Directed by James Mangold
Released 26 July 2013
The Wolverine claws its way to a very mild recommendation.
Ronin on the Run
One of the perks of the recent rash of comic book movies is that it’s drawn the attention of A-list talent on both sides of the camera. Particularly interesting is to note the directors who’ve brought their varying sensibilities to the genre. Christopher Nolan imbued the Dark Knight trilogy with a wholly new level of credibility and resonance. Kenneth Branagh brought a Shakespearean tone to Thor. Shane Black took Iron Man to a new level with his typical gusto. Throw James Bond into the mix and that adds Sam Mendes and Marc Forster, each with different stylistic spins on the ace of secret agents. It’ll be interesting to see what Robert Redford does in front of the camera for the next Captain America episode.
And now, for The Wolverine, director James Mangold (the 2007 remake of 3:10 to Yuma) has taken a stab at it and the result is at the very least interesting, the main haggle being an issue over the necessity of this particular movie. In other words, it helps to have a predisposition to this particular character, or at least the X-Men saga with which The Wolverine is also associated.
What makes this one interesting, oddly enough, is the very same story that leads to those questions of its relevance. In many respects, especially through the majority of the movie, leading up to the more typically “super” climax, the movie feels more like a James Bond thriller than a true-blue comic book movie – that title character with the claws notwithstanding.
James “Logan” Howlett, aka The Wolverine (Hugh Jackman, Les Miserables), is a conflicted character suffering through eternal life on Earth. He’s invincible; bullet wounds, burnt flesh, and any other physical damage heal within seconds. He will live forever, but he’s suffering through it with a lack of reason to live forever. Therein enters Jean (Famke Janssen, Goldeneye). It’s helpful to have seen the other X-Men movies in order to have an appreciation for Logan’s relationship with Jean and his desire to join her in eternal bliss.
On the lam and off the grid, Logan is tracked down by a fiery magenta-haired femme named Yukio (Rila Fukushima in a terrific feature film debut) who brings him to Japan in order to pay a final farewell to a man whose life Logan saved in Nagasaki during World War II. The humble soldier he knew then is now a massively successful entrepreneur; Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi, The Aquatic Life of Steve Zissou) runs a tech giant that dabbles in the life sciences. He’s got an offer that Logan should probably refuse: Genuine mortality.
This is where the story begins to feel more like a Bond flick. Logan becomes embroiled in a family drama involving the dying Yashida and his potential heirs. He prefers to skip a generation and give it all to his granddaughter, Mariko (Tao Okamoto, making it two-for-two in this movie’s stunning feature debuts). The intrigue mounts and the Yakuza kidnaps Mariko. Then the action kicks in for a bit.
Much like Bond movies, the action is doled out in fits and starts. This isn’t the breathless, nonstop action of Iron Man III and the stakes aren’t as high as in The Dark Knight Rises. This is Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey at a very intimate level.
What might be regarded as this movie’s signature action sequence is a great piece of work that takes place on top of a bullet train piercing through the Japanese landscape. Alas, the 3D is a letdown and doesn’t lend much to this sterling piece of action or any other part of the movie.
While the emphasis in the current spate of comic flicks is to tie things down in a reality-based storyline, Mangold puts a slight twist on it by focusing much more on the humanity of the characters. The basic human condition takes center stage instead of allusions to Al Qaeda, terrorism, and alien invasions (either terrestrial or extraterrestrial).
The more fantastical elements of the typical comic book movie are presented in a relatively minimalist fashion, but they are thrown in if for no other reason than to keep an undercurrent of the comic book vibe. Hence there’s a poisonous vixen named Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) and a classic mad scientist machine that flirts with the notion of man-made eternal life.
At its core, The Wolverine offers a transitional story that serves to get The Wolverine from a dark place back to where he needs to be – a bad ass with claws. But that story carries with it a sense of being merely a bridge to get the series from point A to point B, which limits this movie's appeal as a standalone venture. At least it’s a well-built bridge.
• Originally published at MovieHabit.com.