Wolverine’s problems start (but don’t end) with its cast. There’s, of course, 2009 Oscar host and amateur pants pisser Hugh Jackman, who provides a merely serviceable lead while fighting through his boredom with a character who he’s played three times prior. Then there’s Liev Schreiber, whose acting has two speeds: I’ll call them “intense” and “superintense.” The intense Schreiber broods his way through a film, but hides a sly sense of humor that can make a character’s more sinister motives forgivable, even endearing. The superintense Schreiber, the one that shows up as Wolverine’s half brother Victor, latches on exclusively to the violent tendencies of the character, removing all subtleties and rendering it a one-dimensional villain, the kind that you know is pure evil, you know will fail, but who has no resonance, no emotional peg. As Victor (Sabretooth for all you comic book fans), Schreiber is the closest character to Jackman’s Wolverine, the one who should be the film’s villain and its soul, but in the finished product feels like little more than a plot device.

It almost doesn’t even bear noting that the terrible miscasting of Ryan Reynolds, and the casting of will.i.am as any character in any movie ever, were huge missteps.

Putting aside the acting issues, Wolverine might well have really died on the page. While I can’t speak to any faithfulness to the original comic books, an origin story like this one is difficult to tackle for the screen, and, since comic mythologies are so detailed and often contradictory, any screen adaptation is almost necessarily convoluted. This is true to some extent even in the greatest origin stories, like Batman Begins or Spider-Man. For any audience that isn’t already intimately familiar with the character from other media, you almost have to expect that you’re missing something, and just catch the details that you can. Writers David Benioff and Skip Woods (who together must only have combined for about 2 ½ semesters in screenplay college) are insensitive to the demands of the genre, and take the laziest way out, relying on hackneyed dialogue and exposition that was alternately clumsy and nonexistent.

While the script may have been a dud, director Gavin Hood (A Reasonable Man, Rendition) didn’t do a whole lot to breathe any life into it. Watching Wolverine, I was amazed at how little $150 million will get you these days. It’s no surprise that, when the finished version of the film leaked out online, 20th Century Fox, in an effort to curb illegal downloading, insisted the special effects in the leaked version were incomplete. It seems, though, that Hood and the studio never went to the trouble to complete them, even in the theatrical cut. Hood now finds himself helming one of the lousiest summer “tentpole” films in recent memory, though despite his incompetence (undercooked effects, unnecessary closeups, failing to reel in Schreiber’s performance, the two dozen or so shots of characters peering off into the distance, deeply considering things; I could go on), he appears to have a hit on his hands. As of this writing, two days after the film’s release, the estimated weekend take is an almost preposterous $87 million, this considering the fact that a completed cut of the movie was available for free weeks before its release. Also, the reviews have been terrible. Also, so is the movie.

I’m beginning to be less and less surprised every time I see a lousy and unnecessary action sequel have wild box office success. But in the case of Wolverine, I’m still a little shocked. Not that I didn’t expect the film to make money, I just didn’t expect it to pack theaters on a weekday afternoon. Undeservedly, it’s Wolverine’s summer until somebody beats him. So who wants to be Weapon XI?

Film: X-Men Origins: Wolverine
Director: Gavin Hood
Stars: Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber, Lynn Collins, will.i.am, Danny Huston, Ryan Reynolds

Viewing situation: Opening day matinee, near full house; digital projection
My grade (out of 10): 2
Rotten Tomatoes average: 37%

Next up: Ghosts of Girlfriends Past

Summer Movie Suicide Mission ’09: Seeing them all, all summer long. Follow Summer Movie Suicide Mission on Twitter: @SMSM09.