This weekend, Logan opens in theaters, the second time actor Hugh Jackman and director James Mangold have partnered up to make a film featuring everyone’s favorite X-Men badass, Wolverine. Thus far, critics have raved over the film, marveling at its violence and willingness to tell a grown-up story that isn’t decided to sell toys and expand franchise value.

Jackman and Mangold previously collaborated on 2013’s The Wolverine, which also tried to bring a darker, more adult edge to the superhero away from blockbuster spectacle. Unfortunately, that film eventually devolved from something of a character study into a typical superhero action flick with Wolverine battling a giant robot by the end. From all accounts, Mangold maintained the right tone throughout this time around and provided Jackman with the story he’s always wanted for the character that made him a Hollywood star. (We’ll have a review tomorrow here at The Comeback.)

However, Logan actually marks the third time that Jackman and Mangold worked together. Their first project was a very different film, one that both actor and director may want to forget, especially as they now receive praise for possibly the best work of their respective careers. Before there was Wolverine, the pair had Kate & Leopold.

In 2001, Jackman was coming off his breakout turn as Wolverine in the first X-Men film. Prior to showing that he could faithfully portray Marvel Comics’ baddest claw-bearing, beer-drinking, berserker-raging antihero, Jackman was best known (though barely) for playing Curly McLain in a London production of the musical Oklahoma!. Comic book fans were extremely skeptical, if not outright freaking out.

But after playing an action hero, Jackman looked to capitalize on his higher profile by reaching out to different audiences. In the early 2000s, that meant acting in bland romantic comedies. (He also starred in Someone Like You with Ashley Judd that same year.)

A cute romantic comedy was an even more curious choice for Mangold, who established himself as a rising, independent-minded filmmaker who coaxed a strong performance out of Sylvester Stallone in Copland (1997) and helped push Angelina Jolie to stardom (overshadowing Winona Ryder) in Girl, Interrupted (1999).

This seemed like a curious next step for Mangold, but making more of a mainstream movie was viewed as good for his career. Do one for them, and you get to make one for you, as the saying goes in Hollywood. But Mangold wrote the screenplay and his then-wife Cathy Konrad produced the film, so this didn’t appear to be a work-for-hire effort.

Since Jackman wasn’t yet considered a leading man or proven commodity, the real star of Kate & Leopold was Meg Ryan. Any romantic comedy seemingly needed to have her, Julia Roberts or Kate Hudson in it at that point. But Ryan’s star-power was waning by then. It had been more than 10 years Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle were hits, and Ryan had tried to branch out into dramas like Courage Under Fire, City of Angels and Proof of Life. But audiences weren’t interested in seeing her in anything but romantic comedies, a genre that had long ago become tired and formulaic. After Proof of Life flopped (perhaps because of the gossip surrounding her and co-star Russell Crowe), so going back to a romantic comedy probably seemed like a surer thing.

Unfortunately, Ryan seems very much like she’s in this for the paycheck and the extension this movie might give her flagging movie career. Her Kate McKay is a driven career woman who just can’t find the right man. With virtually no personal life to speak of, Kate finds fulfillment in her job heading market research for an advertising film. And she’s very good at her job, so good that she’s in line for a promotion. But might that promotion come with strings attached, namely the affections of her boss (Bradley Whitford)? If only she had someone to share her life with, someone better than her ex-boyfriend, Stuart (Liev Schreiber), who lives above her in their apartment building.

(By the way, Jackman and Schreiber did a Wolverine movie together eight years later with 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine. That one wasn’t directed by Mangold.)

It sounds like almost every romantic comedy you saw in the 1990s, and Ryan seems to know it as she looks infatuated and acts spunky whenever the script calls for it, but really just seems to be going through the motions. Ryan may be the presumed star of Kate & Leopold, but she is far from the most interesting thing about the film. Kate is the least interesting character and it’s difficult to see what Jackman’s Leopold is attracted to, other than she looks like Meg Ryan and much more appealing than the dowdy heiresses he’s supposed to court back in 1876.

