Yet another movie starring Hugh Jackman as Wolverine. Only this time, he’s The Wolverine. See the difference?
Based loosely on the “Wolverine” limited series by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller, it opens with him living in a cave in Canada, where he’s friends with the local wildlife and suffering from nightmares after the events of “X-Men: The Last Stand” (Not that I blame him. I still have nightmares myself). He’s eventually discovered by another mutant named Yukio (Rila Fukushima), the adopted daughter of corporate leader Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi), who was tasked with finding him and becoming his sidekick.
Yashida is the head of the aptly named Yashida Corporation, and as a young man stationed at Nagasaki he was saved from the nuke by Wolverine. Cut back to the present and he’s very old and on the verge of death. One of his final wishes is to see Wolverine one last time to say goodbye and thank him by offering something he’d never get otherwise; a chance to live a normal life, free from his age-defying healing factor. This would render him mortal, something that, for all intents and purposes, Wolverine isn’t.
It’s an interesting dilemma for the character, given the usual burdens of everlasting life, i.e. everyone he’s ever known and loved dies before he ever will, etc. The character is not having the best time when he’s reintroduced, and it’s not just because his last few movies have been utter garbage. He’s feeling extreme guilt over having to kill Jean Grey (reprised via dream sequence by Famke Janssen), even going so far as to swear off killing. This is something that he manages for all of two minutes.
Where the movie really picks up is when he flies to Japan. They have a lot of fun with this setting, making full use of the culture and landmarks to beef up the action scenes, and I give them extra points for having all the Japanese characters in Japan actually speak Japanese to each other when Wolverine isn’t around. So first of all, Wolverine gets his healing factor taken from him, rendering him killable. It still needs to be said that even without his healing ability, there’s very little that can stop him. His bones are made of unbreakable adamantium, so all the bullets he takes are pretty much flesh wounds. Still, you’d think his hands would bleed profusely whenever those claws came out, but they don’t.
Anyway, in Japan Wolverine gets a new love interest in the form of Mariko (Tao Okamoto), Yashida’s favorite granddaughter. He’s forced to protect her from all manner of ninjas, robot samurais, yakuza thugs, and evil mutants like the venomous femme fatale, Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova), in the classic over-the-top comic book style. It’s got some romance, humor, and a whole lot of crazy action sequences. There’s an especially good one on top of the bullet train. It’s a tad predictable at times, and a few of the character’s motivations are questionable, and here I’m mainly thinking of the Japanese Hawkeye, Harada (Will Yun Lee), but all-in-all, I found it to be a surprising amount of fun, given my general exhaustion with this particular franchise.
I’ve always thought the “X-Men” franchise would make a better TV series than a movie one. There are far too many characters and it’s clearly a chore to balance them, especially when all anyone ever wants to see is Wolverine tearing people up. He’s the main character of all the “X-Men” movies, making his own solo adventures kind of pointless. This one however, does something that all the others have probably wanted to do. It’s done away with all the non-important secondary characters, making Wolverine the sole focus of the movie.
The plot has a considerably improved flow and it’s just a better narrative experience. It has a much more centered approach, having only the one character to worry about. Wolverine here is given all the background and depth that will ever be necessary for a guy like him, and despite all the crazy killing, his motivations are that of duty and respect. He’s heroically willing to risk everything for an old friend’s granddaughter, even though he can no longer heal himself and knows very little about her.
“The Wolverine” is probably among the better films in the franchise, giving the audience exactly what they’ve always wanted to see. It manages to feel fresh, even though this is the sixth time Hugh Jackman’s played the character in a movie, and it does so by placing a simple character in wild setting. It feels so removed from the mess that is the rest of the franchise that it allows the character a chance to breathe and remind you why he’s so popular in the first place.