By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)
After the mostly ill received X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the surly mutant with metal claws returns to theaters in another solo outing. With more mature themes and less cartoonish content, this movie should sufficiently please audiences, but probably won’t receive resounding praise from all. Because of some questionable plot choices and the reliance on typical comic book tropes, The Wolverine is far from perfect. However, it definitely is a moderately satisfying follow up to a much maligned origin story.
Following the events of X-Men: The Last Stand, Logan (Hugh Jackman) has fallen into a deep depression and lives isolated in the woods. After living a long and often painful life, often suffering the loss of loved ones, Logan has decided that he can no longer be the Wolverine. When an acquaintance, whose life he saved in World War II, requests Logan to pay him a visit at his death bed in Japan, he reluctantly agrees. In his youth, Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi) was a Japanese soldier whom Logan saved when the U.S. started bombing Japan. Yashida, who has become a wealthy businessman, asks Logan for the gift of his healing factor in exchange for the “gift” of mortality. Not long after Logan denies Yashida his request, the family is attacked by their Yakuza enemies and the Wolverine is forced to take action to protect Yashida’s granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto). This proves to be a most difficult task this time, as Wolverine discovers that his healing ability may have already been taken from him.
It should come at no surprise now that Jackman truly owns this character. This latest installment offers Jackman the opportunity to really show more dimensions and facets to the Logan/Wolverine character. The movie begins with Logan as a broken and hurting man who wishes he could completely abandon the fighting animal/machine that he has become. He has nightmares of his past sins and deeds, but also longs and dreams of a quiet and peaceful future where he can become mortal and reunite with his lost loved ones. The combination of the script by Mark Bomback and Scott Frank, the strong direction by James Mangold, and Jackman’s superb acting make for some magical, cinematic drama.
When the film switches gears and Logan must awaken the Wolverine inside of him, the film follows the typical action mode, though a thrilling mode nonetheless. The climactic sequences pretty much abandon much of the existential pathos and goes into that familiar comic book mode. Wolverine and his “bodyguard” Yukio (Rilo Yukushima) battle the Silver Samurai and the femme fatale Viper (Svetlana Khodchencova). Again, these moments can be exciting and fun, but perhaps a tad too conventional. Another issue with the film has to do with the slightly convoluted plot of the main villain of the story. When all is revealed, the methods and actions of said villain come into question and seem more elaborate than necessary. Logic often falls on the wayside for the sake of conflict and drama.
In addition to Jackman’s top notch performance, audiences should enjoy the lovely performances by Rila Fukushima who portrays Yukio, Wolverine’s assistant in Japan. She personifies beauty and grace, but also pulls off the role of someone well trained in martial arts. Tao Okamoto also displays much beauty and grace as Mariko, but also the strong will and intelligence required of her character. While the men-admiring audience members will enjoy Jackman’s physique, those who prefer the ladies will certainly marvel at Svetlana Khodchencova as the slinky vamp that is Viper. Occasionally she gets a little hammy for her character’s own good, but is definitely pleasing to the eyes. Finally, it is great to see the beautiful and gorgeous Famke Janssen reprise her role as Logan’s lost love Jean Grey, though she appears as an apparition in his dreams. Janssen knows how to use breathy sensuality and work her feminine wiles to excellent effect in her scenes.
Loosely based on the 1982 comic book series Wolverine by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller, Mangold and his writers produce a film which should make most fans of these comics happy. As for fans of the X-Men movie universe, there’s still enough to enjoy. Aside from some questionable plot choices and the tendency to fall into the usual superhero trappings, The Wolverine makes for a solid solo outing and one for Jackman to really shine as this character. I feel that it should be viewed at least one time on the big screen. As for the look of the post-conversion 3D, it does have its cool moments, but not enough for me to recommend spending the extra money. Do stay patiently during some of the ending credits, as there is an amazing bonus scene that had people in my audience applauding with glee.