July 26--If summer 2013 has proven anything about comic book movies, it's that they still make dump trucks full of money even if they're not great.
In that case, expect "The Wolverine" to do well in theaters.
In by far the most dark and violent film of the "X-Men" franchise, "The Wolverine" is kind of like the mutant series' "Temple of Doom," a flawed, yet captivating side trek for a very familiar hero.
Lined with an adamantium exoskeleton and an ability to heal almost instantly, Logan, or The Wolverine, is an invincible force, which has come in handy in past installments when fighting the forces of evil.
As the audience is shown time and time again, being an impenetrable force is less of a service when it comes to everyday life, especially when mortal friends and lovers eventually die.
The worst of those Logan has watched die is his former flame, Jean Grey, a mutant from the original "X-Men" movies, reprised by Famke Janssen. Visiting him almost every night in lucid dreams, she exudes warmth then blames him for her death. So it's not exactly a dream worth looking forward to on a regular basis.
With his dreams bleeding into reality, Logan travels to Japan, where he's offered the chance to become a normal person capable of death from Yashida, a dying man he helped save from an atomic blast in Nagasaki.
Reluctant, Wolverine eventually finds himself stripped of all of his mutant powers, outside of his signature claws, against his will. It's especially inconvenient since he has become the protector of Mariko Yashida, the granddaughter of Yashida and heir to the Yashida technologies business, thus making her one of the most powerful people in Japan.
With a reptilian woman named Viper literally spitting poison at the people getting in the way of her getting to Mariko and relatives gunning for her as well, it's not the usual "X-Men" excursion.
In that same vein, "The Wolverine," for the most part, is not the typical "X-Men" film that audiences have come to expect. Directed by "3:10 to Yuma"'s James Mangold, the movie has a sense of gravity and, dare I say, reality absent from other installments, as well as the "Iron Man" and "Superman" movies released this summer.
For the better part of the movie, Logan deals with his mortality, a concept that's been almost completely forgotten about in the genre, in favor of more action setpieces and jokes.
In that sense, it's a much darker movie. When Logan is shot, he bleeds, stumbles and crawls to death's door with the hope that it will open.
If it weren't for the levity provided by newcomers Tao Okamoto and Rila Fukushima, as Logan's sidekick, Yukio, this would may possibly the bleakest mainstream superhero movie not directed by Christopher Nolan.
After watching hours of invincible heroes win every battle, that's not a bad thing. Mangold does a great job balancing the realities of Logan being a newfound mortal in a strange land with action sequences you come to expect from a Marvel Comics movie. Scenes like a fight on top of a bullet train and a post-wedding chase are thrilling and fun.
Unfortunately, the film gives way to convention exactly when it shouldn't. In the film's final act, we're given the same poorly conceived villains and plot twists that plague almost all comic book films. It feels like the writers threw up their hands and said, "Aw, we'll give the people exactly what they want."
While it doesn't destroy the story completely, it does leave audiences that were enjoying a different tale feeling cheated.
Judging by the post-credits scene, which teases 2014's "X-Men: Days of Future Past," this movie serves mainly as a bridge to Marvel Comics' next big moneymaker. For the most part, it's worth the diversion.
Andrew Gaug can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @SJNPGaug.
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