If it feels like yesterday that we last saw Hugh Jackman grim up to play Marvel’s fuzziest superhero, that’s because – in Wolverine years, at least – it was. In 2009, X-Men Origins: Wolverine excavated the backstory of the deathless, blade-fingered brute, but was received with enough indifference to send Hollywood scuttling into reboot mode. With jack-of-all-trades director James Mangold (Girl, Interrupted, Knight and Day) now in charge, Wolverine has gained a definite article but little else. This turgid return papers over the previous film’s narrative, but creates little in the way of a fresh character arc.
A World War II-set prologue sees Wolverine escape from a prisoner of war camp while Nagasaki gets nuked in the background – setting the taste level for the rest of the film. Fast-forward 70 years to find him camping in the Canadian wild, bonding with grizzlies while his dead girlfriend Jean (Famke Janssen) breathily haunts him from the beyond. That’s going nowhere, so it’s back to Japan, where a past acquaintance has a score to settle. Our hero is swiftly inveigled into a countrywide chase to protect comely heiress Mariko (Tao Okamoto) from sundry yakuza, a viperish – literally – vixen and this summer’s second sword-wielding robot.
It’s the stuff of Saturday-morning cartoons, but Mangold – who, as in the appalling Knight and Day, edits all action sequences on the shaky frappé setting – hasn’t the visual pop or lightness of touch to make it bounce. Jackman, meanwhile, acts strictly from his chest outwards, evidently saving energy for his seventh appearance as Wolfie in next year’s all-too-aptly titled X-Men: Days of Future Past.