WOLVERINE is a murky and muddled thing saved, such as it is, by Hugh Jackman’s steadfast commitment to a story that leaps about with the same agility as his eponymous character as it attempts to explore the psychological underpinnings of The Wolverine’s struggle with immortality, and his mercy killing of the love of his life, Jean Gray (Famke Janssen). Though earnest in its intent, is fails to do the grunt work of spinning a story that flows.
Wolverine, Logan when his adamantine claws are retracted, starts the film the midst of several years living in the backwoods of the Yukon. There is no peace though, and in a nightmare within a nightmare he relived the atomic bombing of Nagasaki during WWII, and a preternatural bit of pillow talk with Jean in which she twists the knife of guilt over her being dead. It’s followed by Logan standing up for animal rights that foreshadow much, and then with him being whisked to Japan by a cherry-haired factotum (Rilo Fukushima) in order to be given a final thank you by the soldier he saved when the atomic bomb went off. Said soldier, Yashido (Haruhiko Yamanouchi), went on to found a flourishing tech company, and he’s used his fortune in order to cheat death. Hence the offer Yashido makes Logan. Give Yashido the gift of self-healing that Logan no longer wants, and they will both be happy. Yashido with immorality, Logan with the ability to finally join Jean in death.
A man grappling with the gift of mortality is an interesting thesis in any format, but WOLVERINE veers off from there into a series of interludes that form the basis for any action flick. The evil thugs who are ready to pounce on the innocent damsel in distress, in this case Yashida’s beloved granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto). Logan’s promise to keep her safe despite his oddly sapping energy. The romantic idyll with Mariko, the mystery of why the Yakuza are suddenly swarming, the femme fatale (Svetlans Kodchenkova) who is also Yashida’s oncologist, the odd motives of Mariko’s old boyfriend, the odder motives of her father and of her fiancé, endless chase sequences of varying interest, and, of course, the spooky fortress in the mountains where mayhem is brewed and it’s always raining. Each individual component is competent enough, but getting from one to the other is at best rocky, making for a jumbled assemblage that feels more like an assemble-it-yourself piece of furniture than a cinematic entertainment. Why Mariko, for example, would board a public train when said Yakuza are after her, and tell Logan to get lost instead of protecting her makes no sense, except to get them to that charming rustic cottage where romance can blossom after Logan bleeds a little more for her en route.
Jackman does rage as well as ever, with a script that allows him to show off more than his exquisitely sculpted body. Flexing his sinewy muscles and snarling with a startling ferocity, he also suffers magnificently and with tragic depth when it comes to being wracked with guilt and weltschmerz. The script fails him in draining most of the Wolverine’s cocky brashness away, leaving only traces of the cynical wit, and most of that in an early scene wherein he is scrubbed of his years in the wilderness by a pair of formidable Japanese matrons with bamboo rakes and a very large tub.
No army of black-clad ninjas, no seductive mutant with a forked and snaking tongue, no scamper atop a bullet train bound for the end of the line can make up for a story set on auto-pilot.