Hugh Jackman owes a great deal of his enduring popularity to the muscular swagger and trademark sideburns of Wolverine.
The actor first donned the Adamantium claws of the hirsute Marvel Comics superhero in the 2000 blockbuster X-Men, not long after an Olivier Award nomination for Best Actor in the National Theatre’s staging of Oklahoma! He has since bulked up as the mutant warrior on four more occasions.
For this latest instalment, director James Mangold draws inspiration from a 1982 comic book storyline set in Japan to strip back the testosterone-fuelled action in favour of soul-searching and romance.
There are still spectacular set pieces including fisticuffs inside and on top of a speeding bullet train, but screenwriters Mark Bomback, Scott Frank and Christopher McQuarrie aren’t noticeably in a rush to deliver the next adrenaline-pumping thrill.
The film opens with a flashback to 1945 Nagasaki, where Logan (Jackman) is held prisoner. As the bomb detonates, Logan protects one kind officer, Shingen Yashida, from the radiation blast - his mutant powers allowing him to recover almost instantly. Years later, Logan is living alone in the woods, haunted by the death of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen). A swordswoman called Yukio (Rila Fukushima) tracks him down and asks him to accompany her to Japan to meet with the old and frail Shingen.
Reluctantly, Logan agrees and he is shocked to find Shingen (Horiyuki Sanada) on his deathbed, under the constant surveillance of a statuesque medic (Svetlana Khodchenkova). Soon after, Shingen dies and the Yazuka attempts to kidnap beloved granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto), who is poised to take over the family dynasty. Logan rescues Mariko and she develops deep feelings for her protector.
The Wolverine is a welcome change of style and pace for the franchise, and Jackman excels in the quieter moments. There are occasional flashes of humour. For the most part though, the storyline is downbeat, debating whether Logan should relinquish his immortality so he doesn’t have to watch anyone else die.
Twists and turns conceal few surprises and the inclusion of a second mutant is completely unnecessary, presumably a concession to the comic book universe to which Wolverine must return in next summer X-Men film.