Hugh Jackman is back again in his sixth outing as the adamantium-clawed mutant in the new release, ‘The Wolverine.’ Darker and and more exotic than previous Wolverine outings, ‘The Wolverine’ handily rejuvenates interest in the popular comic-based character (and helps numb the pain from having watched his last Wolverine star-turn in the 2009 dud ‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine’).
‘The Wolverine’ is based on, a popular and well-regarded 1982 story arc by Frank Miller and Chris Claremont. In the screen version, the story first piques interest when, in a flashback sequence, we see the ageless Wolverine (known as Logan) save a Japanese soldier during the WW II atomic bombing of Nagasaki. (Yes, apparently Wolverine can even withstand a nuclear blast!). Fast-forward almost 70 years and Logan has become a burly mountain man, a disenfranchised Grizzly Adams of sorts (if Grizzly Adams had muscles a-poppin’). Now deeply pained and haunted by events of the past (including WW II), Logan lives alone in the woods on the outskirts of society.
But, in short order, Logan is soon found by a crimson-haired, sword-wielding young Japanese woman, Yukio (Rila Fukushima) and is ‘respectfully’ summoned back to Japan to see Master Yashida (Haruhiko Yamanouchi), the now-very rich, dying, former Japanese soldier he had saved years ago. As is often the case in the Marvel-based universe, the meeting with the elderly Yashida (and now one of the richest men in Japan) is not a simple, final meet-and-greet. Yashida’s end is near, and he is keen to use technology to have Logan transfer his immortality. Understandably, Logan is not instantaneously ready to give up his uniqueness (and potentially his own life). Plot convolutions follow that involve the Yashida’s vampy and venomous physician, Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova), and, later, the violent Yakuza mob. And, Logan finds, suddenly and unexpectedly, that his ability to quickly heal and been taken away without warning. Relatively infirmed to near mere-mortal status, Logan is also indirectly tasked with saving the life of Yashida’s 20-something granddaughter, Mariko (Tao Okamoto), and finding help for himself.
By now, most of the audience is quite familiar with the Wolverine character, but this movie’s twist allows Jackman to broaden his comic-based character a bit more. Disabled from instantaneous self-healing and with time no longer on his side, Logan has to learn to live with his mortal wounds more adaptively than he has been living with his psychic wounds. In having to protect Mariko from outside forces that would do her great harm, Logan metamorphosizes from a sad-sack tortured soul into a being with great, motivating, self-sacrificing purpose. The premise is simple but rather captivating, and the Japanese setting (with surprising moments of quietude for a superhero film) brings forth a reflective intimacy with the superhero– not often seen in Marvel films. Granted, violence is aplenty (including lots of bleeding for Wolverine) as are blockbuster scenes (a fight on top of a Japanese Shinkansen train, traveling at over 200 mph comes to mind), but we find out more about what gives Wolverine’s life a modicum of meaning.
Unfortunately, ‘The Wolverine’s’ third act, the big villain knockdown-showdown, is perfunctory at best, and adds little to the film. Even the doctor, Viper, is rather inadequate and is better remembered for her close-fitting, femme-fatale bodysuits rather than the power of her villainry. Although still comic book-esque, this film is a somewhat more adult attempt at Wolverine’s story, and far outweighs his prior ‘Origins’ tale. ‘The Wolverine’ is rated 3+ of 5 stars (‘mildly recommended’).
‘The Wolverine’ is rated PG-13 for ‘sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, some sexuality and language.’
(Also, be sure to stay part-way through the credits for a compelling teaser for the next ‘X-Men’ film, due in 2014).
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