Like the giant chrome samurai that appears without warning in its climactic battle, "The Wolverine" is a marvel of design. The movie has about as much emotional depth as that robot, too, but so what? Like most superhero films, "The Wolverine" depends mostly on sheer mechanics -- both in front of and behind the camera -- and on that level it's a resounding success.
Hugh Jackman returns as Logan, the mutant from the "X-Men" films whose mutton chops and adamantine knuckle-knives have earned him the name Wolverine. He has his demons -- Famke Janssen returns as the ghost of his lover Jean Grey -- but he's refreshingly free of superhero angst. Mostly he's just a tough, angry loner in the vein of "The Hulk's" Bruce Banner or Caine of "Kung Fu." His main motivation is to avoid beating up rednecks in bars -- but Lord, they try his patience.
There will be further violence when Logan travels to Tokyo to visit Yashida (Haruhiko Yamanouchi), a man whose life he once saved. Yashida, old and dying but wealthy enough to afford cutting-edge technology, would like some of Logan's famous self-healing power. "You don't want what I've got," Logan snarls.
Few actors could make that line sing, but Jackman, charismatic and enviably handsome (the 3-D effects are devoted mainly to his shirtless chest), is one of them. He's also nicely paired with Tao Okamoto (a Japanese Ralph Lauren model making her film debut), who brings an ethereal grace to the role of Yashida's granddaughter, Mariko. These two would look great just walking and chewing gum, but they also develop a convincing chemistry and even tenderness. Adding cartoon color around the edges are Svetlana Khodchenkova as the fork-tongued Viper and Rila Fukushima as the scarlet-haired clairvoyant Yukio.
The bone-snapping, head-thwacking action scenes are expertly directed by James Mangold (more than making up for "Knight and Day") and the script, by Mark Bomback and Scott Frank, is pure comic-book in all the right ways (Viper pithily describes herself as "chemist, nihilist, capitalist"). Fans of bloated superhero spectacles like "Man of Steel" might dismiss "The Wolverine" as a flyweight entry. I'd call it slick, fast, brainless fun.
PLOT The century-old mutant battles evil forces in modern-day Japan.
RATING PG-13 (action, brief but strong language)
CAST Hugh Jackman, Rila Fukushima, Tao Okamoto
BOTTOM LINE A crackerjack action flick, thanks to slick directing and a great-looking cast. Emotionally stunted, but you won't notice a bit.
TOP 10 GROSSING MARVEL COMICS FILMS
Can "The Wolverine" join this elite top 10 highest-grossing movies based on Marvel Comics characters?
1. The Avengers (2012) -- $626,428,700
2. Spider-Man (2002) -- $566,995,500
3. Spider-Man 2 (2004) -- $490,895,400
4. Spider-Man 3 (2007) -- $399,140,600
5. Iron Man 3 (2013) -- $396,455,700
6. Iron Man (2008) -- $361,861,400
7. Iron Man 2 (2010) -- $320,686,300
8. X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) -- $291,969,100
9. X2: X-Men United (2003) -- $290,877,200
10. The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) -- $274,829,100
Source: boxofficemojo.com; adjusted for ticket-price inflation