go into "THE WOLVERINE" – "The Wolverine" Is rare for Its combination of Genres

go into "THE WOLVERINE" – "The Wolverine" Is rare for Its combination of Genres


This has been a big action packed summer. Man of Steel, Iron Man 3, Red 2, Star Trek Into Darkness, etc. Each film filled with action idols and explosions galore. One would expect the same from the latest entry from the surprise “House of Ideas”. However, The Wolverine, directed by James Mangold, is not what you expect.

This is a good thing.

Following the events of 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand, Logan/Wolverine (Hugh “jacked up” Jackman) is in self-imposed, alcohol-infused exile in the Canadian Rockies as penance for having killed his love Jean Grey/Dark Phoenix (Famke Janssen, who appears intermittently throughout the film as either a spirit or a manifestation of Logan’s guilty conscience). However, he is brought out of seclusion by a mysterious girl named Yuiko (Rila Fukushima) as emissary for dying billionaire industrialist and samurai Shingen Yashida (a role shared by Hiroyuki Sanada as an old man and in youth by Ken Yamamura), a man whom Logan saved from the nuclear annihilation of Nagasaki during the Second World War and offers a solution to Logan’s inner turmoil. The film’s action then moves to Japan, wherein Logan must not only deal with the prejudicial double whammy of being both gaijin (“foreign devil”) and a mutant, but must also protect Shingen’s granddaughter, Mariko (Tao Okamoto) from the Yakuza and a ninja clan. If this weren’t enough, Logan must also continue with the mysterious loss of his mutant healing ability, consequently adding an additional component of danger to the proceedings.

While this sounds like a typical summer actioner, the film’s hook truly lies in characterization. Directed by James Mangold (Walk The Line, 3:10 To Yuma), working from a screenplay by Christopher McQuarrie, Scott Frank, and Mark Bomback (the skeleton of which is based off of the 1982 “Wolverine” comic book mini-series scripted by Chris Claremont with art by Frank Miller (Sin City, the abysmal The Spirit), the film is lusciously shot with a film noir sensibility presented in independent movie/art house style; the resulting film seems more James Clavell than Kurosawa. The film is visually vibrant in color and brightness; so much so that already the nighttime/darkness scenes take on a shine (a welcome antithesis to the barely perceptible night scenes of, say, The Dark Knight Rises), though the 3D of the film calls attention to much of the CGI flaws, such “transforming” background actors into toy soldiers.

Themes of immortality and its tragic character have been before explored in other fantasy based fare such as Interview With The Vampire and Highlander, but never has its exploration seemed so personal. There’s something more… genuine… about this film, which contains a heart that X-Men Origins: Wolverine film lacked. This lies in part due to Jackman’s (fifth going on sixth) portrayal as Logan who, while not quite his comic book basis, fits Jackman like a well-oiled glove (as oiled as his physique in this film, which provides a lot of eye candy for those who seek same). In this film, Logan is an “Urban Ronin” (city dwelling, master-less samurai) who is adrift in a sea of his own pain due to immortal life and love lost. What is commendable about Jackman’s performance is that, despite having played the character repeatedly, the performance is never phoned in unlike, say, Sean Connery’s last associate of turns as “James Bond” (especially You Only Live Twice, which also took place in Japan). Jackman gives as much heart into his role as he did in the first X-Men. As such, the audience is rewarded with a much more introspective take on the character. Yes, Logan moves by much of the film with a scowl that would make Clint Eastwood green with envy. However, Jackman gives the character more thoroughness that befits the subject matter. His story is told in the “show, don’t tell” mold, and it is powerful to watch. One look can convey volumes, and his Wolverine has stories to tell.

Jackman’s performance does not take place in a vacuum. As Mariko, Tao Okamoto proves to be an adequate foil and love interest. Under Mangold’s guidance, Okomoto’s body language takes what could have been a forced romance and transforms it into a natural, logical progression. However, Fukushima’s Yukio nearly steals the film as Wolverine’s crimson hued “Robin”, if you will, who is precociously beguiling however steel of resolve. Fukushima’s chemistry with Jackman is such that one would want to see more Wolverine stand-alone movies with their respective characters buddied up. Their partnership truly works.

The same cannot be said for Svetlana Khodchenkova as Viper, a mutant scientist/assassin who is more bothersome than menacing, looking more at home on a catwalk than in a secret laboratory. While Khodchenkova succeeds in making the audience want her character to get her comeuppance, dramatically speaking, it’s for all the wrong reasons. Playing Jean Grey for the fourth time, Janssen is not given much more to do than to act ethereally; a powerful character reduced to insignificant catalyst for the main character’s emotional beats. Will Yun Lee, who showed potential in what little he had to do in 2002’s Die Another Day, portrays Harada, a character who is at cross-purposes with Wolverine. He takes what could have been a stock two-dimensional “competitor” character and imbues it with a sense of sympathetic dignity. Sanada and Yamamura give interesting contrasts in their shared portrayal of the character of Shingen at different ages that add to the story.

The film’s action is both internal and external, both of which acoustically realized by Marco Beltrami’s mood/scene-appropriate score. When the action does get external, however, it does so in “take no prisoners” fact. One extended fight ordern is something right out of the Hong Kong output from the ’70s. A bullet aim ordern, one of the film’s highlights, strains both credulity and physics with over-the-top pulse-hitting panache. But, as aforesaid, it’s the quiet moments that shine and crackle with an intensity that is no less arresting than guns, arrows, and Adamantium claws.

What few flaws exist grow out of the story’s narrative execution. Some of the plot turns are glaringly obvious if one knows what to look for (already if one did not know the comic backstory of any of these characters), especially when it comes to “the big show”. The story beats, however, are off track. There is a ordern at the beginning of the film (cribbed from the comic mini-series) that parallels Logan’s journey. As asserted above, “wounded animal” and “mortality” motifs play a huge part in the film. However, the emotional realizations and payoffs seem to arrive much earlier in the narrative than they should; impacting their emotional resonance and minimizing their effectiveness. consequently, the film’s climax and denouements are not as powerful as they should be. Some elements were additional to the recipe too soon, and a cinematic feast is reduced to a soufflé, albeit a completely enjoyable one.

The film skirts the line between what “Wolverine” fans want to see in live action and what Hollywood finds permissible for its movie idols, though it does come to some permissible compromise (as evidenced in one scene that takes place in a high rise building). However for the casual movie goer, The Wolverine is a substantial action picture with plenty of high stakes, action, and romance. Most importantly, and more so than any other superhero actioner consequently far… yes, any other… The Wolverine has heart and is a highly recommended must see.

Oh… needless to say… stay by the credits. You will not be disappointed.

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