Starring: Hugh Jackman, Tao Okamoto, Rila Fukushima
Written by: Mark Bomback (“Live Free or Die Hard”) and Scott Frank (“Marley & Me”)
Directed by: James Mangold (“3:10 to Yuma,” “Walk the Line”)
When we last saw Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine, it was in the dismal “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” (if you don’t count his hilarious cameo in “X-Men: First Class,” that is). Marred by a dumb, continuity-shredding storyline and crummy special effects, Jackman’s first solo turn as the mysterious mutant fell flat, disappointing X-fans and shelving what had been a planned series of origin stories for other mutants. Yet with comic book heroes ruling the box office and Jackman’s absolute ownership of the Logan/Wolverine role, the character’s solo adventures continue with this latest entry, simply titled “The Wolverine.”
In a prologue set in the Japanese city of Nagasaki on August 9, 1945, Logan is being held prisoner, trapped underground in a well. When the atomic devastation awaiting the city becomes evident, Japanese soldiers start performing harakiri. One young soldier, Yashida, is stopped by Logan before plunging a sword into his belly. Using his mutant healing factor to withstand the nuclear assault, Logan shields Yashida from the blast, saving his life. Sixty-plus years later, a dying Yashida, now the head of a huge technological corporation, requests a visit from the troubled, near-immortal Logan, offering him something the mutant could never attain on his own: mortality. After telling the old man no thanks, though, a strange doctor and a clan of ninjas look to take Logan out of the picture in order to get to Yashida’s daughter.
Directed by James Mangold, “The Wolverine” is the freshest, most satisfying X-movie since “X2” hit theaters a decade ago. For most of its running time, it feels nothing like the comic book movies that pop up every summer. While it pays to know what happened in previous films in the series (“The Wolverine” picks up after the events of “X-Men: The Last Stand”), the film isn’t beholden to plot points and table-setting put in place by what came before it. This is the real Wolverine solo film fans have been looking for, packed with high-energy action sequences that stretch across Tokyo city blocks or, most impressively, on top of a speeding bullet train. “The Wolverine” loses steam toward the end, unfortunately, when sweet ninja fights give way to robots and lame mutants, but leaves fans on a high-note when the obligatory post-credits sequence sets up Logan’s, and the X-Men’s, next adventure.