The Wolverine

Hugh Jackman claws his way through another Marvel superhero outing.

At this point in the current summer of blockbuster doom, The Wolverine will be exceeding expectations if it doesn’t tank right out of the box. And it might not. The movie is a serviceable superhero exercise that does a number of things right. Most wisely, it sets its story in the immediate aftermath of the 2006 X-Men: The Last Stand, happily ignoring the existence of the piffling 2009 X-Men Origins: Wolverine. In Last Stand, you’ll recall, the grumpy mutant Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) was forced to terminate the love of his life, Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), after she succumbed to the dark side of her own mutant nature. Now we find him sleeping al fresco in the Canadian woods and marinating his sorrow in an ocean of whiskey. Soon enough, though, super-duty once again calls.

Working from a script by Christopher McQuarrie, Mark Bomback and Scott Frank, director James Mangold (Walk the Line) attempts to expand upon the genre format -- for a while, anyway – with infusions of corporate intrigue, Bondian exoticism, and occasional interludes of quieter narrative downtime. The movie opens in Nagasaki in 1945, in the midst of the American A-bomb drop, with prisoner-of-war Logan outrunning the mighty blast (a ridiculous impossibility, as the late Roger Ebert often pointed out) and saving the life of a Japanese soldier named Yashida, who is most grateful.

Jumping forward to the Canadian woods, we observe some business with a bear and then a bracingly nasty barroom smackdown in which Logan unsheathes his fearsome knuckle blades, and then is suddenly extricated by a red-haired, katana-wielding Japanese woman named Yukio (Rila Fukushima). She has a plane waiting to fly them both to Tokyo, where the aged Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi) is waiting. Yashida has become a wealthy electronics titan; he’s now dying, and he wants to bid Logan an appreciative farewell. He also offers the miserable mutant a technological escape from his immortality – the chance to live a normal life and eventually die a normal death. As we soon learn, what he really wants is to siphon off Logan’s undying powers for his own life-extending purposes.

Unfortunately, Logan rejects this offer, and the plot quickly becomes over-complicated. Yashida has left his company and his vast fortune to his grand-daughter, Mariko (Japanese fashion model Tao Okamoto), bypassing her father (Hiroyuki Sanada), who is understandably steamed. There’s also a crooked government minister to whom Mariko has been promised in an arranged marriage; a murderous assault by a gang of Yakuza hitmen; and, up on the picturesque rooftops, a scampering detachment of stealthy ninjas. (The presence of these black-clad warriors, along with two complementary Japanese beauties and a scene in which Logan is scrubbed in a tub by a team of smiling women, unabashedly recalls the old Bond film You Only Live Twice.) In an added touch of overkill, there are also recurring dream visits by the departed Jean Grey, who’s lonely in the afterlife and wants Logan to join her. (“You put me here,” she whines.)

The movie was largely shot in Australia, but there are also touristy location sequences filmed in Tokyo. We see a gun-happy chase through a gaudy pachinko parlor and then Logan and Mariko checking into a “love hotel,” where the specialty rooms on offer include “Dungeon” and “Nurse’s Office.” (This being PG-13 world, there’s only the tiniest hint of actual love-making.)

But the demands of the superhero genre can’t be entirely denied, and so we also have a mutant villain called Viper (bland Svetlana Khodchenkova), whose powers include a super-long tongue, the ability to melt a man’s face off with the gentlest of breaths, and great skill in effecting slinky costume changes. She also controls a towering samurai robot, whose awakening drags the picture down into a very long sequence of familiar slam-bang uproar.

Jackman, in a slight mutation of his old box-top haircut and eccentric beardage, brings his usual serious-actor commitment to both flesh-ripping Wolverine fury and Logan’s frequent bouts of melancholy brooding. And much of the movie’s action is imaginatively staged – especially a hair-raising battle atop a speeding bullet train, which puts most other cinematic train-top battles in the shade.

