Hugh Jackman never seems to be having much fun playing Marvel’s adamantine-clawed hero. Partly that’s the way the guy’s written, lovesick and scraping his way to multiple disembowelments. But at least give these screenwriters and director James Mangold (Walk the Line) credit for putting the angst front and center: Early on, we see an especially hairy Logan (Jackman) wandering the woods in a grizzly-man funk, lashing out at a tree for no apparent reason and having violent dreams about his lost lady, Jean (Famke Janssen). These kinds of movies require that he straighten up and fly right; for a while, though, you can pretend that Jackman is trapped in outtakes from Les Misérables and about to break into song.
Somewhat laughably, he encounters pixie-cute Yukio (Rila Fukushima) in a dive bar and she shuttles him off to Tokyo, where a Japanese business magnate lies dying. Here’s where the intrigue is supposed to happen (Logan once shared a bunker with this oldster when the A-bomb dropped on Nagasaki) and there’s a sultry, appealingly confident granddaughter, Mariko (Tao Okamoto), who needs protecting from greedy interests. But too quickly the random fights pile up—so many yakuza thugs who forgot to wear chain mail that morning—and you yearn for the film that might have been. It exists in fits and starts: a Blade Runner–esque moment of rainy contemplation on a hotel balcony; some weird sexual tension with a lizard girl (statuesque Svetlana Khodchenkova) who steals away Wolverine’s healing powers. (Get your comics-geek friends to fill in the gaps.) To the end, Jackman aims higher than the material, even as its busyness feels like a foregone conclusion. It’s You Only Live Twice without the Nancy Sinatra song—Hugh could have killed that.
Follow Joshua Rothkopf on Twitter: @joshrothkopf