If you're looking forward to a film about a North American weasel or a fullback from the University of Michigan, look elsewhere. However, unless you've been on a meditative retreat for the last decade and a half, you doubtless already know that "The Wolverine" is another installment in the ongoing "X-Men" franchise, with Hugh Jackman assaying the title role for the sixth time.
2009's "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" showed us the young Wolverine/Logan; the new film shows us the oldest Wolverine yet. He may look 40ish, but he's actually a very well-preserved 150? 175? (Who's counting?) Now — by which we mean "after the events of "X-Men: Last Stand" — his longevity is beginning to take its spiritual toll. He's retired to become a hermit, living among the bears and weasels in the forest, and questioning the long-term — very long-term — wisdom of immortality.
His solitude is interrupted by the pushy but adorable Yukio (Rila Fukushima), a redheaded pixie who works for Lord Yashida (Haruhiko Yamanouchi), head of Japan's biggest company. It seems that, back in 1945, Logan — then a mere stripling of roughly 105 — saved the young Yashida from the Nagasaki A-bomb. Now Yashida is at death's door, and he has dispatched Yukio to bring Logan to Tokyo, allegedly for a final farewell.
It turns out that Yashida has more elaborate plans, as do both a gang of yakuza thugs and his ambitious son, Shingen (the versatile Hiroyuki Sanada). Soon Logan is on the run with Mariko (Tao Okamoto), the granddaughter to whom Yashida is leaving his entire estate. In the meanwhile — through a process we shall not reveal — Logan appears to be losing his Wolverine powers.
Like most of its predecessors, "Wolverine" is solidly made. It represents yet another departure for director James Mangold, who also worked with Jackman in "Kate & Leopold" (2001). The only consistency in his filmography is that each new release has no discernible relation to the rest. His eight previous films include "Heavy" (1995), "Girl, Interrupted" (1999), "Identity" (2003), "Walk the Line" (2005), "3:10 to Yuma," and two underrated romps — "Knight and Day" (2010) and the aforementioned "Kate & Leopold."
A lot of "The Wolverine" is composed of fighting — with samurai swords, claws, giant metal exoskeletons, arrows, fists, feet and guns — and running. Several of these action scenes are impressive, most notably the fight on the top of the bullet train.
A brief exposure to mortality seems to change Logan a bit; and he finally manages to free himself from his fidelity to Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), who has been haunting his dreams ... and frankly acting like a real downer. From the get-go, the film sets Logan up to fall for Mariko, which is a shame, since Yukio is by far the more interesting character of the two female characters. Logan may have superhuman powers, but — if it weren't already obvious from his relationship with Jean — he has questionable taste in women.
Note: the 3D effects are very engaging at first, but it's unlikely that the film will lose anything important in its 2D incarnation.
--ANDY KLEIN is the film critic for Marquee. He can also be heard on "FilmWeek" on KPCC-FM (89.3).