In Marvel’s stable of superheroes that have made the transition from comics to summer popcorn entertainment, the brooding Wolverine may be the closest Marvel has to DC Comics’ dark and menacing Batman.
But while DC has captured Batman’s psychosis in the “Dark Knight” trilogy, Marvel Studios has yet to make a movie that really zeroes in on Wolverine’s mind-set. In the “X-Men” films, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) just played first fiddle to an ensemble of mighty mutants. And the dreary 2009 prequel, “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” failed to examine the superhero’s neurosis despite telling the story of his beginnings.
“The Wolverine,” which brings the perfectly cast Jackman back as the silver-clawed immortal with the metal endoskeleton, attempts to unravel more about the tragic mutant. But what fans get is not much more than just a strong, hairy superhero in desperate need of a good psychiatrist and a dose of Xanax.
In his new adventure, Logan/Wolverine goes to Tokyo at the behest of a dying Japanese businessman, a former World War II soldier whom Wolverine saved from the Nagasaki bomb in 1945. The man tells Logan he can return the favor by shedding the mutant’s curse of immortality with technology developed by his company. Instead, Wolverine becomes embroiled in a war between the company’s henchmen and Japanese organized crime for control of the business.
Wolverine therefore must protect the businessman’s granddaughter (Tao Okamoto) from the Yakuza hunting her down, and he enlists the help of a sword-wielding sidekick named Yukio (Rila Fukushima). There’s a lot of nicely choreographed martial arts and samurai sword fighting as he and Yukio take on waves of ninjas and mobsters, and there’s an especially exciting (though much too short) hand-to-hand battle on top of a speeding bullet train.
Despite that, there’s little of the awe-inspiring large-scale set pieces that made the “The Avengers” and this summer’s “Man of Steel” stand out. Wolverine also goes up against too many hidden villains, making it hard to focus on a single, all-powerful antagonist whom audiences can grow to hate. And here’s yet another summer blockbuster that wastes the 3-D look with flat and featureless effects (to see what great 3-D looks like, go to the robots-vs.-monsters epic, “Pacific Rim”).
Directed with a bigger eye on the drama by James Mangold (“3:10 to Yuma,” “Walk the Line”), “The Wolverine” honorably tries harder to examine Logan battling his demons but falls short of what hefty drama demands. Such dark underpinnings from an iconic comic-book hero deserve more mature treatment and a more exciting movie.
Hugh Jackman returns as the metal-clawed mutant in this average superhero story that again fails to dig deeper into Wolverine’s psyche.
Where • Theaters everywhere.
When • Opens today.
Rating • PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, some sexuality and language.
Running time • 126 minutes.