Finally the so-called breakout star of ‘The X-Men’ movie series gets to fly solo yet again (after ‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine’) and test the waters of his continued on screen popularity. After all, what is not to like about the charismatic Wolverine or the performer that portrays the metal clawed super specimen in the buffed form of former Oscar nominee Hugh Jackman (2012’s ‘Les Miserables’)?
Director James Manigold’s (‘3:10 To Yuma’, ‘Walk The Line’) ‘The Wolverine’ is the typical high glossy escapist summertime comicbook adventure come to life. After reprising the wired Marvel Comics super-hero for the sixth time, there should be no mystery as to how entertainingly effective Jackman is as Logan, the high maintenance mutant with the penchant for stimulating intrigue and despair. ‘The Wolverine’ does not break any barriers in the genre or even uniquely distinguishes itself from the other contemporary big-budgeted, action-oriented comic fantasies drenched in opulence and angst. Still, it never seems to get old in watching the X-Men’s loose cannon engage in his own combustible capers away from his crime-fighting cohorts.
For what it is worth, ‘The Wolverine’ cannot be accused of simply infusing its blockbuster bluster with frivolous fluff or the arbitrary overloading of sophisticated special effects gimmickry. Manigold and screenwriters Mark Bomback, Scott Frank and Christopher McQuarrie actually concoct a soulful, philosophical and dramatic actioner that resonates so soundly. Besides Jackman, most of the audience may not be familiar with the majority of the international cast that populates the high-wire proceedings in ‘The Wolverine’. Who really cares at this point…we are here to see Jackman’s Logan kick some serious butt whether the baddies are known Shakespearean thespians or cast-offs from a fly-by Hollywood action flick.
The story in ‘The Wolverine’ picks up where 2006’s ‘X-Men: The Last Stand’ left off where our hero was forced to eradicate his love interest Jean Grey (Famke Jannssen) for the sake of saving the world. This devastated Logan/Wolverine then and continues to haunt him now to the point that he threw up his hands and retreated to the Yukon woods while licking his emotional wounds. With the X-Men split up, this gave Wolverine time to console and contemplate during his time of sorrow.
Soon, Logan is summoned to Japan by an ailing Yashida billionaire (Hal Yamanouchi) he once rescued during the ominous atomic activities at Nagasaki. The task at hand: the old moneybags needs Logan’s capable powers to protect his grand-daughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto). So as Logan arrives in the Land of the Rising Sun, he must assimilate to the various traditional customs of the people and the country’s ancient and present-day rituals. Basically, ‘The Wolverine’ is the obvious showcase for the familiar gimmick echoing the ‘clueless fish of the water’ scenario.
Predictably, it does not take the animalistic Logan long to ruffle some dangerous feathers when he gets mixed up in the chaotic affairs of this prominent and power family ready to implode with percolating strife. Additionally, the maddening mayhem incorporates the hostile involvement of the warrior-like antics of the yakuza, ninjas and samurais all to test the patience and pathos of the Wolverine’s instinctual savagery. Naturally, one cannot overlook the presence of a mysterious blonde beauty (Svetlana Khodchenkova) that may share the same mutant traits as the overwhelmed Logan.
‘The Wolverine’ is introspective in that Jackman’s Logan is allowed to be vulnerable beneath the surface without once doubting his beastly machismo in the process. Manigold presents our super-powered mutant misfit as a disillusioned time bomb with nothing really to live for while lugging around haunting memories in Japan. Of course, this is what elevates ‘The Wolverine’ beyond a boisterous fanboy comicbook popcorn pleaser. Manigold’s spry narrative suggests the creative influences of solemn Japanese revenging cinema such as riveting drama in T’he Yakuza’ or ‘House Of Bamboo’ more so than the frenetic free-for-all spirit of a guilty pleasure actioner.
The credit for shaping ‘The Wolverine’ into a literate and lyrical big screen comic adventure was indeed a wise choice thus allowing the characterisations to realise their full potential that both enhances and balances out the hyperkinetic storyline. Thankfully, Logan/Wolverine gets to wallow as a glorified gloomy Gus but the important factor is that moviegoers are never deprived when the moody mutant springs into defensive mode and takes care of unfinished business while finally having something to look forward to in snapping him out of his perpetual heavy-handed malaise.
Reflective and rousing, ‘The Wolverine’ does captivate and the payoff for Logan-loving loyalists does not disappoint. Sure, there is guaranteed to be some cheesy obstacles (does a confrontation with a giant robotic nuisance count?) thrown into the realm of our angst-ridden clawed crusader’s path to redemption. But in the long run, we are reminded why the Marvel Comics universe thrives at the box office when one of the film’s beloved mutant ministers of action applies his trade and takes us along for a raucous ride whether we are prepared for it or not.
20th Century Fox
2 hr. 14 mins.
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Rila Fukushima, Tao Okamoto, Will Yun Lee, Svetlana Khodchenkova and Famke Janssen.
Directed by: James Mangold
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre: Action Adventure/Comic Book/Fantasy
Critic’s rating: *** stars (out of 4 stars)
(c) Frank Ochieng 2013