You tend to not expect much authentic resonance in the plethora of Marvel comic book films released each year, so it certainly is a surprise when it appears(“Iron Man 3” tried…to no avail). A back story that finds our razor-clawed, indestructible hero surviving the 1945 bombing of Nagasaki? Now that’s a risky move. But when it respectably recreates the look of that Japanese city, and avoids reenacting anything that could be deemed offensive to the deceased or the survivors—you quickly accept the inclination to “go there”. Plus, you’ve got Hugh Jackman turning in an excellent performance in his fifth go-round with the character since the year 2000(and #6 is on the way with May’s “X-Men: Days of Future Past” almost here). Mr. Jackman is now 45 years old, but his physique is astonishing—if anything he’s even more muscular than when he first played Logan/Wolverine almost a decade and a half ago. In fact, the entire production is brawny—and I mean that as a compliment. “The Wolverine” is as dynamic as it is unusual.
Our immortal Wolverine(Mr. Jackman)saves a Japanese soldier named Yashida(Ken Yamamura)during the atomic blast, and then is sought out by the near-victim nearly 70 years in the future. Now a powerful, corporate CEO of a technology company, Yashida(now played by Haruhiko Yamanouchi)is dying of cancer. He sends for the still youthful Logan under the guise of saying goodbye, but instead asks the Wolverine for a very special gift—his immortality. The way Yashida sees it, he can help Logan eliminate the suffering of a never-ending life, while renewing his own and living forever. Logan, who has often viewed his perpetual vitality as a curse, still refuses the offer—despite persistent nightmares and hallucinations of deceased love, Jean Gray(a haunting Famke Janssen). But we all realize that refusal is never that easy, right? And so begins an action blockbuster steeped in Japanese culture, with ninjas, and exotic locales and also a snake-tongued physician named Dr. Green—aka “the Viper”. And she dastardly finds a way to vengefully weaken the Wolverine after Yashida finally passes away. Soon the opposing members of Yashida’s own family are helping/hurting Logan, while he struggles with a lifetime of tortuous choices and conflicted loyalties.
Lots of good stuff to be found in this late summer blockbuster, which lovingly recalls Sean Connery’s fifth James Bond adventure, 1967’s “You Only Live Twice”. The previously mentioned “bombing of Nagasaki” opening is a smashing set-piece, and there is also a thrilling action sequence atop a high-speed bullet train. There are two terrific performances from Japanese actresses: the stunning Tao Okamoto as Mariko, and the exotic Rila Fukushima as Yukio. Neither are simply window dressing, both roles are loaded with an emotional weight. “The Wolverine” was directed by the eclectic James Mangold, whose diverse canon includes 1999’s “Girl, Interrupted”, 2005’s “Walk the Line” and 2007’s “3:10 to Yuma”. There is a stunning late-film sequence involving ropes and spears that appears to be a loving homage to Kurosawa’s “Throne of Blood” from 1957. Yeah, we eventually get to some silly franchise stuff with a big robot and a mid-credits scene that sets up the next installment of the series. But for the vast majority of the film, “The Wolverine” is tough and dark and poignant and haunting. I love it for being atypical, and I’m even looking forward to watching it again. Check it out. Grade: B
next review up: “Philomena”