When we last saw the Wolverine, he was losing part of his memory because someone shot him in the head with an adamantium bullet at the end of “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” (2009). Well, no, actually, the LAST time we saw him was when he had a cameo in “X-Men: First Class” (2011), just long enough to say “Go [expletive] yourself.” But it doesn’t matter, because “The Wolverine” doesn’t have anything to do with either of those movies, picking up instead sometime after “X-Men: The Last Stand”, which came out seven years ago. I miss the days when sequels started with recaps.
A deeply sullen Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) now lives in the forests of the Yukon, drinking full-time, feeling sad that he had to kill his girlfriend Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) — who visits him in his dreams — and wishing he weren’t invincible so he could die. But he hasn’t completely lost his sense of justice, because he avenges a bear’s death.
Wolverine, or “Logan” as his friends call him, is brought out of his funk when a Japanese woman named Yukio (Rila Fukushima) finds him and says he must come to Japan to say goodbye to a man whose life he saved many years ago, who is now dying. The man, Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi), a fabulously wealthy industrialist and inventor, leaves behind a granddaughter, Mariko (Tao Okamoto), whose life is in danger from the yakuza; Logan needs to protect her; and so forth.
Of all the X-Men, Wolverine is the only one who gets his own films, a fact that probably makes sense to those who know the grand X-Men mythology and understand his place in it, but that leaves me, a non-initiate, out in the cold. I just don’t find the character compelling by himself, without the other mutants to provide counterbalance to his grumpy, lone-wolf attitude. “The Wolverine,” directed by James Mangold (“Walk the Line,” “3:10 to Yuma”), has an eye toward respectability, offering a more thoughtful and less bombastic superhero movie — a welcome change after the glut of films that all end with various cities’ buildings being knocked down like dominos. (This one finds different comic-book-movie chestnuts to drag out for the final act.) Introspective is one thing, but this tormented, brooding Wolverine is dangerously close to being boring.
Fairly early in the film, there’s an action sequence set aboard a moving bullet train that’s exhilarating, breezy, well-choreographed, and fun. It’s one of the highlights of the summer. Unfortunately, it’s THE highlight of this particular film, which soon gets mired in Logan’s lugubriousness. It’s further marred by the awkward shoehorning of an enemy mutant named Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova) into the story — or into the movie, anyway. She never really does have a place in the story.
Look, I know “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” was lame, what with the amnesia bullets and Taylor Kitsch and everything. By all objective measures, “The Wolverine” is a better film, and I appreciate that it tries something different from the mindless destruction and jokey one-liners we’ve been getting lately. Someone who’s invested in the Wolverine character and his personal journey may find more to latch onto here than I did. After that train sequence, I didn’t really perk up till the closing credits, when a hint of what’s to come in the next “X-Men” movie made me wish I could have watched that instead.
C+ (2 hrs., 6 min.; )