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'Wolverine' fails to deliver

  • (Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation)

''To be, or not” ... let's make it “To slash, or not to slash.” Because this latest X-Men movie is a lot more existential than recent installments in this comic book series have been.

“The Wolverine” is nothing if not ambitious — a moody, haunted tale of Logan the Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) coping with his ghosts and settling old debts — in Japan, no less. It's the perfect country for a guy who appreciates a good, sharp blade.

And if this James Mangold (“Walk the Line”) take on the superhero franchise stumbles up blind alleys, overreaches and turns long and repetitious by its bloody-bland predictable third act, at least it gives Jackman something worth chewing over for the first 90 minutes.

We first see our man Logan in solitary, stuck in a well in a Japanese POW camp at the end of Wold War II. His captors panic at the sight of a couple of B-29 bombers, and one frees the American prisoners — very uncharacteristic behavior historically, but hey, this is comic book history. Logan shields the guard when the big blast comes, because this turns out to be Nagasaki, where the second atomic bomb was detonated to force Japan's surrender.

Decades later, the immortal mutant with the Adamantium knives in his fists is summoned to the side of the man he once saved, summoned by a martial arts pixie (Rila Fukushima).

“Eternity can be a curse,” the dying old man (Hal Yamanouchi), now a billionaire, speculates. “A man can run out of things to live for.” He offers his savior the chance to lose his immortality, to live a normal life span without the super-healing powers and strength that make the very idea that Wolverine would have ever been a prisoner of war absurd.

Wolverine finds himself mixed up in the succession between the dying man and his heirs. The Japanese mob, the Yakuza, is trying to nab the supermodel-thin granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto), and Wolverine chases her cross-country to protect her.

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