There's a fun movie hiding inside X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but unfortunately no one manages to coax it out of its shell, not director Gavin Hood, not writers David Benioff and Skip Woods, not even star Hugh Jackman. If anybody comes closest, it's certainly Jackman, all admirable growls and likeable tough-guy sarcasm. The problem is that the movie is at once too much and too little; too much is going on to distract you from how little is really happening.
Let me explain. This is the first of a planned series of prequels to the three movies based on Marvel's Mighty Mutants and it delves deeper into the backstory of their most famous mutant: Wolverine (Jackman). The character wasn't always an amnesiac cigar-chomping badass with Adamantium claws. In fact, the movie's story hews closely to that of the comics, in which we learn that Wolverine starts out life as a timid kid in the 19th century named James Howlett. One night, his father is killed by a man who turns out to be his real dad, so Jimmy shows some early onset berserker rage by popping some bone claws out of his hands and killing the guy.
James and his brother Victor (played as a grown-up by the always worthwhile Liev Schreiber) run from home, and fight as soldiers in everything from the Civil War to Vietnam. Eventually, when it's learned that the two have special powers — Victor too is a mutant, leaping about with tiger-like ferocity — Col. William Striker (Danny Huston) comes calling, offering them spots on a special ops mutant team. Attentive viewers will remember that Stryker was the villain in X2, and thus will not die or do anything we hadn't already sort of figured out in this prequel.