Oh crap. Having spent years protecting the planet from mutants run amok, success may have finally gone to the head of former X-Man Wolverine. No longer content with his self-appointed one-word moniker, he seems to have chosen to follow in the footsteps of so many obnoxious Twitter users and add a “the” to his name to become “The Wolverine.” As if there were another.
“The Wolverine” is Wolfie’s fifth big-screen actioner, and if the mid-final credits tease is any indication, it won’t be the last. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Unlike the last Wolverine adventure, which was an origins story, this one takes place some time after the supermutant’s stint with the X-Men. Wolverine (or “Logan,” as he is known to the people he allows to get close to him) is hiding in the woods early on but is soon summoned to Japan, where a former colleague may hold the key to bringing an end to his suffering.
Wolverine has always been the most interesting of the X-Men, so it makes sense for them to keep giving him stand-alone vehicles. In “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” Logan was pitted against three different villains, including his half-brother, and “The Wolverine” ups the ante even further this time by pitting him against ninjas and the yakuza. It also ups the ante in terms of action, which rarely lets up in all of the movie’s admittedly long-seeming 136 minutes. The best sequence is set atop a bullet train, with Logan doing battle with yakuza henchmen while road signs are zipping past his face.
Hugh Jackman, of course, is the brains and brawn of the operation. Simultaneously conflicted and committed to doing the right thing, even if “the right thing” includes poking holes in bad guys with those retractable knives in his fists, Wolverine remains a fascinating character. Even better, “The Wolverine” shows he may finally be ready to get over the death of Jean Grey, who is still haunting his dreams but is no longer eating away at his conscience. Which is a positive step for both the movie and the character, because the Logan/Jean relationship has always been my least favorite aspect of any of the “X-Men” films.
“The Wolverine” cooks up a new love interest for Logan, as well as a potential sidekick, even if it seems unlikely they’ll make it into the next potential excursion. The movie also gives way for at least two villains and one villainess, a harpy named Viper who harnesses the ability to rob Logan of his gifts, and one cringe-inducing sequence where Logan performs open heart surgery on himself.
The movie is not without its charms, but a little bit of “Wolverine” would have went a long way. At least 30 minutes longer than the “Origins” movie, this one crams in a ton and begins to feel like a load long before it ends. I admire the filmmakers for taking the film in a new direction (setting it in Japan, for example, was a small touch of genius) and for giving Jackman another opportunity to crack heads while cracking wise. For the most part, it succeeds. But a little more streamlining wouldn’t have hurt.
★★½ (out of ★★★★)