The Wolverine review: Hugh Jackman's still convincing, but the film lacks fizz
Hugh Jackman owns the character of Wolverine again but the superhero might just be the most overexposed.
Within the first 30 minutes of The Wolverine, Hugh Jackman is seen in a hot tub, naked, being bathed by two Japanese women intent upon scrubbing him clean while he yelps, "I can do that bit myself!"
For those inclined towards the ladies, there's Famke Janssen (not in the same scene), wearing a negligee that's perfectly poised between chaste and titillating. Add to this an island-flattening explosion, three seppuku, one communion between grizzly bear and grizzlier man, a bar brawl, a red-haired Japanese woman who knows how to use a samurai blade and the neon gleam of Tokyo. Fans of Wolverine and/or Jackman's chest must be heaving a sigh of relief that the disaster of X-Men Origins: Wolverine is behind them.
As far as superheroes are concerned, Wolverine is perhaps the most over-exposed. Iron Man has three movies and a significant role in the Avengers' chorus. Wolverine has appeared on screen twice as many times. Jackman owns Wolverine (also known as Logan) and he doesn't miss a beat as he twists his face into Wolverine's scowl and gets ready to battle bad guys and personal demons in this latest outing.
The aim with the Wolverine films has clearly been to bring in novelty through directorial vision. James Mangold, who has directed The Wolverine, has a diverse filmography. Girl, Interrupted, Kate and Leopold, Walk the Line, Knight and Day — if there is a connection between these very different movies, then it's Mangold's interest in heroes who must come to terms with their own volatility. From that perspective, The Wolverine is a neat fit.
Chronologically, The Wolverine comes right after X-Men: The Last Stand in the X-Men continuum. Logan is tormented by the unpleasant truth that Jean Grey's (Famke Janssen) blood is on his retractable, adamantium claws. However, as nice as it may be to hallucinate negli-Jean, Logan has more pressing problems than a guilty conscience.
A strange Japanese redhead named Yukio (Rila Fukushima) shows up to tell Logan he's been summoned to Tokyo by an old acquaintance, Shingen Yashida. He is on his deathbed so it would be dishonourable of Logan to refuse.
In Tokyo, Yashida tells Logan he has a gift for the mutant: since Logan hates the animal grafted on his human self, Yashida offers to turn him back to a normal human. His mutant traits can be transferred to Yashida, who says he isn't ready to die. This arrangement would prolong Yashida's life and let Logan be the man he wants to be. Aside from the fact that the deal seems very one-sided (Yashida gets health while Logan gets death), Logan is creeped out by both Yashida and his doctor. Sensibly, he refuses Yashida's offer.
That night, Logan has a nightmare in which Yashida's doctor plants a deadly kiss on him. He wakes up to learn Yashida is dead. At the funeral, there's an attempt to kidnap Yashida's granddaughter, Mariko (Tao Okamoto). Although Logan is able to foil this plan with some serious blade action, he realises he's no longer Wolverine — his claws are fine, but his wounds aren't healing on their own. That said, the amount of running and fighting Logan manages with four bullets lodged in his body is remarkable enough to make Superman do a slow clap.
Mariko and Logan go into hiding where Logan's wounds heal slowly. The focus shifts from stunts to soupy noodles, but soon enough, the yakuza are back and this time, Logan can't prevent Mariko from being kidnapped. He follows her trail only to discover Yashida's doctor, the chilling Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova), is the one to fear.
Jackman is clearly enjoying himself as Wolverine, which makes him fun to watch (particularly when he loses his shirt, which he does often in The Wolverine). His new sidekick, Yukio, is an intriguing character and you'll wish she had more time on screen. The same is true for Khodchenkova, who manages to make Viper chilling even though she is like so many femme fatales.
The action sequences in The Wolverine are smartly executed, which is what you'd expect, but few of them are memorable. As in most superhero movies, logic isn't the film's strongest suit, but neither is it meant to be. The Wolverine's real flaw is that it lacks imagination, which is a terrible black mark against a film of its genre.
Writers Mark Bomback, Scott Frank and Christopher McQuarrie couldn't think of any new tricks for Wolverine, who scowls, roars and claws at things much as he has in every film since his debut.
One of the best action sequences in the film is a stealthy ninja attack, which we've seen countless times in different movies. Wolverine/Logan's final enemy is a massive metallic samurai that looks like the first cousin of Pacific Rim's Jaegers and Transformers. The little probe that Viper inserts into Logan looks remarkably like the worm that was inserted in Neo in The Matrix. Viper's appearance is sharply reminiscent of Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy.There are scores of little details like this from past films that are peppered all over The Wolverine.
There's fine line between familiar and boring, and The Wolverine looks like it's a franchise that needs someone to stop it from mutating into predictable and dull.
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