Mark Reviews Movies

The Wolverine


1 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: James Mangold

Cast: Hugh Jackman, Rila Fukushima, Tao Okamoto, Will Yun Lee, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Hiroyuki Sanada, Brian Tee, Hal Yamanouchi, Ken Yamamura, Famke Janssen

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, some sexuality and language)

Running Time: 2:06

Release Date: 7/26/13

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Review by Mark Dujsik | July 26, 2013

Wolverine (now apparently worthy of a pretentious "the" before his name) might be the most antisocial of all the nameable-by-even-non-comic-book-aficionados superheroes (That trait was the core of his very funny, three-word cameo in the X-Men prequel). The key to his success as an effective character, it seems, is that he must have other characters with a certain level of distinctiveness off of which to play (He's not a team player, but he plays better as part of a team). The opening scenes of The Wolverine—those leading up to the inciting incident—are the movie's best because they understand that the character's appeal—beyond his brutal fighting style with adamantium claws that burst out of and retract into his knuckles, obviously—is in his interaction with others.

He doesn't give a damn about anything or anyone. We like him despite or for it, and his antipathy and misanthropy only make the rare instances when he does care about something or someone all the more surprising.

With this in mind, here are the two central problems with The Wolverine: 1.) It doesn't have a single character who is developed enough to serve as a foil for our hero, and 2.) speaking of characters who aren't developed, that includes Logan (Hugh Jackman), our eponymous superhero. Yes, this is the sixth time (including that cameo) that the character as portrayed by Jackman has appeared on screen, so we at least understand the basics of this character by now. It has also become fairly clear by now that there is nothing more to the character than the basics, and here, even those don't matter so much.

In the movie's prologue—a dream (within a dream, because the screenplay by Mark Bomback, Scott Frank, and Christopher McQuarrie clearly wants to get all the character stuff out of the way as quickly and in as clichéd a way as possible)—Logan recalls his imprisonment in a Japanese POW camp near the end of World War II. In fact, he's in a sealed pit in a camp outside of Nagasaki. It's August 9, 1945, and before we have time to consider whether or not it's appropriate to use the mass killing of tens of thousands of people as the backdrop for what is essentially a chase sequence (Yes, he outruns the blast), the explosion happens. Logan rescues a guard (Ken Yamamura) and keeps him protected in the pit until it's safe to leave (Yes, he can heal from the burns of a nuclear explosion).

In the present day, Logan, currently residing in the forest, is confronted by Yukio (Rila Fukushima), a psychic who's good with a sword, who informs him that her master Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi), the guard from the camp, is dying and wants to see the man who saved his life one last time. Reluctantly, Logan agrees, and the two fly to Tokyo.

At this point, the movie becomes an almost exclusively plot-driven affair—and a tedious one, too. Building upon the political machinations and personal betrayals that occur after Yashida's death, the screenplay gives us the old man's granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto), her father (Hiroyuki Sanada), her government-employed fiancé (Brian Tee), a ninja (Will Yun Lee) who promises to protect her, a mutant (The movie seems to forget that characters such as this exist) named Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova) with a serpent's tongue and a toxic case of halitosis, a bunch of yakuza goons, and a 15-foot robot samurai in a secret facility. Logan becomes caught up in the mess—and it is a mess of characters with motivations that change on a whim and conspiracies that involve characters who have mere minutes of time on screen—when he stops Mariko from being kidnapped at her grandfather's funeral.

Before that, Viper somehow puts his mutation into remission, leaving him vulnerable to wounds from the various hits, slashes, and gunfire that he encounters (Somehow, though, there are no gaping, bloody holes on his knuckles after bringing his razor-sharp claws back into his body). It's a solid conceit for the character, especially given that his immortality ensures there is never any real peril for him (Yashida says Logan's immortality is a curse; let's face it: If one is going to be cursed, that's a pretty good one to have).

The movie squanders it, though, on a story that sees our hero as a supporting character in a confounding and routinely dull tale of corporate intrigue (or whatever the opposite of that is). The Wolverine does occasionally see Logan take out his claws and rip bad guys to shreds (The two extremes are an inventive fight on top of a bullet train, in which the participants must leap to avoid obstacles, and the wearying final confrontation with the big robot), but even that starts to feel routine fairly quickly. By the end, we're left wondering if this character is worth the trouble.

Copyright © 2013 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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