REVIEW: The Wolverine (2013) Hugh Jackman, Tao Okamoto. Dir. James Mangold

James Mangold's The Wolverine marks the sixth time out as the clawed bad boy mutant for Hugh Jackman, and is something of a welcome return to form after the disaster that was X-Men Origins: Wolverine back in 2009. This one works as an isolated, self -contained story, or to put it another way, it could have also been called Wolverine's Adventures in Japan.

Based on an early 1980's comic book storyline from Chris Claremont and Frank Miller, this is not a prequel to the X-Men films like the last solo Wolverine movie, but appears to take place sometime after X-Men 3: The Last Stand. Logan remains haunted by dreams of a recurring Jean Grey (once again Famke Janssen), his lost love, who pleads with him to join her in the afterlife. Jackman again plays Logan as a brooding lost soul, but with the same gruffness and occasionally humorous twinkle we've grown so used to over the past 13 years.

In this "episode" as it were, we see that Logan once saved a man named Ichiro Yashida's life in Japan right after the bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. In present day, Yashida is now dying and sends his adopted daughter Yukio (Rila Fukushima) to find his savior and bring him to him before he dies. While in Japan, Logan gets caught up in a plot by the Japanese mob and the mutant Viper to kidnap Yashida's granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto) and he must step in to help out, falling for Mariko (who is his great love in the comics) in the process.

Theirs is something of a melancholy affair, and the film itself is refreshing in that it's mostly a character driven exploration of Logan's haunted soul. The Japanese setting and cast of characters gives this adventure an exotic feel, setting it apart from other X-Men movies and action films this summer. There are some good action scenes involving a horde of Japanese ninjas and a thrilling fight atop a speeding bullet train that leaves you with the bang for your buck, and the three key female performances in the film are all meaty and effective; from Yukio, who's also a mutant with psychic powers, to Mariko, vulnerable and appealing as the possible antidote to Logan's damaged psyche, and Viper, a villain with a toxic tongue, played with great scenery chewing heft by Russian actress Svetlana Khodochenkova.

After the terrible X3 and Origins films, the franchise took a big step in the right direction with First Class a couple years ago, and it continues that way here, with a satisfying, low key and character driven film, that only devolves into the typical action movie climax in the last 15 minutes or so. It's a far worthier solo outing for the Wolverine this time around, and be sure to stay tuned for the credits, which include a stinger that brings back some old favorites and sets up the much anticipated Days of Future Past next May- which promises to be the colossal and epic X-Men film featuring past and present ensembles that fans have been awaiting for a long, long time. To be continued..

* * 1/2