Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) hates injustice.
Can’t stand it, really.
The only thing Canada’s hairiest hero seems to dislike more than seeing the powerful take advantage of the weak?
So as much as he’d prefer to cut himself off from humanity, camping out in the wilderness and punishing himself for the death of his beloved Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), he soon finds himself entangled in familial jealousy, corporate intrigue and ninjas — lots and lotsa ninjas — in “The Wolverine.”
It’s the second solo outing for the mutant known as Logan to his colleagues, following 2009’s lousy “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” that’s mostly remembered for wasting fan favorite Gambit and making a mess of Deadpool. (But, then, what do you expect from a movie that cares so little about accuracy, it put the “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign in the mountains outside of town?)
And while it’s a vast improvement on that creative misfire, there’s nothing in “The Wolverine” that matches the spark of Jackman’s three-word, profanity-laced cameo in 2011’s “X-Men: First Class.”
Logan is lured to Japan to say goodbye to an old friend, Lord Yashida (Haruhiko Yamanouchi), who’s dying of cancer decades after Logan shielded him from the blast and radiation during the bombing of Nagasaki.
Yashida offers to repay his debt by making Logan ordinary, allowing him to finally grow old and die so he can be reunited with Grey, whose nightgown-clad presence still haunts his dreams.
(For those of you in need of a refresher, Logan killed Grey, who was spiraling out of control as her dark alter-ego, Phoenix, at the end of 2006’s “X-Men: The Last Stand.” And while Logan was shown in Japan in the teaser at the end of “Origins,” this one picks up after “The Last Stand.”)
Yashida’s offer isn’t what you’d call selfless, however. Now a wealthy businessman, he’s hoping to take control of Logan’s healing power to cheat death again. But before Logan can fully weigh his options, the choice is made for him, leaving him vulnerable for the first time.
He’s no longer able to expel bullets. He finally needs stitches to close his growing number of wounds. Although it’s never explained why, when those adamantium claws burst forth from his skin, his hands aren’t reduced to horrible, bloody pulps.
Anyway, Logan ends up on the run, protecting Yashida’s granddaughter, Mariko (Tao Okamoto), from Yakuza gangsters, several of whom are dispatched during an absurd fight atop a speeding bullet train.
Rila Fukushima makes a strong impression as Yukio, Logan’s sword-wielding “bodyguard” who can foresee people’s deaths.
Unlike previous “X-Men” entries, which have burned through mutants like a Cyclops optic blast through butter, she’s the only newbie with powers aside from a villainess named Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova, struggling mightily with her accent), a snake-tongued mutant specializing in toxins.
The ultimate villain, obvious from the start, is revealed with the laughable line, “Don’t look so shocked.” It’s not so much of a “shock” as a “well, yeah.”
Directed by James Mangold (“3:10 to Yuma”), from a script by Mark Bomback (the “Total Recall” remake) and Scott Frank (“Marley & Me”), “The Wolverine” is based on a legendary 1980s story arc by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller. But it’s so far outside the realm of the other “X-Men” movies, it feels more like a separate script onto which Wolverine was grafted.
Still, it’s refreshing in this summer of supersized, city-destroying mayhem to see a smaller, personal superhero story.
The gruff, laconic Logan gets in a few one-liners — “Hip replacement,” he deadpans when his adamantium skeleton sets off a metal detector — but he’s thankfully much more somber than in the jokier “Origins.”
It’s yet another stop on the “X-Men” atonement tour, as the series rebounds from the near franchise-killing disappointment of “The Last Stand.”
But while it’s an interesting departure, there’s still something lacking in “The Wolverine.” It’s hard to put a finger on just what that is, though, until the postcredits scene.
Those brief moments are better, not to mention more exciting, than anything that came before them.
They bode very well for the future.
And for next summer’s “Days of Future Past.”
Contact Christopher Lawrence at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-4567.