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A Fine Mess: Wolverine Goes Solo

Perhaps I was spoiled. My induction into the world of X-Men mythology came courtesy of Bryan Singer’s X2, which remains on the short list of the most brilliantly realized comic-book adaptations ever made. Surprisingly sophisticated, Singer’s parting gift to the franchise deftly juggled a teeming cast of exotic mutants and made them relatable without seeming tediously awed by their superpowers.

If X2 played fast and loose with Stan Lee’s source material, I couldn’t have cared less. I might have said the same for X-Men Origins: Wolverine, if not for frequent lapses in the movie’s internal logic. The fast-paced and often confusing adventure that unfolds on screen is, I suspect, a gross simplification of Lee’s original narrative, but entertaining enough to outshine Brett Ratner’s X-Men: The Last Stand.

What we learn: Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), a mutant with superhuman strength and healing powers to complement his razor-sharp retractable claws, escaped a troubled childhood mostly unscathed and enlisted in the military. With his brother and fellow mutant Victor (Liev Schreiber) by his side, he distinguished himself through a series of campaigns, beginning with the Civil War and ending with an ill-fated tour in Vietnam.

From there, he travels down a treacherous path, allying himself with insidious army colonel William Stryker (Danny Huston) and his merry band of mutant pranksters, who take on the kind of missions most governments prefer to keep off the books. Wolverine – better known as Logan in those days – comes to his senses soon enough, retiring to the quiet life of a lumberjack in the Canadian Rockies with his adoring girlfriend (Lynn Collins). But the inescapable past is never far from his rearview.

The rest of his strange, silly story I will not reveal here, except to say that betrayals abound, leaving our hero ensnared in a government plot to engineer an invincible mutant and none too happy about it. The resulting mayhem is impressively staged, and it’s easy to appreciate the movie for moments at a time, even when those moments don’t add up. Pause to consider the motivations behind the fireworks and you’ll find holes big enough to drive the entire plot through.

That’s not likely to deter many moviegoers this weekend, and it’s not meant to – Wolverine is big, dumb fun, a popcorn movie if ever there was one. And it’s probably the only movie this summer to feature a superhero (played by Taylor Kitsch, of NBC’s Friday Night Lights) whose most dazzling talent seems to be shuffling a deck of cards.