The common thread linking this year's summer blockbusters has been the cheery nonchalance with which they've obliterated cities and the innocent civilians who live in them, so it's refreshing to see The Wolverine, a relatively small-scale superhero film which prefers not to kill anyone except the bad guys – and they don't count.
Very loosely based on a beloved mini-series scripted by Chris Claremont and drawn by Frank Miller, it starts in the Canadian Rockies, where Logan (Hugh Jackman, more muscly than ever) is living rough, far away from his fellow X-Men, but haunted by dreams of his lost love, Jean Grey (Famke Janssen). He's then summoned to Japan by a man he last met at the end of the Second World War. Logan never ages, you see, but his Japanese acquaintance, now the decrepit boss of an Apple-rivalling corporation, claims that he can switch off Logan's immortality and let him live a normal, finite life. Alas, our hero doesn't have long to mull over the proposition before he has to defend the old man's granddaughter against an army of Yakuza gangsters.
For much of its running time, The Wolverine is less like a standard superhero movie than a Bond film of the early Connery period or the late Craig period: a stylish, soulful, sci-fi-tinged mystery with a wry tough guy, three femmes fatale, an exotic setting, and a fight on a train. It has no colourful costumes, but lots of people standing around, brooding over the past – two bold decisions which could well have younger viewers shuffling as they wait for the action to get under way.
Maybe it was the thought of those younger viewers that led to the film's disastrous final half-hour, a messy pile-up of supervillains and robots plus forehead-slappingly stupid twists. Like Man Of Steel, The Wolverine is at its most interesting when Jackman is a beardy drifter, and least interesting when he is battling demigods from a Flash Gordon serial. The last half-hour seems to be the director's way of apologising for doing something different with the superhero genre. Disappointingly, normal service is very much resumed.
One other flaw is that it's in 3D, but doesn't do anything with the third dimension to compensate for the weight of the chunky plastic specs on your nose. In fact, you can see better 3D in the first few seconds of Alfred Hitchcock's Dial M For Murder (Alfred Hitchcock, 105 mins, PG *****), which has been restored to take advantage of current stereoscopic technology, and released in time for its ... errr ... 59th anniversary. At the beginning, the titles float above the heads of the people sitting in front of you, and there are some splendid moments when fingers jab right out of the screen. But even these bits are more of a distraction than an enhancement, which doesn't bode well for the whole 3D industry. If Hitch can't make us fall in love with it, then who can?
Otherwise, Dial M For Murder is one of his most streamlined and slyly entertaining thrillers. Shot almost entirely on one set representing a London flat, it stars Grace Kelly as the angelic wife who doesn't suspect her husband, Ray Milland, of plotting to kill her. Milland may be phenomenally unconvincing as a recently retired tennis pro, but as a homicidal maniac he's so debonair, and so meticulous, that you catch yourself hoping that his diabolical plan will succeed.