Tired of super-hero movies yet? Beginning to feel that bloated, heavy feeling after gorging yourself on popcorn movies to the point where you can feel the butter seeping out of your pores? That’s about how I feel coming into August, after enduring a summer-movie season that somehow begins in April.
I’ve slogged through an Iron Man, Man of Steel, giant robots, a Lone Ranger, and now I have to contend with “The Wolverine.” Truth be told, I’m kind of done with Hugh Jackman in this part, a role he’s been playing for 13 years. There have been five films featuring his take on one of comics’ most iconic roles, and it is sobering to realize just how many times filmmakers have gotten this character wrong.
Fortunately, “The Wolverine” gets a lot right.
Logan (Hugh Jackman) is a mutant who possesses razor-sharp claws and a healing factor that has made him practically immortal. This power has become something of a curse as recent tragic events (from “X-Men: The Last Stand”) have led him to the conclusion that he doesn’t have any reason to live—a tough pill to swallow since he realized he can never die. So he does what all heartbroken heroes do when tragedy befalls them: heads into the mountains to live like a hermit and be haunted by the nightmarish images of his dead lover.
Unfortunately, there are those with other plans for Wolverine. Logan is visited by Yukio, a messenger for a Japanese businessman named Yashida whom he saved during the bombing of Nagasaki in World War II. It seems Yashida has become obsessed with Logan and his healing factor, and makes him an interesting offer: He will strip Logan of his immortality giving him the chance to lead a normal, mortal life. In exchange, Yashida can heal himself of the illness that is slowly killing him.
The house of Yashida is in something of disarray. His daughter Mariko has been targeted for assassination by the Japanese mob, a.k.a. The Yakuza. Logan becomes something of a reluctant protector as mobs of armed thugs begin to crawl out of the woodwork and try to gun down Yashida’s daughter. “Reluctant” might be a stretch because she’s smokin’ hot. It’s always easy to willingly face harm’s way when it’s for a ridiculously good-looking woman. Here, “easy” might be a stretch because it seems Logan’s healing factor is on the fritz, and he’s not bouncing back like he used to.
“The Wolverine” is an interesting comic-book movie, if for no other reason than the stakes are remarkably small in comparison to the epic special-effect orgies taking place in most superhero movies. There’s a simplicity to “The Wolverine.” It’s a very small story in a summer where everything seems to be contractually obligated to “go big” with explosions and massive eye-fucking set pieces. So, telling a markedly smaller, character-driven story feels refreshing. There’s still some of the trappings of the typical comic-book movie. It gets so ridiculous in the third act that attempts to ground the story in reality for the first two acts are washed away in a sea of silly.
Yet, the first two acts are something really special. Director James Mangold (“3:10 to Yuma”) really tries to make something gritty. Putting a super-powered killing-machine in the middle of a crime story set in Japan is wonderfully against type for these films. There’s no end of the world to contend with or a doomsday machine that is going to wipe out millions. Instead we get a wayward, wounded soul on the mend, forced into a gang war he has no stake in, at least until he falls in love—twist!
Mangold does a great job populating the film with an interesting cast of characters. Also, there is a lot of good, old-school action in “The Wolverine”—guys with swords and guns fighting a guy with claws. Bullets, blades, and blood appear in the first two acts. The third act returns to those goofy comic clichés with super-powered villains, and obscene computer-generated battles that feel more like a video game than good cinema. I wish more comic-book adaptations would take the minimalist approach, as seen in the earlier scenes of “The Wolverine.” Just because the character is based on a comic book doesn’t mean it has to be cartoonishly epic.
While Jackman is fine in the role, I think I’m ready for someone else to strap on the claws. Jackman’s super sensitive approach to the character is starting to feel out-played. And he’s starting to feel a little old for the part, like watching Roger Moore play James Bond in “A View to a Kill” or Sean Connery in “Never Say Never Again.” At some point, we have to accept that every actor has a good run with a character but must move on. This would be a good time for Jackman to step away as Wolverine. The movie may not be high art, but it is highly entertaining.
Directed by James Mangold
Starring Hugh Jackman, Tao Okamoto, Rila Fukushima and Will Yun Lee