The Wolverine

Directed By: James Mangold

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Hiroyuki Sanada, Haruhiko Yamanouchi, Tao Okamoto, Rila Fukushima, Will Yun Lee, Brian Tee, Svetlana Khodchenkova, and Famke Janssen

I feel like Marvel and DC Comics have largely taken the year off at the box office.  Though Iron Man 3 was thoroughly entertaining, it couldn't hold a candle to 2012's The Avengers.  Despite all the pre-release hype, Man of Steel didn't live up to its potential.  While Thor 2 is on the way this fall, I'm ready to fast forward to 2014.  With films like Captain America: Winter Soldier, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, and X-Men: Days of Future Past, I've got plenty of superhero movies to which I can look forward.  That being said, we're in the here and now, and The Wolverine is hitting theaters this weekend.  Though entertaining and certainly improving upon X-Men Origins: Wolverine, this second solo outing for Hugh Jackman largely feels like filler material until the whole team is reunited when Days of Future Past arrives next May.

For Logan (Jackman), killing Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) in X-Men: The Last Stand killed a piece of his soul.  After centuries wandering the earth, this ageless mutant is in real pain.  He's a recluse living out in the woods with a grizzly bear.  He has nightmares on a nightly basis about Jean.  He's no longer the hunter and fighter for justice that made him a legend.  He's no longer the Wolverine.  When his grizzly bear companion is shot in the back, Logan goes into a bar in a nearby Canadian town to find the man who shot his bear.  Logan finds the reckless hunter and scolds him, but he also finds a young Japanese woman by the name of Yukio (Rila Fukushima), a deadly assassin from the Shingen clan.  She's looking for the Wolverine, and needs to take him to Japan to see her dying master Yashida (Haruhiko Yamanouchi), a man he saved from an atom bomb at Nagasaki some nearly 70 years ago.

Logan and Yukio fly out to Japan to meet Yashida.  After getting Logan cleaned up, Yukio takes him to meet her master.  When he arrives, Logan witnesses an emotional exchange between Yashida and his granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto).  Afterward, he speaks with Yashida and learns that the dying man wants to transfer Logan's power to heal to himself and live forever.  In return, he will grant Logan the thing he craves the most, an honorable death.  Understanding the curse that is being the Wolverine, Logan refuses.  Later that night, Yashida dies, and a family war erupts over who will take control of his corporate empire.  His crime boss son Shingen (Hiroyuki Sanada) learns that Mariko will be named Yashida's sole heir.  Meanwhile that night, Logan has a violent nightmare about Yashida's oncologist Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova).  The next day at Yashida's funeral, Mariko is attacked by assassins, and Logan steps in to fight for her safety.  When he gets shot, he painfully learns that he's lost his ability to heal himself.

The Wolverine is a decent comic book movie.  With Hugh Jackman reprising his role for the fifth time (excluding his cameo in X-Men: First Class), there's a continuity to the film that makes us feel at home.  Jackman owns this character and makes it abundantly clear on screen as we witness Logan's growth and evolution.  After all, Jackman's been portraying Wolverine in one form or another for thirteen years now.  That being said, James Mangold's sequel/spin-off is largely a stepping stone on the way to Bryan Singer's X-Men: Days of Future Past, and not a particularly exciting one.  The plot is extremely predictable, and the action is decent.  Mangold just delivers a fairly enjoyable film.

Hugh Jackman has still got it as Wolverine.  Though now 44, he hasn't lost a step when it comes to unleashing the animal and beating down some baddies.  He's still the comically grumpy mutant who throws caution to the wind.  What's impressive about his performance in this film is the evolution of his character.  With having to kill his love Jean Grey, he's an emotional wreck.  He's a shell of the man he once was and no longer a legend.  Fresh from Les Misérables, Jackman has no problem giving us this tortured soul.  However, the Wolverine is still a natural hero, and his trek to Japan and Jackman's portrayal of the character illustrate this.  As the film progresses, Jackman takes his character from the depths of despair and grief to the rebirth of a soldier.  It's certainly fun to watch.

Beyond Jackman's performance, The Wolverine is a fairly basic film that doesn't offer that much.  The plot is a warmed-over storyline we've seen a thousand times on the big screen, which is totally underwhelming.  You could honestly tell me the entire movie based on the trailer in which case I'm sure you're wondering why you should open up your wallets for this X-Men flick. The action is also nothing phenomenal.  It's certainly good to see Jackman back in action.  Given that he's doing the tango with ninjas and samurais throughout the movie, I would expect some really fresh and enjoyable fight scenes unlike anything we've seen before from Logan.  I would expect some incredible fight choreography.  What we ultimately get on screen is just decent.

The most exciting thing about The Wolverine is its post-credits scene that brings back some familiar faces and wets our appetites for Days of Future Past next year.  That's unfortunate because the Japan storyline is such a popular one amongst comics fans.  I'm not saying I didn't enjoy the film, but it's nothing awesome.  The Wolverine gets a 0.06% rating.  Have a few rounds of beer with this one.