Is there any phrase in contemporary movie parlance duller and more deadening than "origin story"? Here are two words that speak of a deep-rooted pedantry within the comic-book fraternity. The true exhilaration of these latter-day fairytales surely resides in what their constituent superheroes could do - their potential - rather than what they've already done; the cynical-minded cash-ins that have resulted, literally backward-looking entertainments, serve merely to plug in some very specialist knowledge, to patch a hole in the universal anorak. For those who really need to find out such things, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the first in a planned series, does at least explain why Hugh Jackman's hirsute action man John Logan appears so bloody grumpy all the time: you'd be in a permanent strop, too, if you found yourself on every battleground from Gettysburg to Omaha Beach, having to chaperone a brother (Liev Schreiber) who shows every sign of going over to the dark side.
I feel increasingly sorry for Jackman. No matter his heroics elsewhere - reanimating Nicole Kidman in the course of Baz Luhrmann's Australia, trouping his way through the Academy Award ceremony - he's destined to go down in movie history for growing Alvin Stardust sideburns and strapping on a pair of (here, ropily virtual) adamantium talons. In what's supposed to be his own standalone movie, Wolverine keeps being outshone by altogether more vivid turns, not least from Lost's Dominic Monaghan as a psychokineticist who comes to a sad end in a trailer full of old toys, and Ryan Reynolds as a swordsman so gifted he can slice bullets in two even as they're headed towards him; there's also the rare sight of Schreiber enjoying himself for Jackman to contend with, while I suspect more than a few pairs of Spider-Man underpants will be moistened at the arrival of cardsharp Gambit (Taylor Kitsch) somewhere around the midpoint.
Any sense of peril, though, ebbs away, purged by the fact that - as in previous instalments of this franchise - there are so many diverse and varied superpowers being placed on display: an X-Man for all seasons, if you will. Every conceivable foreign and domestic eventuality is covered: having survived Vietnam without incurring so much as a scratch, Logan's most pressing concern becomes the quantity of bed linen he nightly shreds. And since we know big bad Danny Huston will grow up to become big bad Brian Cox in the X-Men movies proper, the pay-off has to be deferred elsewhere. Arriving a week ahead of a no less back-to-basics Star Trek, Wolverine is intended as the opening blast of the summer blockbuster season, and yet it's never more than functionally spectacular, moving us from point A to point B in the universe of X. Early on, Schreiber is asked to describe the sensation of having a firing squad's bullets bounce off his genetically fortified form. For all Wolverine's expensively heavy artillery, his response rather sums up the whole: "It tickled."