Feature: The Wolverine
Studio: 20th Century Fox
The Wolverine is Hugh Jackman’s fifth feature-length outing as the razor-clawed Marvel Comics superhero. This time around, the brooding avenger is caught up in a plot involving corrupt industrialists, politicians and organized crime in Japan. The movie combines the seemingly disparate genres of comic-book action with film noir with self-assurance and a sense of respect for both.
The film opens with the nuclear bombing of Nagasaki during World War II. Here, Jackman’s Logan—the Wolverine—is a prisoner of war isolated in a deep pit. Japanese soldier Shingen (Ken Yamamura) frees him, only to be rescued himself by Wolverine as the pit becomes an impromptu bomb shelter. Decades later, an almost completely hirsute Logan— having nightmares from his days as an X-Man—is living as a hermit in the Canadian Yukon (his feral mutant instincts apparently endear him to local fauna like grizzly bears.) A confrontation in a bar is interrupted by feisty swordswoman Yukio (Rila Fukushima), who brings an offer from the elderly Shingen (Hiroyuki Sanada), now a billionaire tech giant in Japan.
It seems Shingen is dying, and wants to offer his thanks to Logan for saving his life: Shingen claims to have developed a means to siphon Logan’s mutant healing and longevity powers into himself— giving Logan an end to his “curse” of outliving everyone he loves. Inevitably, in Logan’s world, nothing’s that simple. Logan barely gets a bad-night’s sleep (thanks to Svetlana Khodchenkova’s henchwoman Viper) before he has to deal head-on with Yakuza gangsters who want Shingen’s granddaughter Mariko (a luminous Tao Okamato) dead.
Complicating matters is the fact that Mariko’s dad (Haruhiko Yamanouchi) and her prosecutor fiancé (Brian Tee) may be in on the murder plot. Worst of all, Logan’s healing power seems to be failing on its own. Wolverine’s newfound vulnerability is felt through much of the film, as he now winces and limps with every gunshot, knife and sword wound that is leveled his way (blood, both literal and figurative, heavily informs the narrative.)
Walk the Line’s James Mangold directs the film (the final script is credited to Mark Bomback and Scott Frank), and the filmmakers give Wolverine the solo adventure he deserves. The romance-on-the-run between Logan and Mariko is handled admirably—she thinks him an uncouth gaijin at first, but comes to love the gruff brawler with a heart of gold. The film’s setting avoids fetishizing its Far East backdrop (though a fetish motel is visited) and gives its supporting characters deeply-felt—if severely misguided—motivations driven by adherence to tradition and self-sacrifice.
The Wolverine may or may not be the last appearance by the character—witness the mid-credits epilogue—but if this is Jackman’s final bow as Wolverine, he was given an engaging send-off.