RATING: 2 stars (out of 4)
The Wolverine starts off by showing just how tough Wolvie is. He’s in Nagasaki, Japan as a POW during World War II, trapped in a well like Baby Jessica. Ever the gentleman, he covers up one of his captors and takes an atom bomb to the nose. Then he shakes it off as if it was nothing more than a tap on his adamantium stones.
As head-shakingly Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls the nuking is, it’s kind of a cool way to start things off here. But it’s also the worst way to start things off because if a nuclear bomb can’t take the mutton chop-toting badarse out, what hope do armies of evil ninjas have? And if armies of ninja armies can’t chip one of Wolverine’s claws, how can miniboss Viper (a sexy doctor who poisons people by licking them) or end boss Evil Armor-Suit Robot Guy be much of a threat?
That’s the heavy burden director James Mangold, star Hugh Jackman and a bunch of supporting actors with unpronouncable names have to carry here. The Wolverine is as vulnerable as Mario in invincibility star mode, and there’s nary a bottomless pit around to threaten the hero. The closest thing to a bottomless pit is that well, which any respectable mutant can easily wall-jump his way out of. As a result, the movie is little more than a waiting game to witness Wolverine kick every single bad guy’s booty, facing no real threat, save for that one time Wolverine seriously gets bored and starts slashing at his own chest.
Jackman plays Wolverine as a tortured immortal who wants nothing more than to die. He’s haunted by dreams of his dead ex and is so fed up with rescuing people, he’s taken to roaming the woods, defending the honor of wronged grizzly bears.
Following the trend of just about all recent superhero movies (The Dark Knight Rises, Ironman 3, Man of Steel), this one spends a lot of time with its big guy as a scruffy-haired bum. Eventually though, a kindly Japanese psychic woman picks him up at a bar and offers him a one-way ticket to Japan where he will be offered a shave, haircut and the chance to go off on a crazed, evil, ninja-hunting spree. As appealing as the life of a homeless grizzly defender is, Wolverine takes her up on the offer and is murdering ninjas on bullet trains and tossing bad guys out of hotel windows in no time.
But on second thought, maybe the ninjas aren’t all that evil but are just loyal foot soldiers attempting to spare their country from ruin by the sharp-clawed Canadian import. Wolverine’s idea of showing respect for Japanese culture or customs is to yell “Hey!” before he starts slashing costumed funeral officials and to holler before he barges into pachinko parlors or dragon-shrouded temples hunting down whoever he feels like killing at the time. You know that trick Americans tend to use abroad at places that hate Americans? The one where they pretend to be Canadians? Yeah, well, after Wolverine’s done clawing a country to death, that option no longer applies.
Wolverine’s most impressive superpower turns out not to be his indestructible metal skeleton, strength of 20 men or quick-healing ability but his uncanny capacity to make something as intrinsically cool as claw-mangling ninjas start to seem played out after a while. This is not the worst superhero movie of the last few years. Heck, it’s not even the worst Wolverine movie. That one from four years ago was far, far more awful. But by the end of the movie, Wolverine sort of manages to convince you everything would be better if he found a way to go off and die like he wants to.
Starring Hugh Jackman, Tao Okamoto, Rila Fukushima, Hiroyuki Sanada and Svetlana Khodchenkova. Written by Christopher McQuarrie, Mark Bomback and Scott Frank. Directed by James Mangold. 126 minutes. Rated PG-13.