But Mangold’s commendable determination to warm the story with an emotional glow sometimes slows the picture down, especially at the beginning; and his eventual surrender to the imperatives of superhero action makes a hash of the ending. It’s a better picture than most of the other big-budget junk that’s preceded it this year, and that could be enough to keep it afloat at the box office. We’ll soon see.     

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  • ||

    I love me some super hero movies, but this is the first one I can recall not being excited for. Wolverine fatigue, I guess. It's time Fox started exploring other X-men properties.

  • Gorilla tactics||

    are comic book movies getting kinda stale now? hollywood is running out of ideas, so everything is a remake, a "gritty" reboot or milking marvel comics, these characters are from 60s, 70s and 80s...

  • MasterDarque||

    Saw it at the midnight showing wasn't that impressed. Not sure why its so hard for Hollywood to do such a basic Marvel character.

  • RightNut||

    Is it bad enough that a couple of beers will make it enjoyable, a-la MST3k? Or is it just kinda middling boilerplate action movie bad?

  • Tim||

    He broods, he's sad, he's angry, knives shoot out of his hands. SSDD.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    Full disclosure; I haven't seen the film. That said, the problem with doing any movie involving Wolverine is that he has a LOT of backstory. His involvement with Japan, and the Japanese shadow-world of pseudo-ronin and Yakuza in particular is a major part of that. It also has come in bits and pieces, and some of it contradicts other parts of it (or so it seemed to me at the time). So, the film makers can't vey well leave it out, but at the same time putting it in is going to cause problems.

  • Gilbert Martin||

    "The movie opens in Nagasaki in 1945, in the midst of the American A-bomb drop, with prisoner-of-war Logan outrunning the mighty blast (a ridiculous impossibility, as the late Roger Ebert often pointed out) "

    It wouldn't be for Superman.

    Of course the A bomb couldn't killed Superman in the first place.

  • Tommy_Grand||

    wouldn't superman fly superfast around teh earth, reverse the planet's revoultion, and prevent nagasaki, or pearl harbor, or iz all that still FORBIDDEN?

  • Gilbert Martin||

    Welll if Superman couldn't handle that, he could always call in that omnipotent alien "Q" from the Star Trek series to take care of it.

    There isn't anything that Q can't handle.

  • Stormy Dragon||

    He wasn't reversing the planet's revolution. He was flying faster than the speed of light and the change in the rotation was intended to be a depiction of time going backwards.

  • newshutz||

    In 1945 Superman was too busy stopping Ubermensch after the fall of Germany to get involved with what happened in Japan.

    If Hitler had not directed Ubermensch to spend his time finding secret Jews, WWII might have turned out differently.

  • ||

    Look at those skinny legs.

  • CE||

    Never a big fan of Wolverine, although Hugh Jackman does the part well. He's basically Freddy Kruger with mutant healing powers. What kind of super hero is that? He has to chop everyone up to be effective.

    I wanted to go see Man of Steel for the second time, but it was already out of the theaters around here. I'm not sure why theater owners think there are 12 better moves out this summer though.

    I ended up seeing The Lone Ranger instead, despite my misgivings. It turned out to be a lot of fun -- it mixed Depp/Hammer humor with sustained homages to all the great old Westerns, real stunts (no CGI), and the best action finale in years.

  • Agammamon||

    "The Wolverine will be exceeding expectations if it doesn’t tank right out of the box."

    It will be exceeding expectations if its only *half* as horrible as "Origins".

  • Cytotoxic||

    If you haven't seen it, you should all see Pacific Rim while it's still in theatres. It might be the best movie I've seen this year. Avoids doing anything annoyingly cliché or stupid...*eyes Man of Steel when typing 'stupid'.

  • PH2050||

    I'm not mad at you for this movie, Jackman, as I know the money from these roles lets you take a chance on movies like The Fountain.

  • Cari Uang||

    This Great Film...

  • หลวงพระบาง||

    I love me some super hero movies

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