“The Wolverine” is the sixth film of the X-men series, which has moved around a lot since its first successful three films. It went back to the origin of one of its popular characters in “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”(2009), and then it went back again with another prequel “X-Men: First Class”(2011), which will soon be followed by its next story in 2014, and now the series goes forward with “The Wolverine” and the next possible sequel hinted during its end credit.
Because of such a long, complicated path the series has taken, I am sure several minor and major things in the movie will baffle you unless you have watched previous films, so let me tell you a bit about the background history of our beefy invincible mutant hero Logan(Hugh Jackman), a.k.a Wolverine. As told in “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”, he has been an immortal entity with remarkable self-healing ability and mighty adamantium skeleton and claws, and that makes him an ideal warrior/soldier for many wars, but he becomes tired of his violent history and has been leading a hermit life in the wilderness of Alaska since the big climatic battle in “X-men: The Last Stand”(2006). When we see him waking up from his another dream about his lost love Jean Greay(Fanke Janssen), he looks as shabby as when Jackman played Jean Valjean in “Les Misérable”(2012), but he is still a formidable figure to a big grizzly bear, his only neighbour in the mountain forest, and the redneck hunters in a nearby town.
During one rough night at the town bar, he is approached by a mysterious Japanese girl named Yukio(Rila Fukushima), a clairvoyant who mainly can see how people will die in the future. She comes to Logan at the request of her guardian Yashida(Haruhiko Yamanouchi), a dying Japanese tycoon who encountered Logan in Nagasaki on that fateful day of August, 1945 as shown in the opening scene. After luckily saved by Logan during the atomic bomb blast, Yashida became one of the most powerful industrialists in Japan, and now he wants to meet Logan again before he dies as a wealthy man.
Logan is reluctant at first, but he comes to accept the request after persuaded by Yukio, so he is instantly flown to Tokyo with her by Yashida’s private jet. When he faces Yashida on his deathbed, Yashida gives him a tempting offer as a favor; through his advanced medical technology, Logan can be released from his burdensome immortality and then can live as a mortal man as he has wanted while that ability of his will be transferred to Yashida, who wants it more than ever as a man who has few days to live.
Maybe because he is reminded of that famous phrase “Be careful for what you wish – you might get it”, Logan rejects Yashida’s offer despite his long yearning for mortality, but he eventually gets it anyway as he is hurled into the center of some dangerous intrigue inside Yashida’s family business, and there are many suspicious characters including 1) Yashida’s private doctor who is literally venomous as she looks, 2) a shady Ninja clan still loyal to Yashida even after his funeral, 3) Yashida’s aggressive son Shingen(Hiroyuki Sanada) who has been pissed about his father for good reasons, and 4) a group of Yakuza gangs hired to kidnap Mariko(Tao Okamoto), Yashida’s dear granddaughter and Yukio’s close friend. I am sure they can fill more than one Edogawa Rampo’s novel.
While trying to protect Mariko from the Yakuza gangs during their ambush at the family funeral, Logan finds himself far more vulnerable than ever when he discovers that he somehow happens to lose some of his ability(It will not take more than a minute to guess the reason, by the way). His adamantinum bone structure is not changed and he still has his metal claws inside his hands, but he can be seriously injured just like normal people; at one point, he collapses due to excessive hemorrhage, which is something he has never experienced before.
This turns out to be more or less than a convenient plot device in the end, and the story does not delve deep into this potentially intriguing change, but it certainly makes the action sequences in the movie more thrilling and interesting because of the newly gained vulnerability of its hero. One of the major highlights in the movie is the exciting action sequence frantically unfolded above the bullet train departing Tokyo, and this preposterous action sequence really looks perilous because we can sense that Logan as well as bad guys desperately cling to the roof amid CGIs rapidly passing by them.
The movie also gets some time to rest as Logan and Mariko hides in her family house in Nagasaki for a while. Although the result is not entirely successful due to the rather flat depiction of the budding romantic relationship between them, Logan’s position as a foreign visitor in a strange world provides humor to the story at times, and Hugh Jackman ably handles several humorous moments in the movie while admirably dedicating himself to the brooding intensity and pumping vascularity of his character. Watching Logan facing the language and culture barrier in Tokyo, I wrote this in my mental note with amusement: Wolverine Lost in Translation.
It is disappointing that the movie loses its way during its shaky and murky third act and plunges into the bland CGI action sequence featuring a giant silver samurai robot, which looks as uninteresting as it looked in the trailer. I left the screening room with exhaustion instead of exhilaration at last night as a consequence, but “The Wolverine” is surely improvement over tedious “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”, and the director James Mangold gives us a fair amount of entertainment in this flawed but slick blockbuster product while making a good use of the locations in the film. Although I have an increasing feeling that this is a just big teaser for the next X-men film to come especially after watching a surprise scene during the end credits, I enjoyed its style and looks, and I am rather glad that it is not as bad as I worried at least.
Sidenote: The movie is also shown in 3D, but never mind, folks. As some of you know, 3D does not help much especially in case of action films.
Anything would be an improvement over X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Still, it’s too bad they didn’t base the movie on the comic book mini-series about Logan’s time in Japan (it’s very different from your description). Maybe they fear using good stories for comic book movies.
SC: Maybe I should check it out if I can…