The second Wolverine movie to spin off from the original X-Men film franchise casts the perma-snarling, adamantium-clawed Logan (Jackman) as a wolf without a pack, in self-imposed exile after the ruinous losses of 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand. Familiar faces are few and far between, save for brief appearances by Janssen’s Jean Grey and an end-credits tack-on you’ll want to stick around for. A stand-alone actioner directed by the ever-competent James Mangold (Knight and Day, Walk the Line), The Wolverine takes place mostly in modern-day Japan, where Logan reconnects with a former soldier he shielded from the atom bomb dropped on Nagasaki in 1945. Now on his deathbed nearly 70 years later, the soldier-turned-titan-of-industry, Yashida (Yamanouchi), is hoping Logan will share the secrets of his mutant self-healing powers. Logan balks, but nonetheless gets caught up in the soap opera swirling around Yashida, which co-stars a spunky lady ninja named Yukio (Fukushima), the poison-breathed mutant Viper (Khodchenkova), various yakuza baddies and black-clad samurai, and Yashida’s lovely granddaughter Mariko (Okamoto), who could replace Jean in Logan’s affections – if she doesn’t die under his care first, which is sort of a thing with him.
While never punching in the same weight class as the first two X-Men pictures, screenwriters Christopher McQuarrie, Mark Bomback, and Scott Frank do get some mileage out of the setting, pitching Logan as a wandering ronin in search of something to believe in. They’ve also scripted a few standout action set-pieces – hark! hand-to-hand combat and no city-leveling mass carnage or pyrotechnics to be seen! – including a doozy set on top of a Tokyo bullet train. Alas, the nonaction is dull as dishwater. None of the new characters pop: Viper and Mariko are almost comically boring, while Logan’s avuncular-gruff bond with Yukio is carried on the back of memories of his more compelling bond with Anna Paquin’s Rogue. This is Jackman’s show entirely, and he’s as forceful and charismatic as ever as the walking, talking hurt that is Wolverine. If only he had something more interesting to do here.