Unlike the Origins offering, this movie sets its action in present day and after the events of X-Men: The Last Stand, with a bereaved Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) living as a recluse in a mountain cave and tormented by the death of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), who alternates between love and hate when she appears to him in his dreams-turned-nightmares. When he’s whisked away to Japan at the request of a dying technology magnate (Haruhiko Yamanouchi) he once knew, Logan is presented with a tempting offer: mortality. The ability to transfer his self-regenerating powers to another and lead a simple, normal, mortal life.
But, before Logan can say “hai” or “shinai,” the game changes. The magnate dies, his comely granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto) – who’s set to inherit his empire and with whom Logan is suddenly smitten – is targeted for assassination by the Yakuza, and reptilian villain Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova) slithers onto the scene. Soon, Wolverine is back in action, battling ninjas in a remote village and fighting mob thugs atop a speeding bullet train.
Unfortunately, though, amid some really great stuff – from the aforementioned train sequence and fantastically choreographed martial-arts duels, to the more introspective, psychological “what does it mean to live forever?” undertones – is some really meh onscreen talent. In the same way that Origins was stuck with the exceedingly uninteresting Lynn Collins as Wolverine’s beloved, this film features two equally yawn-worthy female co-stars. Okamoto is a woefully dull shrinking violet, and Khodchenkova is by far the film’s weakest link – her Viper has no substance or depth, and Khodchenkova’s voice is so poorly dubbed that her (clearly recorded by someone else) dialogue never quite syncs up with how her mouth is moving. It was a bit like hiring Paris Hilton to play the heavy. (If they needed a statuesque blonde with the chops to take on this role, couldn’t someone have picked up the phone and called Charlize Theron?) The exception is Rila Fukushima, who’s a wonderfully engaging onscreen spitfire. Her spirited, sword-slinging seer Yukio – who becomes Wolverine’s de-facto sidekick – was pretty awesome.
The men don’t really fare much better, and they all seem cut from the same clichéd cloth: two-dimensional rageaholics. Only Will Yun Lee manages to carve out some semblance of a third dimension but, by film’s end, I still wasn’t sure if he was a good guy or a bad guy. Likewise, the film’s meant-to-be-shocking “twist” was something I telegraphed early on, so that was a bit of an anticlimactic moment.
The film’s final scenes hint that this won’t be the last Wolverine solo outing, but I can’t say this installment makes me super-excited to see the next. By contrast, a bonus scene dropped about two minutes into the closing credits indicate he’ll also be reuniting with some familiar friends in the cinematic future, and that looks like it’s going to be great.
The almost hour-long featurette The Path of a Ronin goes behind the scenes on the film with interviews with the cast and crew, and also delves into the samurai culture that helped shaped this particular story. There is also an alternate ending, deleted scenes, a very brief tour of the set for the next film in the franchise X-Men: Days of Future Past, and the Second Screen app for smartphones and tablets.