Snikt-ing it up in the Land of the Rising Sun: “The Wolverine”

July 29, 2013


After  X-Men Origins: Wolverine proved to be about as much fun as, say, The Deer Hunter, the prospect of another outing featuring the slicey-dicey, bedheaded Canuck held about as much appeal as attending a NAMBLA convention dressed like River Phoenix in the beginning of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. And yet, this is one of those rare times (such as G.I. Joe: Retaliation) when the very filmmakers themselves seem to say through their movie, “Yeah, I freaking hated the first one, too.” Because The Wolverine gets right everything the previous film whiffed. It’s not a great film, but it’s about as good as movie about an unkillable dude with metal claws deserves to be.

The Wolverine begins after the events of X-Men: The Last Stand, with Logan, aka Wolverine, in self-imposed exile in the Appalachian mountains, haunted by the events of that film: the loss of his love, Jean Grey (and, presumably, the fact he appeared in a Brett Ratner movie). Well, after a couple yay-hoos kill a bear that’s like Logan’s BFF, but before he can kill them in a local bar, he is contacted by a living anime character named Yukio (Rila Fukushima, weird-faced, but still cute). Yukio has been sent by a dying tech billionaire named Yashida to bring Logan to Japan to see him.

Yashida, you see, has a history with Logan that goes back to World War Two. As a Japanese POW Logan saved Yashida’s life when Little Boy was dropped on Nagasaki. Now, Yashida wants to repay this debt by taking from Logan the curse of immortality (because, in one of this series’ more improbable tropes, looking like a totally ripped Hugh Jackman for eternity is a terrible thing). Yashida offers to take Logan’s immortality and healing powers (I guess they can just suck them out or something), but Logan refuses. A little while later, Yashida is dead.

Yeah, an eternity looking like this would be horrible.

Yeah, an eternity looking like this would be horrible.

But it’s not that easy. Surrounding the old man is a crowd of untrustworthy characters. A thuggish son, a ninja with hidden movies (Will Yun Lee), a  serpentine, Amazonian nurse (Svetlana Khodchenkova), a corrupt politician, and a bunch of tatted-to Yakuza thugs who ambush the man’s funeral and attempt to kidnap Yashida’s hottie  granddaughter and heir, Mariko (Tao Okamato).

Logan sets off with Mariko in an attempt to get to safety, but has been injured in the melee, and those injuries, mysteriously, are not healing. What follows is a sort of Wolverine/Bourne movie as Logan tries to keep Mariko safe, while unraveling the plot against her. In the process they fall in love because, well, he’s Hugh Jackman and she’s available. Duh.

It’s a nifty, compressed story that, for once, doesn’t try to hold the entire world in the balance. Veteran craftsman director James Mangold and screenwriters Mark Bomback and Scott Frank wisely keep the story focused on this smallish stage and the result is a tight, focused story that doesn’t end up lumping around a too-large canvass.

"C'mon! Nuke me! I dare ya!"

“C’mon! Nuke me! I dare ya!”

In the meantime we get some nifty action sequences that jettison the usual superhero clichés of indestructible dudes throwing each other through walls to no effect, but instead establishes some real stakes. A fight atop a speeding bullet train, while working better in 3D, is a visually-arresting sequence, and a nighttime duel in Yashida’s estate is unusually atmospheric.

Along the way, Logan struggles with his grief over Jean and makes his own personal journey. It’s kinda rote, but what the hell. He’s Wolverine. If you’re looking for a deep and nuanced exploration of the human soul, uh…this is a comic book movie.

The last act of the movie kinda  stumbles, as the hero must (again) do battle with a super-mega-banzai beastie, but, hey, Iron Man made the same misstep, so I’ll give the movie a mulligan on that one.

Sorry, babe, the tongue's a deal-breaker.

Sorry, babe, the tongue’s a deal-breaker.

Additionally of note:

* The Yashida plot is basically the filmmakers acknowledgement that the opening credits of X-Men Origins: Wolverine was the only good part of it.

* Will Yun Lee’s character doesn’t make much sense. His final turn is like, “Yeah, I was onboard for the whole plan, until you actually tried to do it…”

* Rila Fukushima really has a weird face. I mean, she’s cute, but she looks like an alien.

So, if you want to take me to your ship and, like, do stuff to me, I'm totally okay with it.

So, if you want to take me to your ship and, like, do stuff to me, I’m totally okay with it.

* If Logan really wanted to protect Mariko, he’d feed her a couple of Big Macs. She’s scary skinny.

* For the first time in a while, Wolverine’s claws look pretty badass and not like bad CGI.

* Why is it that in Japan—a country with the strictest gun-laws pretty much anywhere—everyone seems to have a machine-pistol?

*  If Wolverine spares your life, you should really just walk away and not try and stab him in the back. That just pisses him off.

So, that’s The Wolverine. Jeez, even the title is an improvement. Now here is a clip of Hugh Jackman being very un-Wolverine (but equally impressive):

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