The success of "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" hinged largely on one question: Was it better than the third X-Men film? I am choosing to pretend I don't know the title of said X-Men film; it really doesn't deserve to have its name in print.
The third X-Men flick was awful. Storylines got twisted around and regurgitated in such fashion that the filmmakers seemed to forget what they were supposed to be basing the movie on. In fact, the filmmaker is likely the reason the third X-Men film fell off the beautiful bridge the first two movies had constructed. Bryan Singer, director of both "X-Men" and "X2", chose to do the Superman film in 2006 so Brett Ratner was called upon.
Ratner then proceeded to demolish all the promise Singer had put together over two very good films.
"Wolverine" is a prequel of sorts, a film that explores the origins of James Logan, aka Wolverine (Hugh Jackman). Directing duties, thankfully, were not given back to Ratner, but rather to Gavin Hood. Hood had me hooked within the first 90 seconds.
While the overall tone of "Wolverine" is probably darker than either "X-Men" or "X2," it is immediately apparent that Hood has created a film much more of the ilk of Singer's work than Ratner's. The words that should come to mind here are "thank God!"
Hood begins "Wolverine" by showing us James Logan as a boy. Don't be confused by the year (1800s); James ages much more slowly than we non-mutants. Our first glimpse of Wolverine, then, is that of a sickly, bedridden child. In the room with James are his father and his friend Victor. James' father hears a voice from downstairs and glances at Victor, "Your father is drunk again, Victor." But Victor just stares back and replies, "It's not my name he's yelling."
With that, James' father is up in a flash and leaves the room to see what the shouting is about. Victor follows. Young James sits frightened in his bed until he hears gunshots. What he sees downstairs (Victor's father holding a gun, James' father shot and dying) pushes James over the edge.
And out come the claws of bone from his hands. He gets quick vengeance on Victor's father only to find out seconds later that Victor's father is in fact his own. So what's the count? Two dead men, and two freakish boys who have just discovered they're brothers.
This is only the beginning, of course. Over the rest of the film, written quite effectively by David Benioff and Skip Woods, Victor (Liev Schreiber) and James are split apart on account of the fact that Victor is a psychopath. Eventually, they become Sabretooth and Wolverine. It's a rivalry rooted in blood, literally.
Hood's work loses a little bit of steam, as big action films often do, in its final act when things get a little over-the-top (yes, even for X-Men). On the whole, however, "Wolverine" is everything Brett Ratner's effort was not. I would hope Hood wrote Jackman a nice thank-you note, too, as I'm not sure anyone else on the planet could pull off Wolverine quite like he does. Jackman's Wolverine is a deep, conflicted man in obvious emotional pain while simultaneously unquestionably lethal and tough. More than once I found myself marveling (get it?) at Jackman's performance.
Last thing: there are three bonus scenes after the final credits. I hope, for your sake, you get the one involving Ryan Reynolds' Deadpool (spin-off alert!) and not the pointless one I saw.
Sleep easy, Marvel universe. The franchise is back on track!