Warning: Mild plot spoilers below.
If fans think about "The Wolverine" as a stepping stone between the last X-Men movie, "X-Men: First Class," and the highly anticipated "X-Men: Days of Future Past," they will tolerate its convoluted plot and abundance of unnecessary characters.
"The Wolverine" is a standalone tale for the most popular X-Man. Hugh Jackman reprises the role for a sixth time (having appeared in the "X-Men" trilogy, "X-Men: Origins: Wolverine" and the aforementioned "First Class"). Don't expect a many displays of mutant powers in this movie or appearances from his superhero teammates -- aside from visions of a dead Jean Grey (Famke Janssen). But more on her later.
The plot is loosely based on Frank Miller and Chris Claremont's 1982 "Wolverine" limited series. In the comic book, Logan (Wolverine's civilian identity) travels to Japan, where he comes between rival Yakuza gangs and falls in love with the crime boss' daughter Mariko Yashida. "The Wolverine" takes the setting and romance, but the film is quite different than the book.
In the film's opening flashback sequence, Logan saves the life of Mariko's grandfather Ichiro during World War II. Jump forward 70+ years, with the dying Ichiro wanting to pay Logan back -- by offering to make him mortal. You see, with his mutant healing factor, Logan doesn't age and cannot die. He's tortured with the memory of killing Jean Grey in "The Last Stand" and no longer desires to live. Ichiro, a billionaire industrialist, can grant Logan his wish ... but dies before he can fulfill it.
During Ichiro's funeral, Mariko (Tao Okamoto) is kidnapped. Logan and his ninja sidekick Yukio (Rila Fukushima) are tasked to find her. Along the way, they battle corrupt businessmen, yakuza, ninjas and the evil Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova). With so many antagonists, it's hard to figure out who's fighting who, and why. There are plenty of fights, including one ridiculous scene atop a bullet train.
Wolverine claws and slashes his way to the movie's climax, leaving a trail of bodies in his wake (note, some scenes are particularly graphic). The ending isn't particularly satisfying, but audience members will want to stay in their seats for an after-credits "Days of Future Past" preview that may bring more applause than "The Wolverine" itself.
Hugh Jackman doesn't add anything new to the character for his latest go-around in the role, but the ripped actor certainly looks the part. The most developed of the new characters is Yukio, and the red-haired Rila is fascinating to both look at and watch.
Japan provides a novel setting, but the action sequences don't feel particularly fresh. Add a convoluted plot, and you end up with a very average superhero film. Fans of the character and genre will like "The Wolverine," but in the end it just feels like tie-over for the next X-Men film.
3 out of 5 stars
-- Lawrence Yee