News Column

More brooding, less 'berserker'

December 6, 2013


Dec. 06--Ah, the age-old dilemma: To live forever or to live an ordinary life.

Such is the pickle for our clawed mutant buddy, Logan, also known by his cooler mutant hero name, Wolverine, in a side trip away from the X-Men films, simply dubbed "The Wolverine."

Director James Mangold and scriptwriters Mark Bomback and Scott Frank go the way of recent graphic novel films like "The Dark Knight" and darken up the character, making him more brooding and conflicted, emotionally crumbly and mountain man hairier than in past incarnations in the X-Men films.

While a Wolverine with issues can be more texturally interesting, it also makes the character a bit dull at times.

Truth be told, I miss the cocky, grumpy, wry Wolverine with anger issues, which made for plenty of chuckles in previous outings. You won't find much of that here in a story that feels very different in demeanor from the X-Men movies, which is good if you don't appreciate the X-Men movies as much as others do, and not so good if you do.

In this go-round, Logan (a very chiseled, muscular Hugh Jackman) is not a happy camper. He's living like a wild caveman in the woods alongside his bear buddies and having dreams of the mutant love of his life, Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), who he could not save.

Enter pink-haired, sweet and very capable sword fighter Yukia (Rila Fukushima) to save him from a bar brawl. She has come to fetch him. Her grandfather, Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi), is on his death bed and wants to see Logan before he dies.

Logan was a prisoner years ago near Nagasaki during World War II and saved Yashida, who has since become a billionaire industrialist.

When Logan arrives at Yashida's side -- he's lying in the coolest-looking death bed ever -- he has a proposal for his mutant friend. Yashida says he can offer Logan what he has always longed for: mortality and the chance to live a normal life.

But that chance seems to be taken away when the old man suddenly dies, leaving his other granddaughter, Mariko (Tao Okamoto), the heir to everything. This news, of course, does not make Mariko's power-hungry father happy. He was supposed to be the rightful heir and didn't get what he demanded in the end.

Much of the rest of the movie involves Wolverine protecting Mariko from yakuza warriors. Someone has put a hit on her life.

But saving her is proving harder to do than usual. Somehow, Logan is losing his mutant power of healing -- a result, possibly, of his meeting with Yashida's shady assistant (Svetlana Khodchenkova). She happens to be a mutant named Viper and can spew poisonous venom.

Jackman, at 44, somehow looks better physically as Wolverine than he has in the past, and he embodies all the rage and emotional turmoil of the character so well. For an actor to go from singing Broadway musical tunes and looking like he's a starving prisoner in "Les Miserables" to getting all muscled up once again for "The Wolverine" is amazing.

And Fukushima, so full of personality in her role as Yukia, is a find. Put her in more movies.

This film's overriding theme of choosing the hard road of the hero over an easier road as an ordinary Joe gives the movie relevance beyond just another superhero movie of action, action, action. Those who like a lot of action may feel a little disappointed here, though the fight scene from the top of a bullet train going 300 miles per hour is neat.

"The Wolverine," with its darker themes, is better than the character's first outing in a solo film. Still, it is slow-going at times and overly brooding. It also does not tout very many memorable characters beyond Logan. Most are very two-dimensional, either good or bad, and not very interesting at that.

Compared to other graphic novel hero movies like "The Dark Knight" or "Iron Man," this film about our favorite clawed mutant hero buddy, in the end, is just not quite as fun.


Grade: B-

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Tao Okamoto, Rila Fukushima, Hiroyuki Sanada, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Brian Tee, Will Yun Lee, Hal Yamanouchi

Director: James Mangold

Writers: Screenplay by Mark Bomback and Scott Frank

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

Running time: 126 minutes


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