- The Washington Times - Friday, May 1, 2009

As in the other big comic-book movie of the year, “Watchmen,” the opening 20 minutes or so of “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” undeniably make up best portion of the movie — and, arguably, bordering on great.

The movie opens on a Canadian estate in the mid-1800s as a sickly young man and his friend come to grips with the fact that they are not like other kids. Half-brothers, both can grow claws — Jimmy’s from the backs of his hands; Victor’s from his nails — and both come to realize they have an exceptional healing power that instantly cures what ails them. They are mutants, and they must stick together if they are to survive.

We then embark on an epic title sequence: The brothers’ healing powers, unnaturally long lives and prickly personalities lend themselves to excellence on the battlefield. In a wordless, strikingly filmed montage, we see Victor (Liev Schreiber) and Logan (Hugh Jackman) go to war throughout the ages. Moving from the Civil War to World War I to World War II to Vietnam, the duo are shown doing battle side by side while also evolving along separate paths, with Victor tending toward sadism and Logan growing more and more weary of the war-torn life.

The sequence truly is amazing — a seamless, propulsive stream of action that takes time to show the cumulative effect of a century of unrelenting combat on a man’s soul. In these two comic-book characters, we see the duality of man at war, the tension between wanton bloodlust and the dawning realization that warfare is both necessary and terrible.

After Victor snaps during Vietnam and the pair are court-martialed, a Col. Stryker (Danny Huston) gives them the chance to join an elite squad of mutant soldiers. What follows is another fantastic action set piece, at the end of which Logan’s disgust finally outweighs his fraternal loyalty, and he walks out on the team. End act one.

Unfortunately, acts two and three aren’t nearly as good. The movie devolves into pretty standard action fare — boy meets girl, must avenge her death by bonding his skeleton to an indestructible metal, etc. — culminating in a battle that felt as if it had been ripped off of “Resident Evil: Apocalypse.” (But make sure to stick around through the end of the credits to see one of six secret teaser endings, filmed in the wake of the movie’s leak to file-sharing sites in order to give those who already saw the movie for free a reason to pop into the theater.)

As Logan, Mr. Jackman once again combines the natural pathos and humor of the character that has made him a fan favorite. Mr. Schreiber brings a sneering malevolence to Victor Creed that imbues the character with an impressively believable intensity.

The rest of the cast, unfortunately, is not nearly as good. Mr. Huston does little with Col. Stryker, falling far short of Brian Cox’s take on the character in “X2: X-Men United.” Though fun as the assassin Wade Wilson, Ryan Reynolds is pretty much wasted, given little in the way of screen time. The less said about the performances of Will.i.am and Lynn Collins as Logan’s compatriots, the better.

The special effects also are a mild disappointment: The green-screen work is obvious, and Wolverine’s metallic claws looked far more realistic in the first three entries of this franchise. Though well-choreographed, the action sequences simply don’t look as good as one would expect from a tent-pole summer release.

★★½

TITLE: “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”

RATING: PG-13 (Violence, intense sequences of action and some partial nudity)

CREDITS: Directed by Gavin Hood, written by David Benioff and Skip Woods

RUNNING TIME: 107 minutes

WEB SITE: http://www.x-menorigins.com/

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