At least in his cinematic incarnations, Wolverine is like Ringo Starr: interesting enough when part of an ensemble, but has difficulty carrying a project on his own. This status grows painfully clearer in James Mangold’s The Wolverine as Logan (Hugh Jackman) finds himself more than ever in need of the spark that comes via combining forces with his fellow X-Men.
Still reeling from the death of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), who nonetheless haunts his dreams, the immortal man with retractible adamantium claws lives a somewhat engaging hermetic existence in the Canadian wilderness. Without much coaxing, he’s persuaded by red-haired clairvoyant Yukio (Rila Fukushima) to follow her to Japan where her master Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi) has requested his presence. Thanks to an opening flashback featuring an admittedly stunning recreation of the Hiroshima bombing, it’s revealed that Logan saved Yashida, then a young soldier, from the atomic blast. While the link is generally intriguing, it’s poorly developed and, despite the convenient reminder dream, doesn’t seem to have made much of an impact on Logan.
For a fresh character with no other background, the story very well could have worked, but for a popular figure with four prior films to his name, something more convincing is necessary. The mishandling of what’s meant to be a crucial catalyst quickly turns the setting into a dull excuse for samurai swords and Japanese architecture, and though the cultural allure may be enough for some viewers, for this one it renders all that follows pointless.
As complications with the Yashida situation put Logan on the run with his old acquaintance’s daughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto), The Wolverine’s action grows more frequent but comes with problems of its own. Though Mangold offers many unfortunate moments from which to choose, the most egregious may be the film’s centerpiece sequence, a ridiculous fight atop a bullet train that makes Vin Diesel’s Fast & Furious 6 bridge leap look like a game of hopscotch. Even with his powers mysteriously fading, it’s still plausible for our mutant hero to perform these superhuman feats, but for his human adversaries to match him in such circumstances, the film’s world becomes a silly place sadly lacking in definition.
After much empty scowling from Jackman, these numbnut exploits inspire an abundance of Bond villain exposition that fill in the gaps of Yashida’s story and at last offer some motivation, but can’t make up for the preceding emptiness. Much of this cringeworthy dialogue comes from the film’s supposed villain Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova), a blonde mutant with chemical powers and the added distraction of apparently having her voice dubbed in. Bumbling along, it all leads to a strange mesh of Real Steel and the final lightsaber duel from Return of the Jedi that, though more ambitious, is just as hollow as its preceding events.
Considering such abundant ineptitude, it’s no wonder The Wolverine is outdone by its brief post-credits scene, which sets up the next X-Men film, Bryan Singer’s Days of Future Past. At last in the company of some interesting mutants, Logan’s fiery demeanor fits right in, just as it always has. Such chemistry suggests good things for the franchise’s upcoming adventure, but makes its current one look all the more weak and puzzling.
Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, some sexuality and language.
The Wolverine is currently playing at the Carolina Cinemas on Hendersonville Rd.