(by Dustin Putman
James Logan (Hugh Jackman) seriously needs to cheer the hell up. Sure, he's an immortal, claw-knuckled mutant who has lost his girlfriend, the good-mutant-turned-bad Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), but at a certain point he needs to accept his lot in life and move forward. He has brooded and moped around enough, and watching him do it for yet another two hours in "The Wolverine" is enough to make a person lose interest even in his well-sculpted, usually shirtless bod. While the four "X-Men" features have been reasonably well-received, that was not the case with 2009's prequel "X-Men Origins: Wolverine," which felt like a clumsy, low-wattage cash grab in comparison. The plan with "The Wolverine," then, was to right the previous wrongs, hiring new director James Mangold (2010's "Knight and Day") and picking up with Logan chronologically after 2006's "X-Men: The Last Stand," this picture then used as a bridge leading directly into 2014's main event "X-Men: Days of Future Past." The effort is valiant in theory, but all wrong in conception, screenwriters Mark Bomback (2012's "Total Recall") and Scott Frank (2008's "Marley & Me") concocting such a lame-brained, minimally-scoped story it could almost drive a viewer to long for the distaff "Daredevil" spin-off, 2005's "Elektra," or, yes, "X-Men Origins: Wolverine." Article continues below
Following a WWII-set prologue where Logan narrowly saves a Japanese soldier from the dropping of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki, the story picks up in the present day after the Wolverine has dismantled from his fellow mutants at Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters. Sulking around the Canadian mountains, Logan is approached by young, feisty badass-in-training Yukio (Rila Rukushima) and spirited off to Tokyo, where he is reunited with that same soldier, the wealthy, now-elderly Lord Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi). Yashida is dying and doesn't want to be, propositioning to Logan that he free himself from the shackles of his eternal life by somehow transferring those powers of self-preservation to him. Meanwhile, Logan is soon caught up in Yashida's warring familial empire, catching the eye of long-suffering granddaughter—and Yukio's semi-sister—Mariko (Tao Okamoto) as the two of them contend with her abusive husband, Kenuichio Harada (Will Yun Lee); crime-boss dad, Shingen (Hiroyuki Sanada); a poison-tongued nurse/mutant named Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova); the in-pursuit yakuza, and a scheme to strip Logan of his super powers.
With the exception of an insult Logan levels at one of the unmemorable bad guys—and not just any insult, but one that involves a certain four-letter word used in a sexual manner usually off-limits for PG-13 fare—"The Wolverine" is a joyless affair that nearly loses sight of the title character to focus on a Japanese family embroiled in their very own version of "Dynasty." It's exceedingly pedestrian and shockingly limited in scale for a big-budget, summer-released Marvel comic book adaptation, the kind of film a person sits and watches while wondering all along why anything on the screen is worth caring about. Director James Mangold has not succeeded at building upon Logan's character and past; if anything, he is even more of a grouchy shut-off than usual. With the exception of the aforementioned opening scene and a high-speed fight set-piece set atop a zooming train, "The Wolverine" would not have an ounce of the thrilling sensation one expects from this kind of movie. The soapy dramatics of a feuding two-dimensional family Logan is pulled in the middle of doesn't cut it.
If nothing else, Hugh Jackman can transform his body to fit any role, whether he's playing the broken-down, malnourished Jean Valjean in 2012's "Les Misérables" or a big-muscled action hero in the "X-Men" franchise. As eye-catching a find as he once was back in the days of 2000's original "X-Men" and 2003's "X2," however, the novelty has run out in "The Wolverine." Logan is a buzz-kill from one end to the other, the kind of good-looking, self-serious dullard whose sense of humor borders on the nonexistent. Jackman does what is asked of him, but what is asked is stodgy and hopelessly rigid. As Logan's self-appointed "protector," newcomer Rila Rukushima has a terrific look with her scarlet hair and acorn face, breathing what life the picture has into the scenes opposite Jackman, upstaging him at every turn.
The threat of Logan being rendered fallible in the third act of "The Wolverine" ups the threat against him—it doesn't help that Yukio psychically has a vision of him dying—but this is but a fleeting, desperate attempt to come up with compliments to give a $100-million film that does no favors to the "X-Men" series and can't even come up with one legitimate "wow!" moment during its whole running time. This is, frankly, inexcusable, with director James Mangold clearly aiming for a crime drama vibe but losing sight of where his focus should be and what his film innately is (hint: it's not sudsy Japanese schmaltz). Dull and unimaginative, "The Wolverine" is the opposite of escapist fun; in its lesser moments—and there are many—it's an endurance test. Watching Halle Berry shoot hoops, flirt with Benjamin Bratt, and beat up Sharon Stone in "Catwoman" is starting to sound mighty preferable.