That brings us to what is supposed to set Kate & Leopold apart from other romantic comedies of the era: It’s a time-travel story. And like most time-travel stories, it works better when you don’t try to apply any thought or logic as to how people can jump a 125-year span into the past or future. Though it’s never explained what Stuart does for a living (presumably, he’s at least an intense science hobbyist), he’s developed a theory about vortexes coming together because of weather or some such nonsense that results in a crack in time opening up at the Brooklyn Bridge. And to achieve the correct velocity in which to make the jump, anyone wishing to use the crack to travel through time has to jump several stories from the bridge.

How or why the crack in time goes to 1876 or why it always goes to April 28, 1876 is never explained. Remember, no thought or logic need apply. You’ll just become frustrated instead of being swept up in the non-existent chemistry between Jackman and Ryan. Leopold is the Duke of Albany, brought to America by his uncle who thought he could have a better life here. Instead, his family’s fortune is nearly depleted as the whole royalty thing was never meant to play well in this country, and Leopold is strongly urged to find a bride from a very wealthy family to maintain his high society standing.

But Leopold finds that life so empty and boring. None of these women are interesting (or particularly attractive, which really seems kind of mean-spirited, especially when one of the potential brides is played the very entertaining Kristen Schaal) and Leopold doesn’t just want to coast on family name and fortune. He can see that true progress in the culture is being made by those who invent and create. Leopold is an amateur inventor himself, fascinated by gadgets and devices and how they work. As it turns out, he is working on a device that is very much in the planning stages, but will eventually become the elevator.

When Stuart successfully makes the jump to 1876, he tries to blend in but stands out as someone perhaps just a bit too curious about life in that era. Also, he’s using a camera far smaller than anything else that would have taken photographs at the time. Most people were still drawing and painting to create images back then. But Stuart attracts Leopold’s attention, who chases him to the Brooklyn Bridge (which hasn’t yet been fully constructed, let alone named) and falls into the crack in time. That brings Leopold to 2001 and makes the film mostly a fish-out-of-water, man-out-of-time story in which a gentleman is forced to adapt to our cruder, louder, busier time.

As you might expect, Jackman is indeed charming as a British gentleman and is convincing enough as someone trying to comprehend how much the world has changed in 125 years. Mostly, it consists of looking up at everything in wonder, with mouth agape. But the subplot involving him and Kate’s brother, Charlie (Breckin Meyer), in which he tries to school his new friend on how to properly court a lady is entertaining.

Actually, that would have been a far more intriguing movie than the forced loved story between Leopold and Kate, in which we’re led to believe that Kate would give up everything she’s worked for to be with a man who’s exceedingly handsome and polite, surprisingly adept with kitchen appliances and modern electronics, and has the innate fashion sense to pick just the right t-shirt and jeans that go together. And again, it’s just never clear what Leopold finds so intriguing about Kate, besides her being unlike any woman he’s met before, especially in having a largely unlikable personality. But hey, the movie isn’t titled Leopold & Charlie or Leopold & Stuart, even if both of those would have been far better movies. 

Yes, we’re here to make fun of Kate & Leopold, but it’s more of a curiosity because of the talent involved. I like much of Mangold’s work as a filmmaker, especially Walk the Line and 3:10 to Yuma. Three-quarters of The Wolverine is really good. And I fully expect to thoroughly enjoy Logan. It’s often fascinating to see what sorts of movies a director had to make early in his career and what creative path a filmmaker takes.

Of course, I also enjoy Jackman’s work. Yes, he’s brought a beloved comic book character to life, doing much better with it than anyone would have expected and making me an admirer for life. But he’s also worth watching in virtually any film he’s in, some of which (The Prestige, Prisoners) have been very good. (And I will stick up for Real Steel, man. Jackman totally makes that movie work.) I’m a fan of both him and Mangold, which is why I watched this movie in the first place.

If you choose to watch Kate & Leopold, it is currently streaming on Netflix and available for rental on Amazon, Google Play and iTunes. At the very least, it’s mildly recommended if you’re a fan of Hugh Jackman, who was on his way to becoming a star.

About Ian Casselberry

Ian is a writer, editor, and podcaster. You can find his work at Awful Announcing and The Comeback. He's written for Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, MLive, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation.