Hugh Jackman, Tao Okamoto, Will Yun Lee, Famke Janssen, Ian McKellen, Jesssica Biel
Mark Bomback, Scott Frank, James Mangold (Writer), Frank Miller (Writer), Christopher McQuarrie (Writer), Chris Claremont (Writer)
20th Century Fox
"The Wolverine" a Definite Step Up From "Origins"
Among the superhero films of summer 2013, The Wolverine is without question one of the most pleasant surprises. After 2009's mediocre at best Origins, expectations for The Wolverine were fairly modest.
Director James Mangold (Walk the Line, Knight and Day) instead delivers a film with more soul than practically anything involving superheroes that we've seen this summer and also manages to amp up the action-adventure more than enough to please those looking for a good ole' fashioned popcorn flick. Mangold and co-writers Mark Bomback and Scott Frank manage to steer away from the Origins film and yet offer enough of a back story to please most fans of the series with the exception of serious purists.
Hugh Jackman is back and even more buff than ever, a buffness that pretty much opens the film with the bombing of Nagasaki in 1945. While the historical accuracy of the scene is definitely disputable, there's a loose connection to a real life story involving an American POW who did survive the real Nagasaki bombing in a similar fashion. Jackman's Logan saves the life of a Japanese officer who had shown him mercy, and it's Logan's actions that fuel the film's core that is set sixty years later. The former officer, Yashida (Haruhiko Yamanouchi), has become a wealthy tech entrepreneur but is nearing death. An assistant, Yukio (Rila Fukushima), drags a reluctant Logan to see Yashida and the stage is set for what amounts to an Americanized Asian action flick.
Mangold has never really been known as an action director, but he's got a definite visual flair here that makes The Wolverine an immensely enjoyable film even as it becomes increasingly formulaic once Yukio gets Logan back into the big city. Action fans may end up preferring the film's second half, a half marked by Mangold's shift from atmosphere to action. Personally, I found myself a wee bit disappointed with the shift even as Jackman's inspired performance continued to impress. The action sequences are impressive, especially a pretty amazing sequence atop a bullet train that may very well qualify as this summer's best action scene.
It will be interesting to see what purists have to say about the appearances of The Viper (Russian actress Svetlana Khodchenkova), the Yashida Clan and the Silver Samurai, the latter being the most disappointing, but for those without the baggage of being ultra-aware of Wolverine history, these segments should be entertaining enough to just surrender to it.
While Logan also struggles with the memory of Jean Grey, The Wolverine gives him an involving romantic tangle involving Yashida's granddaughter, Mariko (Tao Okamoto).
If not for a significant drop in energy in the film's final third, The Wolverine would not only be one of the summer's best superhero surprises but it would probably stand as the summer's best superhero film. While it's in many ways a quieter and more contemplative superhero film, The Wolverine possesses a lot of the resonant action and soulfulness that has been so markedly absent from this summer's other offerings.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic