Mark Bomback, Scott Frank
Hugh Jackman, Tao Okamoto, Rila Fukushima, Hiroyuki Sanada, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Brian Tee, Haruhiko Yamanouchi, Will Yun Lee, Famke Janssen
PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, some sexuality and language.
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Critical and audience disdain for X-Men Origins: Wolverine put into doubt any potential for individual-hero spin-offs of the vaunted X-Men franchise. The Wolverine sets out to prove that, in the right hands, these things can be done exceptionally well.
At the end of X-Men: The Last Stand, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) must slay his lover Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) to prevent her from going nuclear as her villainous alter-ego The Phoenix. Still reeling from the betrayal of his personal code of ethics, Logan has gone into hiding in the Canadian wilderness. A man from his past (Haruhiko Yamanouchi) sends a young prescient mutant (Rila Fukushima) to bring him to Tokyo where he hopes to offer Logan the opportunity to die with honor after suffering for so long. Logan had shielded Yashida from the deadly nuclear that destroyed Nagasaki during World War II, giving the future technological giant an opportunity to one day repay his debt.
On his deathbed, Yashida tells Logan that he can stop his regenerative capabilities, making it possible that Wolverine could be killed. Doubting the idea is possible, Logan retires before Yashida dies in the night, making him wonder if what Yashida offered was possible. As a plot emerges to kill Yashida’s granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto), Wolverine gets into the action to protect her but finds his regeneration is suddenly not working imperling his life while trying to protect an innocent woman with whom he may be destined to fall in love.
Setting this story in Japan, a land that has become known for its appreciation of love and honor is an interesting decision on the part of screenwriters Mark Bomback (Unstoppable) and Scott Frank (Out of Sight). Although I’m not familiar with the comics, there is a series of strips that feature Wolverine in Japan, making this a natural extension of that comic property. Here, the audience is asked to understand the complex nature of love, guilt, betrayal and honor. Through a complicated and pensive narrative, we are given the opportunity to understand how the fierce mutant with an adamantium skeleton is much more than the lumbering, vicious behemoth his exterior persona would lead one to believe.
Jackman obviously adores this character, having now portrayed him on screen on six occasions (one a short cameo in X-Men: First Class). Even after all this time, he still manages to find ways to humanize and embellish the character making it obvious why Wolverine is one of the most popular figures in the Marvel universe. Jackman’s performance is richly visceral, yet tender as a man haunted by his own decisions, fiercely loyal and unreservedly lethal.
Supporting Jackman are a treasure trove of talented Japanese actors including Okamoto who’se Mariko is independent and vunerable, a woman carefully groomed by her father to survive even when her life is threatened. Fukushima’s Yukio provides a nice balance to Wolverine’s more brutish methods, a clean, efficient fighter whose deliberation almost acts as a liability. As Yashida, Yamanouchi exhibits the classic traits of a proud, regimented man whose sense of honor has been perverted by age and wealth; although not as much as his duplicitous son Shingen (Hiroyuki Sanada) and the puppet political ingenue Noburo (Brian Tee).
Add in the effective guilting by Janssen and the loyal evilness of Svetlana Khodchenkova as Yashida’s lead researcher Viper and you have a superb cast who is eager to carve their own niche without falling into completely familiar molds laid out in the superhero genre.
Director James Mangold has had an uneven history with duds like Knight and Day and Kate & Leopold marring an otherwise solid filmography. Cop Land, Girl, Interrupted, Walk the Line and 3:10 to Yuma are now joined by The Wolverine as positive successes for the 49-year-old director. Slowing events down periodically to give the audience time to invest themselves emotionally with the characters is a nice contrast to the frenetic and exciting action sequences he has devised. The superbly choreographed fight atop a speeding bullet train is one of the most fascinating action sequences of any film this past summer.
Blending intense battle scenes with quiet character studies make for a compelling and thrilling adventure. While it doesn’t quite live up to the brilliance of the original film, X2: X-Men United or X-Men: First Class, The Wolverine is a satisfying and capable achievement that easily ranks among the franchise’s best.
August 20, 2013