Whatever my personal opinion of Wolverine, I hope it makes a mint. Karma certainly owes it after the online piracy debacle it's had to go through. The sympathy engendered by that dilemma also makes it easier to forgive the film's flaws--that and the fact that it loves and respects these characters as much as the fans do. Strictly speaking, it's a mess… but an entertaining and heartfelt mess to be sure.
It works because director Gavin Hood and star Hugh Jackman never compromise their central figures. The tale of James Howlett AKA Logan AKA Wolverine fills in the first period of his life, from his early days as a gentle child in 19th century Alberta through 135 years of violence and death accompanied by his older half-brother Victor Creed (Liev Shreiber). They're both special, of course: gifted with remarkable healing powers and eternal youth, along with bony claws and a barely suppressed rage that sends them headlong into war after war. Initially, Victor takes the lead, with Logan happy to play back-up. But as the decades roll past, the elder's bloodlust becomes overwhelming, leading the younger to start looking for other options. When they're recruited by the devious William Stryker (Danny Huston) to join a "special team," it eventually becomes the breaking point which sets them against each other.
Hood develops their dynamic marvelously, aided by Shreiber's gift for ominous understatement and Jackman's intimate knowledge of the figure that made him a star. The best moments in Wolverine display utter devotion to their personalities: the thousand little quirks and foibles which make them so endearing. The film shows equal respect for the myriad other members of the X-Men universe, from Dominic Monaghan's sad-sack Bolt to Taylor Kitsch's insouciant Gambit. ("Are you Remy Lebeau?" Logan asks him at one point. "Do I owe you money?" is the reply.) A few shaky performances crop up here and there--Will.i.am, in particular, could use some practice--but the best of them show a depth and complexity that rarely appears in summer movies. Comic book fans always understood such shades of gray, of course--which lend darkness to the heroes and nuance to the villains--and the likes of Watchmen and The Dark Knight have made them an absolute necessity in these endeavors.
Not that Wolverine is anywhere close to those films, of course. But nevertheless, Hood adds an undeniable energy to the copious action sequences, delivering a level of raw grit and ferocity unseen in the X-Men movies before now. In that sense, his presence here is an excellent call, lending a freshness to the proceedings missing from Brett Ratner's X-Men: The Last Stand. That helps carry it through some less-than-sterling technical elements. The visual effects, in particular, leave something to be desired and tend to advertise unexpected twists with their prominence (do your best to ignore the green screen behind certain figures). Hood makes up for it with sheer enthusiasm, but it's an uphill climb sometimes.
More distressing is the film's apparent disregard for the bigger picture. Plot holes gape as wide as the Grand Canyon, and while the film clearly wishes to fit neatly into the continuity established by the X-Men trilogy, it requires jumps in logic that may prove insurmountable to some. (I basically had to pretend that Shreiber's Creed and Tyler Mane's Sabretooth were two different people.) The climax hinges around a definitive historic event, which is neat in a passing way, but further complicates an already untenable timeline. ("Okay, if this is 1979 and Cyclops is in high school, that sets the first film's 'not-too-distant future' at several years before its actual release…?") Don't try to think this one through too hard--you'll give yourself a Grade-A headache.
Thankfully, this is a summer movie, and thought is optional. As a throwaway bit of fun, Wolverine definitely passes muster, and while hard-core X-lovers may be put out by its various lapses, the loving presentation of such wonderful characters makes it easy to forgive (if not forget). Most fans think of these figures as old friends, whether from their long-ago childhood or the latest issue which just hit stands. Spending a few hours with them remains a palpable joy, no matter how sketchy or troubled the presentation. Jackman knows this character inside and out, and though it's ostensibly a one-man show, his fellow performers work hard to match him step for step. It might not be the best film of the summer, but it's earned a look… for its undeniable merits as much as its inescapable problems.
Click the thumbnails for Mania's gallery of over 20 images from the film.