Silver Screen: The Wolverine *1/2
In a week that saw Alex Rodriguez, one of the most successful figures in pro sports, banned from Major League Baseball for more than two-hundred games, it’s worth considering Hugh Jackman’s abs.
Jackman was cast as the most famous X-Man way back in the year 2000, when the Australian actor was thirty-two years old. He was a perfect physical specimen for the part, and his legit acting chops and sly humor helped make him that film’s breakout star. Thirteen years and four subsequent starring roles in Marvel movies later, Jackman looks better than he did in the year when George W. Bush was first elected. Not a little better, a lot better. An alarming snarl of veins runs down his right arms like the spider-webbed cracks in stucco after an earthquake. His biceps seem barely constrained by the tensile strength of his skin. And his abs are as cartoonishly overdefined as... well, as those of the cartoon the character is based on.
So why this talk about Jackman’s abs? Because that’s about all The Wolverine has to offer. His shirtless frame is the movie’s most prized special effect, and rare is the scene in which director James Mangold allows his star’s bangin’ bod to be obscured by fabric. Not since Larry the Cable Guy has a character so assiduously shunned sleeves.
This installment is more grounded and relatively less dependent on superhero tropes and computer effects than his last, disastrous solo outing. Logan/Wolverine (Jackman) has exiled himself from the X-Men, distraught after killing his sorta-girlfriend Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) in X-Men: The Last Stand, and probably also distraught after watching the final cut of X-Men Origins: Wolverine. He’s brought back into the action by Yukio (Rila Fukushima), a servant of elderly Japanese gazillionaire Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi). Nearly seventy years ago Logan saved Yashida from the nuclear blast at Nagasaki, and in the process revealed the secret of his mutant healing power. Now the dying Yashida makes Logan an offer to thank him for his service: The old man has developed a process that can remove his healing factor, thus taking away his mutant powers but enabling him to live a normal life and, eventually, die.
While contemplating the possibilities, Logan gets caught up in the intrigue surrounding Yashida’s passing. The industrialist plans to leave his entire fortune to frail granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto), who comes under attack by Yakuza forces. Logan saves her, only to discover their fates may be intertwined in ways he never suspected.
Much of the movie is concerned with a series of double-crosses between members of the Yashida family, the mob, and samurai Harada (Will Yun Lee). I found their motivations nearly impossible to keep straight, although it’s difficult to say how much of that had to do with the plot being choppy and hard to follow, and how much had to do with me not caring thanks to Mark Bomback and Scott Frank’s dull, meandering script or Mangold’s milquetoast direction. With the exception of the cool opening sequence and the silly, utterly un-thrilling climax featuring a stiff, awkward-looking robot, all the scenes from the middle could be shuffled and reordered and the movie would pretty much play the same.
Jackman continues to be a captivating superhero, better than most musclebound actors at conveying not just raw power but some emotional range and flashes of humor. Alas, he’s pretty much on his own here. None of the other characters are the least bit interesting, save for Fukushima’s indentured-servant samurai. Mangold is an accomplished director who brings a more legitimate aesthetic to the film than Gavin Hood’s embarrassing teenaged fever-dream Origins, but he has absolutely no facility with action sequences. Aside from a moderately fun setpiece staged atop a speeding bullet train, the movie’s money shots are all incomprehensible, overedited blurs of extras doing jumpkicks and firing guns at offscreen targets while Logan bloodlessly slashes away.
The Wolverine is plodding, lifeless, and promises a sequel. Hey, wait-- what did that old man say about the possibility of making Wolverine die again? His pitch sounds increasingly appealing.
Follow Bryan Miller on Twitter@bmillercomedy.