"The Wolverine" Declawed By Strikingly Inane Screenplay

What begins as “Wolverine: Park Ranger,” fraught with a urinating CGI bear and our alcoholic hero becoming a kind of bearded Doctor Doolittle, and ends with a “What the hell am I watching?” type finale that nearly redefines the word “incoherent,” “The Wolverine” takes both the “super” and “hero” out of “superhero.” What we’re left with is a paean to nothingness, a limp and unimaginative specter of a comic book film, which is, despite some hefty competition, the worst “X-Men” picture to date.

Director James Mangold is the only main player that doesn’t entirely drop the ball – his previous film, “Knight And Day,” is an amusing, underappreciated remix of the spy genre – but with so little of substance to work with here, he seems entirely lost. A handful of nice visual cues are lost among a sea of inexplicable narrative decisions, including approximately eighty-four dream sequences. You want a dream sequence within a dream sequence? You got it! The screenplay, by Mark Bomback and Scott Frank, is a shambles, to put it nicely.

“Boring” is bad. “Stupid” is bad. “Boring” and “stupid” at the same time? Infinitely worse. Hugh Jackman returns to make his sixth onscreen appearance as Logan, the Wolverine, ostensibly a record for any actor portraying a comic book character. Following a prologue that involves the bombing of Nagasaki and the aforementioned Ace Ventura-esque, “friend to the animals” nonsense, our eternally 40 year-old title character is summoned to Japan to say goodbye to the soldier he saved in the opening scene. The man, Yashida (Haruhiko Yamanouchi), has aged beyond his years, while Logan remains frozen in time, cursed by his own adamantium-induced immortality.

Yashida offers to repay Logan’s kindness by making him human again. Logan balks. How is that possible? Also, he’s not entirely sure that the whole living forever thing is worth giving up just yet. Yashida insists he can make it happen. His explanation? The company that he owns can do anything. Really, screenwriters? It’s 2013. Grade schoolers know deus ex machina when they see it. Even more unfortunately, none of what follows makes any sense. At all. Yashida’s sexy assistant, Hot Jodie Foster (she’s credited as Viper, but I prefer Hot Jodie Foster), infects Logan via kiss (while he’s in the middle of another one of his dream sequences), thus taking away Logan’s healing powers and transforming Hot Jodie Foster into Poison Ivy.

Now that Logan can’t heal himself, he’s mortal, right? No. He gets shot a lot and bleeds, but still survives every attack that the Yakuza perpetrate. How are the Yakuza involved in this? It becomes clear – or clearer – later on, but the midsection of the film is an unintelligible mess of bloodless action and half-baked romantic overtures involving Yashida’s granddaughter, Mariko (Tao Okamoto). She’s incredibly beautiful, but we know – through Logan’s endless flashbacks and, you know, the previous “X-Men” films – that Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) is his one true love. Why is Mariko in the film at all? Yukio (Rila Fukushima), clairvoyant-warrior mutant, could easily shoulder Mariko’s share of the narrative. Instead, both characters come off as redundant.

The film is not without good ideas here and there. A fight on top of a speeding bullet train is silly but viscerally thrilling. Also, Logan stabs someone through a steel door, and the bloody, rusty claw marks left behind are a stark reminder of why the character’s duality is inherently interesting. But not here. Not in a film that’s content to crib its finale from the “Iron Man” and “Transformers” films, featuring a large, robotic Shogun that only shows up because none of the other four or five pseudo-villains have achieved the minimum level of physical menace. That the final twist is so stupid is almost comforting, its inanity in line with the rest of the movie – the first and only shred of consistency in the entire piece.

“X-Men Origins: Wolverine” was poorly conceived, but it had a worthy villain (Liev Schreiber as Sabretooth) and a palpable sense of self-awareness. It, too, was narratively challenged, but it was colorful and, as a result, watchable. “The Wolverine” is none of those things, instead piling on to the heap of angsty, brooding superheroes, forgoing a sense of fun for trend chasing. It’ll make gobs of money because Hugh Jackman as the Wolverine is a familiar and comfortable fit for millions of moviegoers, but this kind of clinical, halfhearted filmmaking is why superhero fatigue is as real as ever. “The Wolverine” doesn’t have an original bone in its body, and I can only hope that audiences catch on to these money-grab tactics sooner rather than later. Boring and stupid.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★ 1/2 out of ★★★★★ (Bad)

Release Date: July 26, 2013
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Director: James Mangold
Screenwriter: Mark Bomback, Scott Frank
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Will Yun Lee, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Hiroyuki Sanada, Hal Yamanouchi, Tao Okamoto, Rila Fukushima, Brian Tee
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, some sexuality and language)