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'The Wolverine' review: Not better enough

**1/2 (out of four)

I could say I liked “The Wolverine,” but I'd be lying. I could say I didn't like “The Wolverine,” but I'd be lying.

No, the latest attempt to give Mr. Pointyhands his own franchise (following 2010’s forgettable “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”) falls into that middle ground of movies just good enough that you wish they were a little better, so you could actually feel like you enjoyed them.

At first, Logan (Hugh Jackman) claims his Wolverine days are behind him, though no one keeps facial hair like that to indicate, “I'm just an ordinary schmoe from now on.” When the man whom Logan saved during WWII requests from his death bed that his savior say goodbye, the rugged, muscular mutant returns to Japan. There, his old pal Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi) claims Logan might not have to be immortal anymore. To a loner tormented by visions of war and his late squeeze Jean Grey (Famke Janssen)—one stabbing-related nightmare is plenty, and this guy has two—that actually sounds somewhat appealing.

Numerous subplots involve a samurai (Rila Fukushima) who can see the future; Yashida's granddaughter (Tao Okamoto) who makes a questionable love interest; blatantly sleazy family members with dastardly agendas (I won't name them; you'll be able to tell); and a mutant doctor (Svetlana Khodchenkova) who spits venom and has quite nice legs for a snake.

Director James Mangold (“3:10 to Yuma,” “Walk the Line”), brought in after original director Darren Aronofsky backed out, captures some playful images and balances yet another grim superhero saga with effective comic relief. Though it doesn't totally look real, an action sequence atop a moving train makes heart-pounding use of high-speed hurdles. Yet “The Wolverine” provides a little in a lot of areas and not really enough in any of them. It's obvious when it should be complex, and spotty when it needs to be gripping.

And it’s not that fun.

Plus, the inclusion of dreams within dreams, dying wishes, Japanese business deals, visions of dead wives and the impairment of professional abilities frequently and unexpectedly recalls “Inception.” Not many movies can keep up with Christopher Nolan's eye, mind or heart.

Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 6:55 a.m. on WCIU, the U

mpais@tribune.com

 

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