Logan gets his claws into love
Film of the week: The wolverine (12A, general release, 126 minutes) 2 STARS
Hugh Jackman has played the Wolverine so many times that when he starred as Jean Val Jean in Les Misérables last year, I kept wondering why he didn't just pull out those metal claws and teach his tormentor Russell Crowe a lesson.
This is the sixth time that Jackman has bulked up to portray the lupine mutant in a superhero franchise that began in 2000 and shows no signs of ever ending.
There's another X-Men prequel due out next year, and meanwhile we have this little offering, in which Wolverine goes to Japan and falls in love while fending off an army of ninjas.
This isn't the first time Wolverine has gone solo: 2009's X-Men Origins: Wolverine explained why Logan was such a very unhappy bunny by dramatising a terrible feud with his evil brother that stretched back centuries. In this film, which is set more or less in the present, Logan is hiding in the wilds of the Yukon and still mourning the tragic death of his true love and fellow mutant Jean when a chance encounter drags him into another adventure.
Logan's only friend in the wilderness has been a grumpy grizzly bear whose table manners are only marginally worse than his own.
When the bear is shot by a hunter with a poisoned arrow and left to endure a lingering death, a furious Logan heads into town to knock seven bells out of the moron.
His performance is watched by a small and colourfully dressed Japanese girl called Yukio (Rila Fukushima) who approaches Logan afterwards and tells him she bears a gift from an old friend. It's a samurai sword, and as soon as he sees it, Logan knows who it's from.
In a prologue, we saw Logan held captive in a Japanese prisoner of war camp as an American air raid commences. The place is Nagasaki, the time August 9, 1945, and those planes are carrying a nightmarish payload. A young camp guard called Yashida (Ken Yamamura) has come to release him from the pit where he's kept, and when Logan realises that an atom bomb has been dropped he throws himself on Yashida and protects him from the worst effects of the blast.
Yashida went on to become a hugely successful businessman: now he is dying, and wishes to thank Logan before he goes.
Reluctantly, Logan agrees to accompany Yukio to the old man's compound in Tokyo, but as soon as he gets there he quickly regrets it.
Something is amiss in Yashida's empire: his son Shingen (Hiroyuki Sanada) is scheming to get his hands on his father's money, but has found out the old man intends to leave it all to Shingen's daughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto) instead. And when Logan goes to bid farewell to Yashida, he discovers the old fool has no intention of dying and wants to extract the Wolverine's powers of regeneration.
Drained of his immortal essence by a sinister mutant doctor called Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova), Logan must race to protect the beautiful Mariko after she's kidnapped, knowing that the next yakuza bullet that whistles towards his head might be the one that kills him.
The Wolverine was partly filmed on location in Japan and has the kind of production values you'd expect of an action movie with a $125m budget. There are some impressive action scenes, particularly a clever sequence in which Logan battles numerous enemies on top of a speeding bullet train.
But after a busy opening half hour in which James Mangold's film breezily establishes its rather convoluted storyline, things sag badly when Logan goes all sloppy.
Instantly attracted to Mariko from the start, he becomes romantically involved with her when the two escape south to Nagasaki to avoid the clutches of the yakuza. They moon about the old city for far too long, and Logan's dalliances are interspersed with dreams in which Jean (Famke Janssen) tries to entice him away from the Japanese broad and into the afterlife.
It's all a bit ridiculous, and The Wolverine loses the run of itself entirely with a climax that feels like something from a bad Bond movie. The film's principal weakness is its flimsy storyline, but I'm not sure that even the finest screenplay would have justified yet another film about the bloody Wolverine.
DIRECTOR: JAMES MANGOLD STARS: HUGH JACKMAN, TAO OKAMOTO, FAMKE JANSSEN, RILA FUKUSHIMA