True Blood”). Six years later, Stryker comes looking for Logan because someone is killing off the members of their old mutant platoon, a team that featured Dominic Monaghan (TV’s “Lost”) as Bolt, Ryan Reynolds (“Adventureland”) as Deadpool, and will.i.am (of pop group The Black Eyed Peas) as John Wraith.
In order to defeat this supervillain, Logan undergoes a procedure that fills his body with an element from outer space called adamantium. With this stuff in his system, he can now force long, shiny, sharp, indestructible metal blades from between his knuckles. Combined with his incredible healing power, Logan has become Wolverine “ one kick-ass mutant.
He discovers that mutants of all kinds are being kidnapped and taken to “the island,” where they vanish forever. What’s the real plot if it isn’t just to eliminate the warrior mutants? He learns that a card-carrying mutant named Gambit (Taylor Kitsch, TV’s “Friday Night Lights”) previously had escaped from the island, so the two of them team up. This happens after the first guy Wolverine teamed up with is killed. Team-ups occur with superheroes as often as they do with professional wrestlers, and usually with the same unfortunate results.
The film is as dark and brooding as the recent Batman adventures, and yet, it is a lot more fun. I think that’s because Schreiber doesn’t take his villain as seriously as Heath Ledger took The Joker. While The Joker was grade-A psychotic, as a killer would be in a non-comic-book film, Sabretooth is pure comics. He’s a horrible creature, but he’s fun at the same time. This is a comic-book picture you can believe in while you watch it, but then laugh about later.
Jackman is a terrific Wolverine. He’s a good actor and while he doesn’t give you the old wink-wink-nudge-nudge, turning his performance into an inside joke, you sense that he digs the melodrama, the odd hair and the gnawed-on cigars “ those character elements and props out of which British-trained actors get so much mileage.
Yes, there’s an uncredited surprise cameo from the Marvel universe, and a brief scene that follows the end credits. In fact, there may be more than one, depending on which print of the film you see. That’s the rumor, anyway.
With a script by novelist David Benioff (“The Kite Runner”) and Skip Woods (“Hitman”), and direction by Gavin Hood (“Rendition”), “Wolverine” is a fine way to begin the summer blockbuster season. It’s good enough to make the ticket price acceptable, but not so good enough it’ll make everything else you see this summer look bad by comparison.
As my son said when the 20th Century Fox logo lit up the screen, “Here we go.”