UNDATED (USA TODAY) -- Wolverine returns, still vigorous and razor-clawed, but in the throes of an existential crisis.
The Wolverine (* * 1/2 our of four; rated PG-13; opens Thursday in some theaters and Friday nationwide) features some powerful action scenes juxtaposed with sequences in which Hugh Jackman's character re-lives his past and ponders his future. Initially, the century-old Logan/Wolverine is disaffected and reluctant to return to his life as a mutant hero. Created as a super weapon, he has come to fear that his powers make him a danger to society.
But in short order, he's fighting ninjas and using his famous adamantium claws against thugs atop a speeding bullet train. And that, after all, is what audiences come for.
Director James Mangold has fashioned a fairly engrossing, if occasionally convoluted, tale based on the Marvel Comics figure. But an extended battle meant as a climactic clash grows tedious. And cliches seep into what could have been a fascinating glimpse into a multifaceted character. Still, this X-Men spinoff is a marked improvement over 2009'sX Men Origins: Wolverine.
This version opens intriguingly with Logan living a hermit's existence in the woods, where he can apparently communicate with grizzlies. An altercation with some obnoxious bear-hunters propels him into the path of the mysterious crimson-haired Yukio (Rila Fukushima). She lures him to Japan, where the rest of the film takes place.
There is some intriguing insight into Wolverine's psyche, peppered with cliched lines that cry out to be catchphrases a la "Hasta la vista, baby." When he dispatches a key Japanese character, he says, predictably, "sayonara.''
Though Wolverine is well-crafted visually by director James Mangold, who evokes a moody atmosphere, there are few surprises, and the movie descends into formula.
Logan goes to Tokyo at the behest of Lord Yashida (Haruhiko Yamanouchi), a man whose life he saved in World War II. He's now a wealthy industrialist. Once there, Logan encounters a sinister atmosphere in which Lord Yashida's granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto) is imperiled. Along the way, Logan tangles with Mariko's ruthless father Shingen Yashida (Hiroyuki Sanada) and is visited by his former love and fellow mutant Jean (Famke Janssen) in interminable cheesy dream-like sequences.
Mangold seeks to get deeper into Logan's head and tap into the sources of his rage. The director is not always successful revealing Logan/Wolverine's complexities, but he does capture the character's feral warrior qualities deftly. He also effectively contrasts the ultra-modernity of Japan with its ancient codes of honor.
The Wolverine is an intermittently exciting action film anchored by a strong performance by Jackman, who embodies Wolverine like no one else could.
Be sure to stay all the way through the credits.