Relentlessly talky though thoroughly predictable, “The Wolverine” is a remarkably unengaging Marvel franchise entry. Make no mistake – this is a big production enlivened by evocative location shooting in Japan, and comes complete with ninjas, yakuza and super-powered mutants. But for a movie with this much violence, “The Wolverine” has singularly little momentum.
Hugh Jackman returns for a fifth go-around as Logan, aka The Wolverine, an apparently immortal warrior who sprouts metal-plated claws in his frequent battles. Jackman owns this role at this point, and virtually no other actor has played a superhero in this many movies. Prior to the Christopher Nolan “Dark Knight” Batman movies, no fewer than three actors had played Batman in four consecutive movies. Christopher Reeve did play Superman four times in a steadily declining series, the last two entries deliberately forgotten by most fans. But Jackman shows no signs of letting any other star get their claws into his signature role.
The timeline is a little problematical with the Logan/Wolverine character. His first spin-off, “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” was a prequel. This movie clearly takes place after the events of “X-Men: The Last Stand,” and finds Logan still dreaming about Jean Grey (Famke Janssen in an extended cameo), who he was forced to kill at the end of that movie. He is soon lured out of his mountain man-like existence in Alaska by a mysterious Japanese woman, Yukio (Rila Fukushima), who wants to bring him back to Japan to say goodbye to a dying man whose life he saved at Nagasaki. That man, Yashida (Hiroyuki Sanada), promises Logan something he’s long thought unattainable: death.
Before long, Logan is up to his adamantium armpits in seductive women, betrayal, byzantine corporate and family intrigue, not to mention grouchy hordes of ninjas and yakuza gangsters. It’s right out of a James Clavell or Eric Van Lustbader novel, so how can this movie seem so slow and talky? Part of the problem is the surprisingly unimaginative script from Mark Bomback (“Unstoppable,” “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”) and Scott Frank (“Dead Again,” “Minority Report”) who have both done better work than this. There’s way too much talk, and it isn’t Aaron Sorkin dialogue. The plot is mind-bogglingly predictable, with ninja attacks, kidnappings and betrayals happening right on cue.
But one suspects the real culprit is director James Mangold (“Girl, Interrupted,” “Kate & Leopold,” “Walk the Line,” “3:10 to Yuma” and “Knight and Day”). It’s a problem when a movie seems to stop for a fight or chase scene, and that’s exactly what’s happening here. And the big set pieces aren’t that memorable. Although frequently large-scale, the action sequences are uninvolving with pedestrian execution. They are not helped by the 3D post-conversion, which adds absolutely nothing to this movie. It’s pretty clear looking at this movie that Mangold did not know the movie was going to be released in 3D, probably to up the opening weekend box office, and he didn’t shoot it with 3D in mind. The incessant, booming score by Jerry Goldsmith protégé Marco Beltrami tries, with occasional success, to make up for the momentum the movie otherwise lacks.
The acting is adequate across the board, given the cardboard character development of everyone but Logan. And there’s nothing bad to say about Jackman, who is if anything more physically imposing than when he first played the part in “X-Men” back in 2000 (and for those who have forgotten, that’s the movie that started the whole modern comic book adaptation genre). That’s a huge asset, given the fact this character isn’t supposed to age. Svetlana Khodchenkova (“Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”) plays evil mutant Viper with an appropriate mix of sex and venom (literally).
“The Wolverine” is going appeal first and foremost to hardcore fans of the character, and they are legion. Everyone else is going to feel there’s nothing in this movie they haven’t seen done better before. Marvel fans tend to expect this now, but for the benefit of the uninitiated, there is an Easter egg scene inserted during the end credits.