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Originally published April 30, 2009 at 12:24 AM | Page modified April 30, 2009 at 12:00 PM

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Movie review

Without his pack of X-Men, Hugh Jackman is a lone "Wolverine"

"X-Men Origins: Wolverine" is amusing enough, but there's not a lot to get your claws into. Hugh Jackman and Liev Schreiber star in this serviceable summer action pic. Review by Seattle Times movie critic Moira Macdonald.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 2 stars

"X-Men Origins: Wolverine," with Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber, Danny Huston, Dominic Monaghan, Ryan Reynolds, Taylor Kitsch, Will.i.am, Lynn Collins. Directed by Gavin Hood, from a screenplay by David Benioff and Skip Woods. 107 minutes. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence, and some partial nudity. Several theaters, including some at midnight Thursday.

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The man with the claws is back, in a movie that feels as if it's been roughly manicured. Hugh Jackman, part of the ensemble cast for the first three "X-Men" movies (the first two were a lot of fun; the third somewhat less so), headlines "X-Men Origins: Wolverine." And while he's just fine, we've seen all the scowling and howling and standing-around-looking-tough-in-an-undershirt before; there's not much new in this performance, and not enough going on around it.

"X-Men" and "X2" were a kick because of the terrific actors director Bryan Singer recruited for the Marvel Comics characters, giving each time to shine. Ian McKellen's sly Magneto, Patrick Stewart's imperious Professor Xavier and Brian Cox's villainous Stryker (only in "X2") — all Royal Shakespeare Company veterans — chewed the scenery with glee; Wolverine's gruff yet gentle friendship with Anna Paquin's vulnerable Rogue seemed to complete him.

Without them sharing the screen, "Wolverine" feels a bit empty. Here, we're taken through Wolverine's background, learning about the horrifying process through which he got those adamantium claws, about his mysterious relationship with mutant brother Sabretooth (Liev Schreiber) and his doomed romance with Kayla Silverfox (Lynn Collins, who's photographed so prettily in the early scenes we know she's doomed ); and about his association with a covert military gang of mutants, orchestrated by Stryker (here played by Danny Huston), whose motivations are made clear only late in the film.

And, unfortunately, none of this is particularly compelling. David Benioff and Skip Woods' screenplay is more like an excuse for action sequences than a story, and director Gavin Hood ("Tsotsi") can't do much to make it sing. There's a lot of focus on the fingernails (Sabretooth's are nastily greenish, and effective for carving scary smiley-faces into bar counters — has he been reading "Watchmen"?), and the stunts, and of course on Jackman's absurdly sculpted torso, which has to carry more of the movie than any body part should.

Wolverine has long been established in this franchise as a mysterious, brooding fellow of relatively few words. And while "Wolverine" brings us a few new reasons to understand his dark nature, he's still a mysterious, brooding fellow who doesn't change much in the course of the movie. Jackman is an actor of real charm who here rarely gets to show it (he did in the previous movies, with Paquin) — the few attempts at humor are heavy-handed, and the romance with Collins' character is downright sappy.

As a popcorn movie, "Wolverine" isn't a disaster: The action sequences are lively (particularly one featuring the immortal line "Nobody kills you but me"); some of the supporting characters, including a diamond-skinned mutant who could show a thing or two to the glittery Edward of "Twilight," are intriguing, and who doesn't love watching the way Jackman's hair acquires more volume as Wolverine slashes away at his nemeses? But perhaps this was the wrong X-Man to command an entire movie. Somebody find Jackman a role in which he gets to smile, and wake me up when Ian McKellen's back to terrorizing the X-world.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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