Still buff. Still brooding.
“The Wolverine” fits right into this summer's theme of the existentially struggling superhero (Iron Man, Superman), grimly grappling with issues of identity and purpose. Hamlet would be proud of them all.
But director James Mangold (“Walk the Line”) and Hugh Jackman's successful efforts to add some grit and nuance (and sex appeal) can carry this character study only so far before CGI fight sequences take over the movie, sapping its spirit.
Marvel Comics fans will enjoy this. Those who ask a bit more from their summer blockbuster than comic-book action will leave diverted but wanting.
Jackman's sixth movie playing the X-Men mutant with the adamantium claws wisely ditches the 2009 “Origins: Wolverine” story line and takes up where 2006's “The Last Stand” left off, after he was forced to kill his increasingly unstable girlfriend, Jean (Famke Janssen).
Logan/Wolverine is a cave dweller somewhere in the Yukon, troubled by dreams of Jean beckoning to join her in the afterlife. He's made a vow to Jean to fight no more.
Then a Japanese martial-arts spitfire with red hair, Yukio (Rila Fukushima), lures him to Tokyo on behalf of her master, a former WWII officer whose life Logan saved on the day the Nagasaki bomb was dropped.
The master, Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi), is now a billionaire in charge of a high-tech company. He's dying of cancer, grasping for a cure. He offers Logan the chance for an ordinary death — a normal life after losing his immortality. His company thinks it has the technology to transfer Logan's powers to him. “A man can run out of things to live for,” he says, and you know that's where Logan finds himself after Jean's death.
But hold on. Something's rotten in the state of Yashida Corp. A struggle over who will inherit the company involves samurai, corrupt politics, the fork-tongued mutant Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova) and family strife. Logan soon finds himself trying to keep Yashida's beautiful granddaughter, Mariko (Tao Okamoto), alive.
But he has to do it with a handicap. His quick-healing powers are suddenly, mysteriously, not working. In a country that appreciates a sharp blade, his may not be enough to keep him alive anymore, as bullet wounds last long enough to really bleed.
Nothing like a pretty girl and a bloody challenge to get a man's head right, is there?
With backdrops of Japanese temples and Tokyo's colorful night scene, plus the occasional fight to the death atop a speeding bullet train, “The Wolverine” zips along fairly well for the first hour or so.
That's thanks in no small part to the personal appeal of Jackman, impossibly ripped at age 44, and his three female co-stars.
Jackman makes the Wolverine a character of such enormous ferocity and heart that it's a real disappointment when the movie falls back on a too-long and predictable action sequence full of creative destruction and violence. It's an anticlimactic climax.
That is, unless you're a real fanboy, and you hang around for the credits, and a clip with a couple of surprise cameos lets you know where the next X-Men movie is headed.
Jackman is already filming for his seventh turn as Wolverine.