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Movie Review

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

Animal magnetism:Jackman is the X factor as 'Wolverine' tells back story of metal-infused mutant

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By Wesley Morris
Globe Staff / May 1, 2009
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Hello, police? Come quick! A naked man just leapt over a fake-looking waterfall.

Describe him? I don't know. Bee Gees hair. Clint Eastwood scowl. Zero-percent body fat. And a metal endoskeleton that would make him hell to stand behind at airport security. I think he just hosted the Oscars.

This naked man - known the world over as Hugh Jackman - is slogging his way through "X-Men Origins: Wolverine." I can't say why this movie is necessary, but here it is, all 107 minutes and $10 gazillion of it.

As the title implies, the movie presents the X-Men's most volatile mutant's early years, when he was neither the mysterious Logan nor lawless Wolverine but the virtually indestructible, apparently immortal James Howlett.

This is big news for those dying to see actual bone spiking from James's knuckles instead of the claws made of the strange substance (adamantium) the government injected along his skeletal system in a cruel military experiment.

There is Wolverine trivia. Did you know, for instance, that he fought in the Civil War, the two World Wars, and Vietnam? (There's a montage for your enlightenment.) He did so alongside his more heartless brother, Victor (Liev Schreiber). When James walks out on Victor and the band of assassins doing covert military work for the rogue general Stryker (Danny Huston), Victor tracks him down in the Pacific Northwest, where he's been living as a civilian logger named Logan. He kills Logan's dewy ladylove (Lynn Collins), and draws him into Ye Olde Hunt for Revenge, which culminates in an entertaining showdown on the lip of a nuclear reactor.

"Wolverine" feels enslaved to its many masters - Marvel Comics, Hollywood, and the young men who devour their products - never sidestepping the déjà vu it inspires. I've seen this movie before, and it's not because my barber hooked me up with a leaked DVD, although there is that. It's partly a matter of having seen this character struggle with his origins in three previous X-Men movies, one of which gave us a comprehensive explanation in blips of flashback.

Often it seemed that the comic's original collection of writers were unsure of who Wolverine was or how he came to be. I spent many hours as a boy trying to figure out what the deal was with this guy. Whatever his back story, he was an intriguing character - nasty, vicious, bitter, dangerous, and, in his own way, sexy.

In Bryan Singer's 2000 "X-Men," Jackman captured all of that, in star-making fashion. We would never really know Logan - he wouldn't let us. But we wanted to know more about Jackman. Nothing he's done in the movies since has been as interesting or believably intense. His stage and emcee work suggests he's a more thrilling showman than action figure.

Inside an ensemble, Jackman had other people to chafe. On his own, at least here, he's just another physical specimen in a movie that doesn't have nearly as many ideas - visually or thematically - as anything in the "X-Men" trilogy. In "Wolverine," his exasperated, give-me-a-break moments are his best - they're certainly the most relatable. Otherwise, there's not much for Jackman to do opposite Schreiber, Huston, or Ryan Reynolds, who's put to comically bad use playing what appears to be the same part he had in the last "Blade" movie - the smarty-pants who appears to eat shoulder-presses for breakfast.

Director Gavin Hood ("Tsotsi," "Rendition") likes shot-making you can get from a kit - the wounded screaming at the sky as the camera sails heavenward, say, or the hero walking sternly, slowly out of the frame while something burns extravagantly behind him.

Advances in personal training and dietary supplements may have brought actors closer than ever to comic-book physiques. But movies based on comic books require a visionary at least equal to the one that made such vivid worlds of the books themselves. May future "Wolverine" installments feature moviemaking as steroidal as some of the bodies.

Wesley Morris can be reached at wmorris@globe.com. For more on movies, go to www.boston.com/movienation.

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X-MEN ORIGINS: Wolverine Directed by: Gavin Hood

Written by: David Benioff and Skip Woods

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber, Danny Huston, Lynn Collins, and Ryan Reynolds

At: Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs

Running time: 107 minutes

Rated: PG-13 (intense sequences of action and violence, and some partial nudity)