High drama, less bite
In case you haven’t heard, superhero films are big business. From here on out, count on at least three (or more) comic-book based tentpole blockbusters every summer. And in the unlikely event the studios run out of source material, someone will most assuredly invent more characters. For those keeping score, “The Wolverine” marks the sixth big-screen appearance of the razor-knuckled mutant muscleman. Hugh Jackman returns—looking beefy as ever—this time ready to kick some ninja fanny while suffering from an existential crisis that is all too common in today’s superheroes.
While the several excellent elements of “The Wolverine” don’t necessarily add up to greatness, there’s plenty here for fanboys to respect and average fans to enjoy.
On a self-imposed exile from hero hijinks in the Yukon wilderness, our hirsute protagonist Logan (Jackman) continues to have dreams—a few too many for pacing’s sake—about his late wife Jean (Famke Janssen). Along comes a pixiefied martial arts powerhouse named Yukio (Rila Fukushima) who demands he allow her to escort him to Toyko.
That’s where dying Japanese billionaire Yashida awaits, desiring to see Logan, the man who saved him from the nuclear fallout of the bomb dropped on Nagasaki in 1945. But Yashida wants more than a sentimental reunion and offers to strip Wolverine of his regeneration powers, providing the mutant the peace that comes from mortality.
Some deal, right?
But Logan refuses the offer, and Yashida’s death causes a series of convoluted consequences leading to samurai-influenced fight skirmishes, the best of which involves a high-speed bullet train sequence that is expertly choreographed and displays fewer of the quick-cut edits that tend to hamper the rest of the film’s action scenes.
Wolverine must protect Yashida’s beautiful granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto), and this grounds the film while not really challenging Okamoto’s acting abilities. Wolverine’s sardonic wit is kept pretty much in check also, like this year’s “Man of Steel,” the tone here is a somber one. And while the script can’t be described as overly self-serious, many fans may feel the more contrived final act leads to an overall indifferent film experience.
Director James Mangold (“Walk the Line,” “3:10 to Yuma,” and the under-appreciated “Knight and Day”) has an excellent sense of relationship-centric storytelling, and it makes him a great choice for the film even if some of the Asian actors’ difficulty with the language limits on-screen chemistry.
Ultimately, this is Jackman’s film, and he plays the reluctant but fearsome hero perfectly. As Wolverine, he’s not exactly charismatic, but he’s fiercely passionate about right and wrong and his steely rage is a beauty to behold.
An end credits nod to future “X-Men” exploits gives us an inkling of the fun it will be to watch him try to play nice with others, and that may be Wolverine’s best role: The team player no one wants to cross, or do without.
Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, some sexuality and language