A Watchmen-esque fall from a huge opening weekend will likely be the fate of X-Men Origins: Beefcake. Er, I mean Wolverine. Sorry—it’s just that the amount of muscle on display is the film’s most remarkable aspect, unless you count how unforgivably dull it is.
Neither Hugh Jackman’s eyebrow-acting nor his near-bursting biceps can redeem the first movie of the X-Men franchise to focus on a single character’s origin story. Perhaps that’s because screenwriters David Benioff (The Kite Runner, 25th Hour) and Skip Woods (aha! Swordfish, Hitman) interpreted “focus” rather loosely: Wolverine may indeed explain how the title character got his adamantium slicers, but a gang of mutants obfuscates the plot, a problem that bogged down the first X-Men in 2000 and is even more of a drag here.
The script spans more than a century, starting in 1845, when Wolverine/Logan (Jackman) is still a sickly kid named James (Troye Sivan) about to discover that toothpicks emerge from his knuckles whenever he gets angry. James also finds out that the guy he called Dad wasn’t his real one, that and his friend Victor (Michael-James Olsen) is really his brother. Victor is also a mutant known as Sabretooth (Liev Schreiber as an adult), and over the course of the film’s prologue, he and Logan will go on to fight in and survive every war from the Civil War through Vietnam. Eventually they’re recruited by Col. William Stryker (Danny Huston) to join a group of politically active strong-arms that includes Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds, who’s surprisingly buff) and Wraith (Will.i.am, who’s surprisingly short).
Years later—keeping up?—Logan has ditched the gig and is happily domesticated in the Canadian Rockies, working as a lumberjack and living with a teacher, Kayla (Lynn Collins). Stryker shows up; Sabretooth shows up. There’s something about a rogue mutant (though not, in fact, Rogue) killing their own. (Again, Watchmen, anyone?) Then Kayla is killed, and it’s on. An adamantium skeleton will help Logan avenge her death? Then bring it!
At this point, the film becomes a crescendoing series of rrrarh!s (roared with arms askance) and nooooooo!s (bellowed with heads thrown back). Wolverine and Sabretooth fight each other about a billion times. (Schreiber is essentially reprising his evil-bro Defiance role, if the Holocaust survivor were instead a killer cat.) When Wolverine isn’t snarling from apparent ’roid rage, he’s arching his brow to prove that even with claws sheathed, he’s still a badass. And when the scripters decide to steal from Superman for a change, he shows up naked on an elderly couple’s farm, having run from Stryker’s lab.
It’s all a lot of bluster, with effects that aren’t so wow-inducing that they make up for the lack of a clear—or interesting—story line. The appeal of the X-Men, as with all superheroes, is their otherness, and whether each will struggle against his power or decide to embrace it. Logan opts out of the lifestyle for a while and only returns for the sake of revenge, but we don’t really see his essence tormenting him—or its discovery empowering him, which is what makes the previous installments’ focus on a school for mutant teens such fun. Fun, apparently, was never meant to be a part of Wolverine. After a while, even the brawn gets boring.