Wolverine, TheReviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 07/25/13 17:04:53
(Worth A Look)
The latest entry in this summer's big-screen superhero derby is"The Wolverine," which is both the sixth film in the popular X-Men franchise and the second spin-off of the series to center on the most popular of the Marvel Comics mutants, the steel-clawed and virtually indestructible Wolverine. Considering that the first such solo vehicle, "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" was arguably the low point of the entire film franchise and one that even the hardcore fans found wanting, I was not exactly jazzed to see this follow-up, especially in the wake of all the other underwhelming superhero not-so-spectaculars to come around in the last few months. As it turns out, "The Wolverine" may not exactly reinvent the wheel or even live up to the standards of "First Class" but it is a lean, smartly constructed and reasonably entertaining film that gets the job done more effectively than most recent films of its type.Set at some point after the events of 2006's "X-Men: The Last Stand," the film opens with Logan (Hugh Jackman), a.k.a. Wolverine, living in self-imposed exile in the Yukon where his only companions are a noble grizzly bear, ghostly memories of his late love, fellow mutant Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) and the curse of immortality. When drunken goon hunters wound the bear and leave it for dead, Logan ventures into town to bust up those responsible and in the middle of the eventual confrontation, he is joined by Yukio (Rita Fukushima), a pixie-faced anime character come to life who helps him escape and informs him that she is there to bring him to Japan at the behest of an old friend of his.
As it turns out, Kenuchio Harada (Will Yun Lee) is a very old friend indeed, one that Logan saved from the bombing of Nagasaki during the waning days of Word War II. Having transformed himself from an officer at a P.O.W. camp to one of Japan's most successful and powerful businessmen, Harada is now dying of cancer and has summoned Logan to offer him a proposition. Having figured out a way to transfer Logan's immortality to himself, Harada proposes a trade that will allow him to live on indefinitely while giving Logan his dream of mortality and the chance to one day be reunited with his beloved Jean. Logan refuses but before he has a chance to leave, Harada passes away.
As it turns out, Harada chose to overlook his power-hungry son in order to leave his entire empire to his sweet-natured granddaughter, Mariko (Tao Okamoto). At Harada's funeral, the procession is attacked by yakuza members trying to kill Mariko and Logan manages to fight them off both there and aboard (and occasionally atop) the bullet train that the two board in an effort to get to safety. The hitch this time is that while Logan still has his extraordinary strength and his indestructible adamantium claws, he no longer has the ability to instantly heal from his injuries. It seems that Harada's nurse (Svetlana Khodchenkora) did something to affect those powers and despite his newly vulnerable state, Logan vows to protect Mariko while getting to the bottom of what happened to him. Since this is a comic-book-inspired saga, achieving those goals involves doing battle with dozens of ninjas, a venom-spitting snake creature and a giant robot.
Faithful readers should know by now that I have never been the biggest fan of the cinematic exploits of the X-Men for the most part. Having never followed the adventures of the ever-expanding mutant melange in their comic book or television iterations, the films, with their sprawling casts of characters and tangled backstories, have always struck me as being like final exams in subjects whose classes I never got around to attending. The only one to date that I actually enjoyed was the 2011 origin tale "X-Men: First Class" and that was because it was the first one that actually told a complete story instead of simply assuming that all viewers had enough of a working knowledge of the history of the franchise to fill in the blanks for themselves. (Of course, the sight of Jennifer Lawrence wearing nothing but blue body paint might have helped the cause just a tad. . .)
Based in part on a 1982 comic book story arc by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller that has long been a fan favorite, "The Wolverine" takes a more stripped-down approach to its narrative and is all the better for it. Freed from having to introduce a new collection of mutants and with a central character who has already been well-established thanks to the previous entries, the film is free to plunge straight ahead into its storyline and screenwriters Mark Bomback and Scott Frank have enough time and space to bring a little more depth and detail to both the plot and the characters, especially in regards to Wolverine himself.
In the previous films, he was all gruff and badass but lacked a certain vulnerability because it is hard to work up much real empathy for someone who cannot be physically hurt. By removing the character's regenerative powers, the film makes him both more human and more interesting--even though we know there is little chance that he is actually is going to be killed off, the fact that he could automatically ups the stakes and inspires a genuine sense of interest into what happens to the character. It also gives Hugh Jackman a chance to expand on his characterization at long last and he is more than up to the challenge of finding and exploring Wolverine's softer side at long last.
"The Wolverine" was directed by James Mangold, a filmmaker who tends to veer between solid commercial fare like "Walk the Line" and the "3:10 to Yuma" remake and outright idiocies like "Identity" and "Knight and Day." The commercial success of the latter title was presumably the reason he was hired for this gig but he proves to be a fairly canny choice for the most part. He strikes a good balance between the big action set-pieces and the quieter, character-driven moments that is rarely seen in films of this type. Because it isn't wall-to-wall thrills and spills--the first extended action sequence doesn't even occur until more than 20 minutes into the film--some of the more impatient members of the audiences may get a bit antsy but scenes like the fights at the funeral and aboard the train are so expertly staged that they alone should more than satisfy most viewers."The Wolverine" is a good film but it never quite crosses the threshold to become a great one along the lines of the original "Superman," the Christopher Nolan Batman sagas or even "X-Men: First Class"--the story lacks a truly compelling villain that a film of this type really needs and the last 20 minutes is yet another extended sequence in which all the key characters pound the stuffing out of each other. However, the film is still much better than it had to be and shows that there is still some life in the franchise even after six movies. "The Wolverine" may have been made for the crassest of commercial reasons--to keep the series alive and in the public eye between full-fledged X-Men adventures--but it is not itself particularly crass. In other words, no need for the claws to come out after seeing this one.
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