- RatedPG13 /GenreAction, Adventure
A clean slate.
That basically sums up what Hugh Jackman’s latest movie ‘The Wolverine’ means to the knuckle-clawed super mutant.
While 2011’s ‘X-Men: First Class’ gave a sparse but perfect look at the iconic X-Men characters’ origins, ‘The Wolverine’ represents a “purer” (and solemn) look at our favourite anti-hero as he grapples with his mortality.
It is a kind of redemption for the character and for Jackman, following the embarrassing box-office dud that was ‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine’ (2009).
Mining material from 1982's limited mini-series ‘Wolverine’ by writer Chris Claremont and artist Frank Miller (of ‘Sin City’ fame), director James Mangold (‘Walk the Line’, ‘3:10 to Yuma’) and writing duo Mark Bomback and Scott Frank cleverly sidestepped the supercharged special effects, choosing to conjure up an intriguing neo-noir film set in Japan.
Painting Logan as a Ronin – a samurai without a master, a warrior without purpose – the movie begins with Logan holed up in the Canadian wilderness struggling to come to terms with killing the love of his life Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) at the end of 2006’s ‘X-Men: The Last Stand’.
Distraught, he vows never to kill or be a hero; and never to be the Wolverine again.
Of course, this doesn’t happen and Logan soon finds himself (reluctantly) in Japan faced with a ghost from his past, who offers to relieve him of the curse of immortality.
Rila Fukushima and Hugh Jackman
Personal struggles develop, and he gets mixed up in a feud between the Yakuza and the family of an elderly Japanese soldier he once saved. There is also the ex-soldier's granddaughter that Logan has to protect as the plot unravels.
The character-driven plot weaves in Logan’s deeply emotional “to be mortal or not” struggle, and the movie’s shift to Japan is an excellent move as it brands itself as a standalone movie (there’s nary a mention of X-Men) to distance itself from past mistakes.
And let’s not forget the very gutsy move of filling the screen with non-American actors and its frequent use of Japanese dialogue (subtitled, of course). While that might risk alienating some viewers, the treatment works and gives the film solid authenticity.
Read also: A guide to 'The Wolverine' characters
Jackman remains on form, infusing each scene with his commanding presence and the odd wisecrack. After 13 years, he has become Wolverine; anyone who takes over the character will have huge claws to fill.
Supporting actress Rila Fukushima’s portrayal as spunky redhaired assassin Yukio is a showstopper. The one-time face of D&G gets a fair amount of screen time as Logan’s “bodyguard” and leaves an impression with her deft katana-wielding skills.
Logan (Hugh Jackman) and Mariko (Tao Okamoto) in a scene from 'The Wolverine'
And then there’s the budding romance between Logan and the comely Mariko (Tao Okamoto), the 2010 Vogue Nippon "Woman of the Year". She puts on a steely performance, lending further depth to Mariko as Logan’s love interest.
Will we see more of this affair? Only the movie gods can tell.
There are still plenty of battle scenes in the film, and while it may not have the scope and scale of ‘The Avengers’ or ‘Iron Man 3’, the pared down swords-versus-claws approach works effectively.
Highlights include a high-speed bullet train melee that Jackman has admitted was the hardest stunt he has ever done, as well as an Akira Kurosawa-influenced ninja showdown in the snow.
There are missteps, predominantly when other mutants appear on screen. Viper, played by Russian actress Svetlana Khodchenkova, looks somewhat cartoonish at best, not helped by her Joel Schumacher ‘Batman & Robin’ villain costume in the final act.
Svetlana Khodchenkova gives off Uma Thurman's Poison Ivy vibes as the venoumous Viper
Then there’s the final battle with a certain Silver Samurai, a character that fanboys have been anticipating, that did not quite live up to expectations.
‘The Wolverine’ is a fascinating character study of one of pop culture’s most iconic characters, with sharper storytelling and focused character development, doing justice to the source material. It might just be 20th Century Fox's version of Marvel’s Phase 1 cinematic universe. Now, if only Disney and Fox will work together to create the ultimate Marvel movie.
And as with all Marvel movies, don’t leave your seat until after the credits roll. You just might like what you see.