The box office bulldozing by Iron Man and The Avengers and a somewhat disappointing origins story in 2009 may have led some to regard Wolverine as yesterday's anti-hero superhero. However, older fans - those who experienced that dream-come-true summer of 2000 when a who-he? actor named Hugh Jackman made one of the greatest characters in comic history his own in the first X-Men movie - have been waiting to see the crown reclaimed and past wrongs righted.
In truth, Downey Jr and co needn't have sleepless nights: The Wolverine is more for the diehards than the casual blockbuster punter and - arguably a decade late and $30m of a budget short - won't do the business of its more-hyped contemporaries. It's still worth seeing, though; not perfect, but a welcome attempt at bringing some Blade-like grit to the Marvel movie universe.
Set in the aftermath of 2006's X-Men: The Last Stand, this solo adventure finds a boozed-up, grieving and visions-haunted Logan/Wolverine (Jackman) travelling to Japan to reconcile with someone from his past (a nicely worked prologue). It's supposed to be a flying visit, but things turn very complex, very quickly, with the death-obsessed mutant now having to decide if there's something/one left worth living for. Maddeningly, the subtitles are used at random - one minute characters are talking Japanese to each other, the next it's English - but the body count is much more reliable, and commensurate with the existential angst.
With plenty of experience depicting outsiders and isolation in Heavy, Copland, Girl, Interrupted, Walk the Line and 3:10 to Yuma, James Mangold was a good choice for the director's chair following the departure of originally planned helmer Darren Aronofsky. The man is also obsessed with Westerns and this pulpy story mixes stranger-comes-to-town dynamics with Witness to create a movie with a hardboiled, 1970s feel. Looking like the Man with No Name in Robert Mitchum's overcoat from The Yakuza, Jackman is allowed to power up the darkness and intensity of his career-making character. The claws are used more often than in previous outings too, making you wish that we'd get an 18s cert Wolverine adventure somewhere down the line. Even for a 12A movie, this is suitably nasty and bone-crunching.
Like a lot of Marvel adaptations, the villains are crap and the franchise parameters result in a disappointing ending which, like the subtitles switch-off, doesn't credit the audience with having an appetite for something different. As for the 3D, it is as we've come to expect: about as necessary as an ashtray on a motorbike. Save some money and do the 2D version – and make sure to stick around for the closing credits.