Don't get us wrong. We don't mean to take anything away from the more substantial qualities of "The Wolverine," a fairly satisfying if not stellar installment in the saga of the famous mutant that Hugh Jackman's been playing since, wow, 2000. (For a little perspective, Bill Clinton was still president.)
But let's just point out that Jackman bares it all in a brief but memorable scene in a bathtub, and the studio would be wise to advertise this scene as much as possible. Because Wolverine is all about Jackman, and not only is the actor in amazing shape, but he's funny in the scene, too. So why not flaunt it?
"The Wolverine"★ ★ ½
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Rila Fukushima, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Tao Yokamoto, Famke Janssen
Directed by: James Mangold
Other: A 20th Century Fox release. Rated PG-13 for violence, sexuality and language. 126 minutes
Jackman's been in good movies and not-as-good movies, but one thing he's never lacked is charisma. Whether hoofing it in a Broadway musical or crooning as Jean Valjean in "Les Miserables," that charisma makes him always worth watching. And so, whether you're an X-Men fan or not, it's Jackman that makes "The Wolverine" worth watching, too.
Oh yes, the movie. On the plus side, we get to know the Wolverine, aka Logan, a little better. We also see him physically challenged, losing some of his mutant healing powers, which gives Jackman a nice chance to display weakness.
There are also some welcome funny moments in the script, many having to do with its Japan setting. When Logan and a young woman he's protecting want to hide, they enter a Japanese "love hotel" where, they're informed, their room options are: dungeon, nurse's office or Mission to Mars. (They pick the latter). Also pay attention to Logan's great comeback after throwing a bad guy out a window into a swimming pool.
And director James Mangold sets one terrific action scene -- the film's best -- on a speeding bullet train, making great use of those claws.
On the minus side are some lackluster performances and an ending that, sorry to say, is simply not that exciting, or maybe we've all just run out of steam by then.
The film, Jackman's sixth outing as Logan, finds him hiding out in the woods of the Yukon, his best friend a grizzly bear. He runs into Yukio (an appealing Rila Fukushima), who tells him he's needed in Japan.
There, Logan is brought to the dying tycoon Harada, who apparently wants to say goodbye. As we see in a flashback, Logan had saved Harada from the Nagasaki atomic bombing. Actually, Harada wants to transfer Logan's healing powers and immortality to himself. Logan doesn't like the plan.
Before escaping, though, he attends Harada's funeral, and finds himself fighting off mob thugs seeking to kidnap the man's granddaughter, Mariko. Wounded, he manages to escape with Mariko onto a bullet train, where that great fight scene unfolds up on the roof.
Some quiet scenes follow, giving Jackman a chance to display a winning vulnerability. He makes us worry about Logan in a way we never did before.
If his character has some depth, the same can't be said for all the supporting players. Svetlana Khodchenkova, as Viper, is supposed to be villainous but comes across as only vampy. Tao Yokamoto is attractive and sweet as Mariko. Famke Janssen appears as Logan's dead love, Jean Grey, in ghostly scenes that are a bit silly.
But really it's about Jackman. At this point he could play the role in his sleep -- but he doesn't, and the nuances he and director Mangold bring to the character lift this enterprise up from the usual blockbuster-sequel fare.
Oh, and check out that bathtub scene.