Twentieth Century Fox
2 hours, 6 minutes
Hugh Jackman has now succeeded in playing the scrappy Canadian mutant Wolverine in six, count ‘em, six films (five if you don’t count his hilarious cameo in “X-Men: First Class). That’s quite a feat, especially considering the limited amount of critical success the character has seen. The first two “X-Men” films were well received, but the third in the series, as well as Wolverine’s solo outing in the “Origins” film, were widely panned. The character of Wolverine, or Logan, as he’s called when people are feeling less formal, is one of the most popular in the Marvel Comics universe, so it’s no surprise that comic book geeks and fanboys have very strong opinions about the cinematic road this character has been taken down. (Two words: bone claws. If that phrase doesn’t make your blood boil, then you probably have better things to do. Possibly a job.) Regardless, Jackman keeps plugging away at the role, fully owning it now the way few actors ever completely own a role. He already has plans to revisit his mutant alter-ego in next year’s “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” the film that will reportedly combine the young stars of “First Class” with the older “X-Men” cast, bridging the gap of time much the way “Star Trek: Generations” did. That movie was kind of a bust, though, so let’s hope “Days of Future Past” isn’t too reminiscent.
In this most recent film, succinctly titled, “The Wolverine,” Jackman and co., take on one of the most beloved “Wolverine” storylines. In 1983, writer Chris Claremont scripted a mini-series comic that took the character to Japan where he fell in love with a beautiful Japanese girl, fought with ninjas, and embraced his inner samurai. It was pretty much the epitome of awesome. The film, directed by James Mangold (“3:10 to Yuma”) is only loosely based on this storyline, but keeps much of the same tone. In the years following the events of “X3,” a terrible movie, but it’s the continuity we’re stuck with, Logan has lived a solitary life, apart from the rest of humanity, haunted by his lost love, Jean Grey, whom he was forced to kill. Every night she visits him in dreams, and every morning he wakes alone, reliving his horror again and again. That is, until a group of drunken hunters attempts to take down a grizzly with a poisoned arrow. The bear, driven mad, goes berserk and kills five people before Logan can track it and put it down. Tracking being a particular talent of the Wolverine, he then tracks the surviving hunters to a bar, seeking justice. Luckily for the hunters, it is here that Logan encounters Yukio, a mysterious young woman on assignment from Japan. It seems a man whose life Logan had saved years earlier was requesting his presence, ostensibly to say thank you, but in reality to offer our hero the chance to opt out of immortality. For the uninitiated, Logan is a mutant, sometimes a member of the superhero team, “The X-Men,” and has the power of rapid regeneration, among others. Basically, his body can heal itself of almost any wound, and therefore, he does not age, nor does he get sick, and the question remains, will he ever die? But immortality itself can be a curse, as many a fantasy tale has attested, and it is the intention of Mr. Yashida, once a simple guard at a prisoner of war camp outside Nagasaki who survived thanks to the aid of a particularly resilient prisoner, now an old but wealthy industrialist, to transfer that mutant ability from Logan to himself. How this is possible is never really explained, but isn’t really important I suppose. Logan politely refuses this request, but some people can’t take no for an answer. Poisoned by a mysterious mutant doctor who may or may not be working for Yashida, the Wolverine is suddenly brought low. What follows is a series of action-packed encounters as Logan, now vulnerable, attempts to discover what’s happening to him, all the while trying to protect Yashida’s beautiful granddaughter Mariko, soon to be heir to Japan’s largest fortune. “The Wolverine” manages to squeeze in just about every Japanese trope, from Yakuza, or Japanese gangsters, to ninjas, samurai, and even giant robots, in the form of the mechanical menace, the Silver Samurai. This movie is fun, dramatic, exciting, and, up until the very end, where things begin to fall apart somewhat, made me forget the two previous obnoxious Wolverine outings. It was almost perfect, except for those damn bone claws!
James Mangold should be proud of the film he was able to put together, especially considering what he was up against. Until about a year ago, when Mangold inherited this project, “The Wolverine” was slated to become the first superhero film from dark auteur Darren Aronofsky, best known for “The Fountain,” and “Black Swan.” When he dropped out, so did the dreams of most of the target audience: 20-35-year old comic geeks blogging from their mother’s basements. Given that “X3” and “Origins: Wolverine” are so thoroughly despised by this group, it’s a wonder that Mangold’s take on the property wasn’t sunk before it began. He got the picture made, however, and does an admirable job juggling the numerous continuity issues and plotlines that will all have to be woven together for next year’s “Days of Future Past.” More than that, however, he’s given the fans, especially the fans who already know and love the character, the Wolverine they’ve always wanted to see - tough, vicious, fatalistic yet fiercely loyal. The samurai storyline fits that ethic perfectly, and “The Wolverine” nails it. Yes, some of it is silly, and no, none of the plot twists are in any way a surprise - they’re telegraphed from miles away. As well, the love story could have been fleshed out more. But my biggest problems with the story are elements that Mangold and co. were shackled with from the beginning, so it’s not really fair to blame this film. Suffice it to say, “The Wolverine” does as good a job of furthering the “X-Men” plotline as any movie could possibly do. It’s hard to ask more than that. Grade: B+
“The Wolverine” is rated PG-13 for extreme comic book-style violence and language. When I say “comic book-style” violence, I mean that lots and lots of people are stabbed to death with swords and/or razor-sharp claws, but without there ever being any blood. The people are just as dead, but we don’t have to feel so bad about it.
Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.