Strange mutations

Wolverine’s backstory is wild and fun, if a little spottyWeb subhead

TESTING HIS TALONS<br>Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) takes his new metallic claws (and skeleton) for a test flight.

Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) takes his new metallic claws (and skeleton) for a test flight.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine
Starring Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber and Danny Huston. Directed by Gavin Hood. Feather River Cinemas, Paradise Cinema 7 and Tinseltown. Rated PG-13.
Rated 3.0

I love X-Men. Not as much as my wife does, I was surprised to learn Saturday night (apparently she has near-encyclopedic knowledge of the comic books—whoa!), but I’ve seen each of the first three films multiple times and have a pretty good grasp of the mythology Marvel has woven on the big screen.

The new film, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, is the first in a group of prequels. It fleshes out a backstory that the initial movie only hints at, via scattered flashbacks: the evolution of the dog-tag-wearing, quick-healing, Adamantium-clawed lone wolf.

Turns out in his past he wasn’t so alone. Logan, a.k.a. Jimmy (full name: James Logan), was born before the Civil War into a household including a boy a couple years older with long nails and an intense disposition. One traumatic evening, Jimmy not only finds out that the man he’d been calling “Father” isn’t and that the aforementioned Victor Creed is actually his half-brother, he also has a set of sharp hand bones that protrude when he’s angry.

Jimmy and Victor flee, finding refuge in the military, where their particular talents (i.e. ferocity and immortality) make them an asset. They cut a swath through war after war, culminating in Vietnam, where the brothers-in-arms have different views on how battle should be waged.

All this takes place in about 10 minutes of movie time. A lot more happens after the opening credits.

The challenge with any origin story—see Star Wars: Episodes I-III—is getting to the foregone conclusions in an interesting way that doesn’t contradict what the audience already knows. Regardless of how hairy the situation, we know Jimmy/Logan/Wolverine (again played by Hugh Jackman) will make it into the 21st century, as will Victor/Sabretooth (Liev Schreiber) and young Col. William Stryker (Danny Huston, sounding eerily like X-2’s, Stryker, Brian Cox).

More from the Wolverine lore: We know we’ll see an invasive procedure. We know we’ll visit the secret facility at Alkali Lake. We know serious amnesia is a-comin’.

Still, David Benioff and Skip Woods pack a lot of twists and turns into their screenplay. Some are obvious; some legitimately surprise, in keeping with the writer-director Bryan Singer’s 2000 series starter. Director Gavin Hood (Tsosti, Rendition) likewise stays true to the original with a look, feel and action that are all on point.

There’s only one problem … something that knocked the movie down a popcorn point in this finicky fan’s estimation.

Sabretooth is not new to the film franchise. He appears in the initial X-Men, played by Taylor Mane, with a golden monochrome and a roar instead of words. Victor Creed isn’t a blond; he’s a dark brunet. He’d be more than 150 years old by the time he meets arch-villain Magneto, with over a century of life experience up on his future boss. Unless he gets a lobotomy and bleach job in X-Men Origins: Magneto, it just doesn’t make sense that such a formidable mutant would get so emasculated.

Splitting hairs? Maybe. But when you’re married to a woman who thinks Gambit got robbed of screen time and is still annoyed that Rogue is younger than in the comics, fine points matter.

The average moviegoer will probably find X-Men Origins: Wolverine worthy of 4 stars. I’ll stick with my 3 stars but won’t begrudge anyone their joy.