Russell Baillie writes about movies for the Herald

Movie review: The Wolverine

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Near the beginning of this film, Hugh Jackman is looking curiously like he did at the start of Les Miserables. He's out in the wild, scruffy of mane, bushy of beard and not a happy Yukon camper.

More worryingly, there soon comes a noise that sounds like a wounded grizzly bear. What's Russell Crowe's Javert doing in this? No, that's actually a wounded grizzly bear - he was Logan/Wolverine's woodland neighbour until felled by a poison-tipped arrow. Off to town Wolverine heads, to have a quiet word to the archer.

But just as he's cutting a swathe through the hunter folk in a local bar, the most famous of the X-Men mutants encounters a teenage ninja - fuchsia-haired, katana-wielding Yukio (Rila Fukushima), who makes him an offer he doesn't quite understand: come to Japan to see the man whose life you saved at the end of World War II.

That brief wartime episode, set in a Nagasaki prisoner of war camp, neatly parallels the Nazi concentration camp experiences of the young Magneto in the first X-Men movie and the great 2011 prequel.

It makes for an impressively bold prologue to this, the more satisfying but still patchy second Wolverine spin-off after the lacklustre 2009 X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

That opening has razor-knuckled Logan saving a Japanese officer, Yashida, from the atomic blast. Years later, the contemporary timeline taking place after 2006's X-Men: The Last Stand, Yashida-san (Hal Yamanouchi) is the head of a vast corporation. He wants to say thanks to his saviour before he dies.

He also says he could turn off Logan's self-healing factor, which has made him seemingly immortal and unageing. But no sooner is he able to consider the offer than the old man expires, leaving Logan to protect the tycoon's heir, his beautiful but brave granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto) from multiple threats.

That's just the start of Wolverine's Japanese adventures, which are influenced by both the comic book character's official origin story and an 80s comic book series that drew upon the character's samurai-like tendencies. The movie does too.

But while keeping the story within Japan is a refreshing setting for a superhero movie, it also feels like it's working its way through a crash course of Nippon culture. Kendo, yakuza, love hotels, and onsen are quickly ticked off. So are bullet trains, with the movie's terrific centrepiece action sequence taking place on top of one, the only scene to really benefit from post-production 3D. And, of course, Wolverine's lone wolf gets called a "ronin" - a samurai with no master - as he plays bodyguard to Mariko.

But while The Wolverine's first half shows plenty of promise, the story seems to trade samurai sharpness for sumo sag along the way. Largely setting Logan in a world of ordinary people rather than another mutant reunion gives this a point of difference.

But it's the unreal people who become hindrances. Slain girlfriend Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), appears in repeated dream sequences that resemble ads for expensive nightwear. Villain mutant Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova) is suitably reptilian but she owes way too much to Batman baddie Poison Ivy.

The story reverts to formula on the way to a showdown that is surprisingly dull for the amount of blades involved.

That said, The Wolverine almost gets there. It has good humour in all of his mutton-chopped frowning, even if the best joke is stolen from a Bond movie.

But despite the title, it's still not the definitive movie the much-loved character deserves.

Stars: 3/5
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Tao Okamoto, Rila Fukushima
Director: James Mangold
Rating: M (violence and offensive language)
Running time: 126 mins
Verdict: Sharp start, dull finish

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