By Chaz Lipp
Didn’t like X-Men Origins: Wolverine? Neither did I. Despite Hugh Jackman’s usual fine work in his signature role, that 2009 film was a confusing mess of poorly-introduced new characters and frustrating pacing. Jettison all ill will towards that one and step into The Wolverine with a fresh perspective. Directed by James Mangold (Walk the Line, Cop Land), the new film is based on Chris Claremont and Frank Miller’s 1982 Marvel Comics Wolverine miniseries. It’s a standalone film that neatly bridges the gap between X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) and the upcoming X-Men: Days of Future Past. Oh, and it also lets Logan kick some ass more excitingly than we’ve seen since the first two X-Men movies.
Logan is haunted by his troubled past, periodically visited in his dreams by the deceased love of his life, Jean Grey (Famke Janssen). He’s also reliving traumatic experiences, as in the bracing Nagasaki-set, World War II prologue during which he saves a soldier from the atomic blast. Besides being another effective window into Logan’s disturbed psyche (how would you sleep at night with memories of being incinerated by the bomb?), it sets up everything that follows. In present day northern Canada, Logan is living off the grid, disillusioned by his former life as an X-Man. He runs into Yukio (Rila Fukushima), a young woman with clairvoyant abilities (she knows when and how people will die). She works for the very soldier Logan saved in Nagasaki, Ichirō Yashida (Haruhiko Yamanouchi), now elderly and dying of cancer.
Before long The Wolverine takes us to Japan, where it stays for the duration. The tech entrepreneur Yashida offers a way to “cure” Logan of his supernatural self-healing ability, which would of course allow him a natural death and a way out of his on-going misery. Logan passes on the opportunity, sensing that Yashida is an opportunist. It’s the dying tech giant who wants Logan’s immortality, even as he speaks about it as a burden. During this meeting, Logan first meets Mariko (Tao Okamoto), Yashida’s granddaughter and heir to his empire. He also meets Yashida’s “oncologist,” who turns out to be the villainous mutant Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova). Yashida passes away and his funeral turns into a bloodbath that kicks off the movie’s first big action set piece.
As the action moves towards a slam-bang climax, Logan has Mariko’s back while Yukio steps in to save Logan from a few close calls. All the while, Viper and her poisonous venom keep turning up to complicate matters (wait till you see her literally shed her skin). Whether set atop a 200 mph bullet train or Logan fighting off dozens of stealthy ninja, Mangold stages the action with fleet-footed agility. But he also gives these characters breathing room. There’s plenty of downtime (admittedly a tad too much during the second act) that allows the characters to actually discuss their situation and relate to one another (in other words, it has the character develop that was all but absent from X-Men Origins: Wolverine). And I haven’t even mentioned the adamantium-based Silver Samurai robot that poses an additional threat late in the film.
The Wolverine features arguably Jackman’s best portrayal of the character to date, which is certainly saying something given it’s been 13 years since he first brandished the claws. Be sure to stick around for a killer teaser that literally had the audience cheering. And they don’t even make you wait until the very end credits – the bonus scene pops up only a few minutes after the credits begin (do NOT miss it!). The Wolverine should please X-Men devotees and general action fans alike, while whetting appetites for the next chapter.