X Marks the Spot

X-Men Origins: Wolverine (In Theatres)

It’s 1845. Young Jimmy’s father is murdered. Jimmy sprouts claws and kills the drunk who did the deed! Only, as this second dude dies, he wheezes “I’m your real father.” It’s all too oedipal, so Jimmy takes off. Loyal brother Victor chases him down. They snarl through a montage of popular wars and voila, Jimmy and Victor are Wolverine and Sabretooth! Cue angst!

This opening fits. X-Men: Origins isn’t an allegory about misfits and minority rights, or a critique of fundamentalist culture. It’s a film about brothers at odds.

Well, kind of.

The pacing stops and starts, turns left, pulls over, then heads back the way it came. The plot is a cubist nightmare. The movie is more bloated than The Blob, and jumpier than Teleporting Virtuous Black Guy, Logan’s sidekick for, oh, six minutes or so.

But back to the brothers.

Wolverine has metal claws. Sabretooth has, uh, a wicked manicure. And much like the boy named Sue, Sabretooth compensates by being a big jerk. Both members of an elite military unit of mutants. The bros head to Africa to kick ass with moral dubiousness and style. Yet under Wolverine’s hairy pectorals beats a merciful heart, and inevitably the immortal pair parts. Logan settles down to a quiet life, cuttin’ trees and lovin’ his woman, but six years later Sabretooth is on a serial-killer spree, offing former comrades. Except really he’s collecting DNA so Stryker, the squad’s leader, can bioengineer a kind of Swiss Army Knife mutant.

It’s as dumb as it sounds.

Anyone with a brother will recognize Sabretooth’s line, “no one’s allowed to kill you but me,” but the film’s such a muddle, it’s hard to understand the brother-killing mania.

Combine that with Stryker’s inconsistency, and things break down completely. Trick Wolverine into an agonizing procedure to make him “invincible” then try to wipe his memory after it’s complete? Adamantium bullets: the way to kill Wolverine, or amnesia pills administered via the forehead?

The acting isn’t the problem. Hugh Jackman is charismatic, but isn’t allowed to do much but brood and shout “noooo!” as the camera pulls away—which happens four times. Liev Schrieber is satisfyingly menacing and smirky. Ryan Reynolds is way cute. Lynn Collins adds grace to clunky dialogue.

Still, X-Men Origins: Wolverine suffers from schizophrenia of purpose. It’s trying to be a film about brothers, but also tries to be a film about prejudice, love, the military-industrial complex… did I leave anything out? The best way to enjoy this movie is to sit back and enjoy the acrobatic fights, the naked Hugh Jackman, and the best nuclear powerplant destruction sequence ever conceived (spiraling eye lasers, need I say more?)

Michael Collins