Here’s the fanboy check list for “The Wolverine,” Hugh Jackman’s sixth outing as the mutant blessed with miraculous healing powers and near-indestructible metal alloy bonded to his skeleton but cursed with a bad hairstyle and existential angst:
a.) Tortured superhero with an attitude.
b.) Sexy, slithery character who literally speaks with a forked tongue.
c.) Giant mechanical beast!
d.) Wild ninja battles!
e.) Tattooed Yakuza Killers!
With all the major geek cred bases covered “The Wolverine” offers everything its core audience could want from the story, but what about anyone who doesn’t know their adamantium from their absinthium?
A flashback set in 1945 establishes the storyline. Logan a.k.a. Wolverine (Jackman) shields Yashida (Ken Yamamura), a young Japanese officer, from an atom bomb blast in Nagasaki. Cut to years later, that young soldier is now a wealthy, but terminally ill man (Garret Sato). He summons Wolverine to Japan to offer him something he has never had—“an ordinary life.”
The idea is to trade Wolverine’s immortality for the chance to lead a normal life, free of the pain of outliving everyone he loves. “A man can lose things to love for when they have eternal life,” he says.
Yashida and his doctor (Svetlana Khodchenkova) have figured out how to medically make the swap, but Wolverine isn’t interested. Soon he finds himself with lessened powers and at the epicenter of the fight for Asia’s biggest corporation, a family battle between father and daughter (Hiroyuki Sanada and Tao Okamoto) and in the sights of a venomous mutant with an agenda of her own.
“The Wolverine” is a step up from 2009’s “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” the inelegant (compared to Bryan Singer’s “X-Men” movies) tentpole that featured more obligatory shots of Jackman walking away from giant explosions in slo mo than actual story. This one has more plot, but more importantly, it also has more substance.
There’s lots of action, but director James Mangold throws the usual summer blockbuster template of inserting crazy fight scenes every ten minutes out the window, and instead allows the character to stand front and center instead of the mayhem. It’s Mangold’s way of opening the story to newbies, while giving the fans more of what they want—Wolverine’s psyche.
Wolverine’s depressive nature is the star. He’s world weary, haunted by dreams of his late wife Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), struggling to put his past behind him. It’s not Dostoyevsky, but the character development is welcome in a summer filled with superhero types who place more emphasis on running and leaping than thinking and emotion.
Not that Wolverine doesn’t run and leap. A wild updating of the classic “top of a train” fight scene is revved up to the tune of 300 MPH as Logan and villains fight it out on top of a bullet train. It’s one of the best action sequences of the year and stands out in a movie filled with PG action—don’t expect Tarantino style blood splatter in the ninja sequences—and needless expository dialogue like, “I suppressed his powers so he could be taken!”
Really? Thanks for the tidbit Captain Obvious.
“The Wolverine” is a bit overlong—is it not possible to tell these stories in 90 minutes?—but those who wait it out into the credit roll will be rewarded with the Nerdvana of post movie clips—a sequence hinting at the events of the upcoming “X-Men: Days of Future Past.”