Take Wolverine, arguably the most popular of Marvel Comics’ X-Men and give him a story set in Japan, full of ninjas, samurais, and swordplay and it would seem like you’ve got a great combination — perfect for a second solo adventure. Unfortunately, when Logan-san (played again by Hugh Jackman, who seems almost as ageless as his character) is escorted by a katana-wielding young girl to say one last sayonara to Harada-san (a friend whose life he saved during the bombing of Nagasaki in WW2), the potential for a unique story is lost in a relatively conventional (actually somewhat sloppy and inconsistent) script. With his last breath, Harada asks Logan to allow him to take his healing factor on himself (thus freeing Logan to live out a normal, mortal life) as well as suggesting that Logan help protect his grand-daughter Mariko from the people who are going to want to kill her. Once the sake hits the fan and blades start slashing, Logan grabs Mariko and they make a run for it. While there are several spectacular action scenes as Logan tries to lose the Yakuza thugs chasing them (including one on the roof of a bullet train), this movie definitely starts to feel like something from The Transporter franchise.
It seems almost wasteful that some baddies make it so that Logan’s mutant healing powers don’t work (the more human he becomes the less this is worthy of being an X-Men movie) and that Mariko takes them to a secret family home in a smallish village where they can play house while the villains plot and scheme outside. As you might expect (especially if you’re familiar with the significance of Mariko from the comic book story) cherry blossoms start to bloom between the two fugitives (of course it doesn’t hurt that Tao Okamoto looks and acts like a Japanese Gwyneth Paltrow). What does hurt a bit is that Logan is still feeling guilt from events in X-Men 3: The Last Stand (No, he’s not guilty about how bad the movie was. That’s all on director Brett Ratner!). His torment is over having had to kill his beloved Jean Grey (Famke Janssen reprises the role) to stop her from destroying the world. Now she haunts his dreams — but adds virtually nothing to the film itself.
There are a few other “surprise” twists where some characters are not what they seem (though some are incredibly obviously not what they “seem”, and Hawaii Five-O‘s Will Yun Lee is definitely not what he seems — i.e. Japanese). The story is weak at best, so the fact that there are some logical or motivational flaws doesn’t seem to really matter. I did, however, look forward to any scene that featured red-haired butt-kicker Yukio (played sparkily by newcomer Rila Fukushima — who looks like a Japanese version of actress Amanda Seyfried). I realize that a stunt person must have done the fighting for her, but it was way slick, and when she’s not hacking and slashing she has the take-no-guff attitude that Wolverine fans know to look for in one of his companions.
There are a few villains, but the “named” one is Viper, played by Svetlana Khodchenkova (a bit of an Uma Thurman knock-off), who is not a green-haired, proto-Nazi, commandatrix as she was in the comic books. Here she’s all snaky and spits ridiculous skin-corroding gunk — snore.
I had some hopes that The Wolverine might have elevated the comic book movie a few rungs, but unfortunately it was true to the poorly-thought-out plotting and overworked and dumbed-down scripting that so many of them have suffered from these last couple of years. There is a glimmer of hope, though, in the post-credit epilogue. You can’t miss that scene because it’s probably the best in the movie (at least the most X-Men-ish one) and it teases (presumably) the upcoming X-Men: Days of Future Past that I pray will not be ruined by Hollywoodization. As for The Wolverine, I can’t give it more than 3.5 out of 5.