Decent enough “X-Men” movie/spinoff, has some artistic qualities, but doesn’t really progress the franchise or character mythology. The Wolverine has promise that it’s going to dig deep into the psyche and inner conflicts of Logan (Hugh Jackman), the mutant who became the razor-clawing Wolverine, but the teasing screenplay retreats from depth. This time adventure, and guilt, lead Logan to Japan to satisfy an obligation. Like the 1967 James Bond adventure “You Only Live Twice,” this entry of “The Wolverine” will be remembered as the Japanese one.
What fantastic art direction, nonetheless! I love the culture, the traditions, the vows of loyalty found in Japanese characters and lore. The film begins with the bombing of Nagasaki in World War II, with POW Logan rescuing a specific Japanese soldier from certain doom. Yashida (Haruhiko Yamanouchi, as the character’s old version) supposedly spent his life wishing to repay Wolverine, but he also, in current day, wants the secret Wolverine ingredient to immortality. Yukio (Rila Fukushima), with bold red hair, will be Logan’s chaperon to her adopted grandfather’s deathbed so final respects can be paid.
Wolverine is in full action mode when he has to protect Yashida’s granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto, traditional Japanese woman / love object) from battling yakuza. There is a mad multiple assassination plot at a funeral, followed by a chase through the city with a crossbow expert picking off targets, and finally, a scuffle on top of a bullet train that is the best action scene of its kind since 1996’s “Mission: Impossible.” James Mangold, the director of “Knight and Day” and “Walk the Line,” makes these scenes heart-throbbing and urgent.
To be blunt, “The Wolverine” loses that urgent quality and becomes melodramatic mush. Despite an exciting house-of-blue-lights brawl ripped right out of “Kill Bill: Vol. 1,” there is a lot of uncertainty and inconsistencies that plague this latest feature, although it’s far from dull to watch. Jackman, doing what he can to keep Logan’s dormant guilt compelling, finds new shades of internal darkness but does so without fully explicating them (Famke Janssen as Logan’s dead lover Jean Grey comes to haunt him in dreams).
More importantly, the dying man Yashida’s character has richness of wisdom and poignant regret, but the more you learn about his character, the more of a crock the whole screenplay concept becomes. Contradictory, would be a word to describe the story outcome. That is contradictory, as long as you believe the cemented Code of Honor that threads through Japanese themes has been betrayed and violated.
And don’t get me started with the supporting characters whom are often murky in terms of motivation. I often felt I had no idea who Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova, pic right) was working for, or if Yukio’s “visions” were alterable or even reliable. Ambiguity is one thing, but “The Wolverine,” despite some dazzling moments, is too often unsure of itself. Still, Japan is a sumptuous setting.
126 Minutes. Rated PG-13.
ACTION & ADVENTURE / COMIC BOOK MOVIE / FRIDAY NIGHT BLOCKBUSTER
Film Cousins: “You Only Live Twice” (1967); “Ronin” (1998); “Kill Bill: Vol. 1” (2003); “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” (2009).