James Mangold’s The Wolverine can proudly take its place with most of the rest of its comic book brethren this summer — high atop the mountain of the Massively OK. It’s getting pretty crowded up there, since this kind of movie has been climbing that dubious summit for more than a few summers now. Like the ones before it, The Wolverine isn’t particularly bad. It just isn’t much of anything. It’s two hours of middling entertainment, and, as such, I guess it serves its function. Oh, it has a few inspired moments — the opening in Nagasaki when the atomic bomb hits, an amusingly silly fight on a bullet train, occasional images that recall Akira Kurosawa and some others that suggest a familiarity with the animated films of Satoshi Kon — but they don’t add up to anything memorable. The whole movie rests on Hugh Jackman — a man who has become so gym-ratted-up that he looks more uncomfortable than imposing — and it’s too much to ask of him. In his favor, he doesn’t sing selections from Les Misérables. That’s a plus.
When I say the whole thing rests on Jackman, that’s not a figure of speech. It’s really the case. Much of the cast is entirely made up of Japanese actors you mostly don’t know and one Russian actress you probably saw in 2011’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. (There are some dream sequences with Famke Janssen as Jean Grey encouraging him to hurry up and die so he can join her on the other side, à la Lorelei in Frank Miller’s much maligned 2008 flick, The Spirit.) But mostly, it’s all Jackman as Logan/The Wolverine. It’s Logan in gloomy mode and Logan in surly mode and Logan in action mode and … well, you get the idea. It starts with him saving a Japanese officer, Yashida (Haruhiko Yamanouchi), from the atomic bomb in Nagasaki. It then quickly moves to him living on a cliff-side (why, I do not know) in Canada for a sequence that really serves no discernible function before he’s whisked off to Japan for a meeting with the now dying Yashida. This is where the plot kicks in — a convoluted industrial takeover involving Yashida’s business empire. Of course, there’s a darker, deeper plot afoot that you can probably spot early on. It mostly doesn’t matter, because the movie’s primary raison d’être is Logan fighting off ninja assassins — with time out for a visit to a rundown, erotic adult hotel that looks like it was left over from Blue Valentine (2010).
The whole thing, of course, leads to a big showdown of the kind these movies are all geared toward. It’s no better or worse than most, and at least it doesn’t involve destroying an entire city. The big centerpiece here involves a giant chrome-plated samurai warrior that somehow manages to be a lot less menacing than the giant warrior in Terry Gilliam’s Brazil (1985). It’s all moderately exciting while it’s going on, but loses most of its punch thanks to a supposed big revelation that is neither big nor much of a revelation. Like everything else about the movie (including the pointless 3-D), it’s ultimately just sort of there — at least up to the tease during the end credits that tantalizes us with a more interesting looking movie to come. Call me old-fashioned, but I really think a movie ought to be more than a two-hour trailer for a better movie. Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, some sexuality and language.
Playing at Carolina Cinemas, Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltmore Grande, United Artists Beaucatcher