Every adventure can't be a universe-rattling showdown with Ultimate Evil. It just can't. Epic-fatigue starts to set in. It's why the Avengers took a break to go get that shawarma. It's why Iron Man needed some extended me-time. So when a beloved character makes her or his sixth appearance on film, it's permissible -- actually, it's necessary -- to move the goalposts. Every movie about a super-powered character shouldn't be an origin story, shouldn't necessarily involve historical stakes. Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), for example, is going to Japan.
Living off the grid in the Yukon, waking up enraged and freshly devastated by dreams of his long-lost Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), making friends with wild bears, cursing his immortality, Logan is the guy with the haunted expression, messy hair and Duck Dynasty beard. But not for long. A Japanese soldier named Yashida (Ken Yamamura) that he rescued at Nagasaki is dying and the old man summons the ageless Logan to his side.
But Yashida wants more than a formal goodbye. Now a billionaire businessman with the world's technology as his disposal, he craves Logan's immortality. A reasonable request, really; it's not like Logan wants it. But reject the offer, he must, even though the consequences involve him getting in too deep with Yashida's granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto), psychic brawler/sidekick Yukio (Rila Fukushima) and an evil doctor in fetish-gear outfits (Svetlana Khodchenkova) who wants to steal Logan's snikkety-snikt all for herself.
It's not the end of the world. And how refreshing that is. Instead, it's ninjas and yakuza, a lot of pummeling action and a dozen cool details that deserve to be surprises. The story's origin is a comic book series from Chris Claremont, Frank Miller and Paul Smith and, while some details have changed (Logan doesn't speak Japanese here and at one point displays a touch of English-only xenophobia -- um, dude, you're in their country) its mostly serious tone -- at least until an occasionally goofy finale -- means that rather than a noise-machine of product placement and hyperactive bloat, it's a straightforward action movie where the hero happens to be an X-Person. It arrives wrapped in a cocoon of Jackman's trademark extreme-abs whisper-snarl, the one that always turns into a yell-snarl, with virtually no winking at the camera. And while Wolverine may be a tormented creature, Jackman lives in the character's skin more comfortably than ever, his committed gravity shoring up some of the other flat or downright bad performances (see: evil doctor in fetish-gear outfits).
It's well understood that the X-Men saga can be read as a metaphor for the double-edged sword of living as "the other," but almost none of that subtext is embedded here. It's a sideways adventure mostly free of canon-deep details, extra meanings or puffed up monumentalism. Wouldn't it be nice if other superheroes could take a cue from its lead, put out smaller fires, chill a little in between grandiose tentpole dust-ups, stretch out a bit as characters? The audience won't mind; they could probably use a break themselves.