The Wolverine

The Wolverine marks the sixth time that Hugh Jackman has donned the adamantium claws that prove so useful when it comes to saving the world. And on his sixth try, it seems, he’s finally getting the hang of things.

Jackman will never be accused of just mailing it in when it comes to portraying arguably the most popular of the X-Men, and this go-round he went above and beyond physically, too; the result is one of his more memorable performances. Stories from the set reveal that Jackman consulted with Dwayne Johnson on getting the proper physique and even underwent a dehydration diet throughout filming to look even more jacked when appearing on-screen sans shirt (which is often).

And while the movie as a whole doesn’t live up to the performance of its star, The Wolverine is still a pretty-okay chapter in the seemingly endless canon of superhero movies.

Starting in 1945 Nagasaki, The Wolverine shows how Logan (Jackman) saved a Japanese soldier named Yashida from the atomic bomb. Now, seventy years later, Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi) is on his deathbed and wants to re-pay Logan by ending the curse of his Wolverine immortality.

Logan politely declines but does agree to watch over Yashida’s granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto), a task that proves to be harder than expected, beginning at Yashida’s funeral. To further complicate things, the woman who had served as Yashida’s oncologist is none other than Marvel villain Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova), and she has designs on ridding Logan of his immortality herself.

The better part of the movie entails Logan and Mariko on the run and Viper and her ninja henchmen chasing them. Well… that’s the idea on paper anyway. It turns out there’s really a lot of Logan and Mariko talking and eating soup. And Logan and Mariko’s adopted sister Yukio (Rila Fukushima) talking and riding in cars. In fact, with the exception of the funeral fight and a flat-out dazzling action sequence set on a Japanese bullet train, not much happens until we get to the inevitable final battle.

The comedy that’s such a mainstay in the Iron Man trilogy and The Avengers is sorely lacking here, and the depth of story and the terribly menacing villain that ruled the day in the Dark Knight trilogy are also absent. What’s left is, frankly, a lot of not much… except for Jackman walking around looking for a movie that can equal his talents.

Director James Mangold (who last directed Jackman in 2001’s Kate & Leopold) has proven himself to be among the most versatile directors at work today. Along with Kate, he also directed enthralling biopics (Walk the Line), intelligent dramas (Cop Land, Girl Interrupted), and even a halfway-decent Western (the 2007 3:10 to Yuma remake). With The Wolverine, though, he finally seems out of his league.

Too much of the movie feels like an esoteric and plodding character study (Wolverine has visions of his former X-Men mate Jean Grey! Wolverine returns to Nagasaki and has a moment!), and it only starts feeling like a summery superhero flick when we reach the goofy ending. (For the record, I’d put Viper on a silliness par with Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze from Batman & Robin.)

Throughout it all, though, Jackman does prove his worth (and, thankfully, not only reins in the melodrama he displayed in Les Miserables but refrains from singing, too), and I’d pay good money to see first-timer Okamoto again soon.

The best part of the whole film, though, may well come during the closing credits (don’t leave early!), when we get a sneak peak of what’s to come in next year’s X-Men: Days of Future Past.

Maybe all Wolverine needs is to get back to playing with his friends…

3/5 stars