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Directed by: Gavin Hood
Cast: Hugh Jackman (Wolverine), Liev Schreiber (Victor Creed), Danny Huston (William Stryker), Ryan Reynolds (Wade Wilson)

X-Men Origins: Wolverine may be remembered more as a scandal than a screen experience. A notoriously leaked workprint turned it into a poster child for torrent download culture; a Hollywood flashpoint that coincided with the blocking of Pirate Bay in a number of countries. It also ensured a level of media chatter that this adequate but middling piece of superhero cinema could never have won on its own.

There’s a flutter of promise in the first reel. We see Wolverine on a black-ops mission in Lagos, a dank, dark jungle locale that delivers an invigorating new environment for this kind of fare. There’s bristling macho interplay and genuine wit, and for a brief, shining moment, you’re convinced this will play like a superhuman take on The Dirty Dozen. No such joy. We’re soon mired in a predictable tale of revenge; an escalating series of empty tragedies occurring to half-sketched characters that ultimately packs all the emotional resonance of a night on the Xbox.

Technically, it’s debatable as to whether this even qualifies as a Wolverine solo movie. The title anchors it to the established Marvel franchise, while the poster explicitly positions him as a team player, flanked by mutant co-stars. Liev Schreiber brings weapons-grade charisma to the talon-fingered Sabretooth (a strange retro-fit with the shaggy wrestler we saw in Bryan Singer’s X-Men), but the shameless parade of such four-colour faves as Gambit, Deadpool, Cyclops, the Blob, and Emma Frost, feels like sops to the fanboy faithful, an insurance policy to woo the geek vote. It’s just a shame that they feel like mere shadows of their comic book counterparts.

Arthouse helmer Gavin Hood summons some moments of beauty from his locations, but comes unstuck with the superheroics. The film also has an underbudgeted vibe – from the sets to Wolverine’s woeful claw FX – and there’s a perfunctory feel to the combat setpieces, including a climax atop the nuclear towers of Three Mile Island. Mix this with trite, declamatory dialogue and Hood’s tendency to reach for a vapid visual, and you have an aching mess of superficial bad-assery.

Ironically, there’s a glimpse of a truly great Wolverine movie tucked away in the title sequence. A Watchmen-styled montage showcases the claw-slashing immortal battling from the trenches of the Great War to the beaches of Normandy to the hell of ’Nam. It’s coiled, brutal, stylish, thrilling – and ultimately a mighty tease of the adventures you’d much rather be watching.

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