Hugh Jackman is back, ready to fight bad guys with extendable metal claws and ripped abs in “The Wolverine,” a movie that largely exists to overwrite 2009’s disappointing first attempt to give everyone’s favorite X-Man his own spin-off franchise. The result? A little too much of everything.
“The Wolverine” picks up sometime after the events of 2006’s “X-Men: The Last Stand.” As the story begins, we find Logan (that’s the Wolverine’s non-super-hero name) living in self-imposed isolation, tormented by nightmares and striving to avoid the kind of physical conflict that in his case tends to leave people impaled. It is in this condition that he is summoned to Japan by Yashida, an old friend whose life he saved in World War II (note to the uninitiated: The Wolverine is more or less immortal and is, therefore, extremely old). Yashida is dying and wants to see Logan before he goes.
Once Logan is finally coaxed to Japan, he finds more than he expected: Yashida offers to make Logan mortal in exchange for the rights to his powers (which Yashida’s posse of super-scientists have learned how to transplant). Logan refuses, Yashida dies, then bad guys start showing up. Lots and lots of bad guys.
Yakuza gangsters show up at the funeral. Then an ancient order of ninjas with unclear loyalty gets involved. A mysterious snake lady who is comically tall looms in the background. But that’s not all! There’s also Yashida’s angry son, who slaps around his daughter, Mariko (Tao Okamoto). Even Mariko’s fiancé cheats on her and may be responsible for the Yakuza. Mariko seems to be the one character who isn’t a bad guy, so Logan runs off with her.
If it feels like this gives too much away, don’t worry. There’s plenty more to come. Too much, in fact. Some films suffer because they don’t offer enough story to connect the action sequences. “The Wolverine” tries to pack in too much. Slicing away a character here and a subplot there would have gone a long way.
Actually, the script is pretty much the only thing that doesn’t get sliced in “The Wolverine.” Between the title character’s extendable claws and myriad fight sequences featuring daggers, samurai swords, arrows and even tongues, this film will be a 120-minute nightmare for anyone with a fear of sharp, pointy objects. And while we never quite see body parts go flying, the violence is brutal in nature. Superman and Batman may have issues with killing, but the Wolverine doesn’t. Parents, be warned.
Wolverine also doesn’t seem to have issues with courtship age differences or previous romantic commitments. Though tormented by the memory of his “true love” Jean Grey (who died in X-Men 3 after first dying in X-Men 2, because oh, never mind), Logan doesn’t seem to have any issue with hooking up with his old war buddy’s granddaughter. Logan is basically the immortal mutant version of Matthew McConaughey’s character in “Dazed and Confused:” He keeps getting older, but his girlfriends always stay the same age.
“The Wolverine” does hold great potential, but its best elements are underdeveloped. The concept of immortality as a burden offered more depth than director James Mangold mined. And for a time, the threat of Logan losing his powers raises legitimate tension in a genre that too often boils down between one unkillable character fighting another.
To its credit, “The Wolverine” should prove more satisfying to fans than its prequel; the action scenes are fantastic, and Jackman is appealing as always as the brooding Han Solo of the X-Men universe. And even if audiences aren’t crazy about the results, they might find solace in the post-credits Easter Egg scene, which could generate more fan excitement than the film itself. But its excess content and missed opportunities will probably keep “The Wolverine” on a second tier in the franchise below fan favorites like “X-Men 2.”
“The Wolverine” is rated a dark PG-13 for continual brutal (if mostly bloodless) violence, sexual and suggestive content (including some near male nudity, if that makes sense), and regular profanity, including one not-so-subtle use of the F-word.
Joshua Terry is a freelance writer and photojournalist who appears weekly on the "KJZZ Movie Show" and also teaches English composition for Salt Lake Community College. You can see more of his work at www.woundedmosquito.com.