Local Review: ‘Wolverine’ better what he does in sequel

Much like his healing factor allows him to recover from virtually any wound, Wolverine’s popularity let him survive a lackluster standalone film and return in a better vehicle.

“The Wolverine” finds Hugh Jackman donning the adamantium claws and muttonchops for the sixth time in an adventure that takes Logan to Japan to see an old friend and get into a whole lot more trouble.

Unlike 2009’s prequel, “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” this entry picks up after “X-Men: The Last Stand” and finds Logan retreating from humanity after (seven-year-old spoiler warning) killing his unrequited love Jean Grey. He’s pulled from his self-imposed exile by Yukio (Rila Fukushima) to reunite with Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi) whose life he saved during World War II. The dying Yashida wants to give the nigh-immortal Logan a gift – to take away his mutant healing power so he can finally end his long, lonely existence.

Logan tries to walk away from both the offer and the web of intrigue surrounding Yashida’s family. But the latter becomes impossible when the man’s granddaughter, Mariko (Tao Okamoto), is targeted by the Japanese mafia, and Logan jumps into the fray, even as his healing factor begins to fail him.

One reason this film represents an improvement over its predecessor is that director James Mangold (“3:10 to Yuma”) and screenwriters Mark Bomback and Scott Frank focus on the title character. That may seem like a no-brainer, but the previous movie felt at times like a collection of pre-determined scenes and launchpads for spinoffs connected by a tenuous story. The new film wisely concentrates all its Easter eggs into one mid-credit sequence.

Except for Jean Grey (with Famke Janssen reprising her role in a ghost/dream capacity), the other Marvel characters populating this film are lesser known outside of X-fans. The best addition is Yukio, who delivers fitting comic relief while slipping into the sidekick role Rogue occupied in the first “X-Men” movie.

The motivation behind a lot of what happens in “The Wolverine” is unclear for a time, but everything more or less makes sense in the end. I didn’t leave feeling anything major was left unexplained. The emphasis is more on Logan dealing with being weakened for the first time and trying to find his place in a world he feels has lost all meaning.

The action sequences are solid; the bullet train sequence creative, if unsurprising. The rising body count prevented me from enjoying some of these scenes more. No, it’s not out of character for Wolverine to kill, nor is it grossly excessive in context, but I’ve always found it more interesting to see Logan struggle with his animal nature rather than giving lip service to resistance before slicing and dicing.

The climactic battle finally pits Wolverine against a far physically superior foe. It does have some exciting – and at least one iconic – moments, even if the logic and mechanics are somewhat lacking.

The movie keeps its PG-13 rating via the tiresome tactic of showing little to no blood despite the protagonist wielding six razor sharp blades. We see plenty of Logan’s blood in the aftermath of fights though, as his healing lags behind its normal speed.

There’s also a few unnecessary bursts of profanity that seem to have been added strictly for shock value. Children will recognize the character, but this is a movie where parents should heed the rating.

“The Wolverine” is a definite upgrade from the most popular X-Man’s last standalone gig, but he’s got a long way to go to catch up to other superhero solo artists like Iron Man, Spider-Man and Batman.