The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


The Wolverine

I recently wrote an article for Film Racket entitled The Proper Care and Feeding of the Superhero Movie in which I argued that superhero movies should, among other things, adapt some of the acclaimed comic book runs that have accumulated over the years. James Mangold's The Wolverine does just that, taking the 1982 Chris Claremont/Frank Miller series as its inspiration. The result is a darker, edgier superhero movie than we're used to seeing. While not without a few flaws, this film is admirably ambitious and generally entertaining.

The story finds a troubled Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) having abandoned his X-Men moniker and opting to live life as a vagrant under his real name, Logan. He has troubling flashbacks to the day when he saved the life of a Japanese solider while the atom bomb hit Nagasaki. He also has nightly dreams of his true love, the late Jean Gray (Famke Janssen), who, fans will recall, died by his hand at the end of X-Men: The Last Stand. One day, Logan meets a young Japanese mutant named Yukio (Rila Fukushima). She tells him that she is an associate of the man he saved in Nagasaki; he's dying and would like to say goodbye to his old friend. Logan travels to Japan, only to discover that the man, Yashida (Haruhiko Yamanouchi), has ulterior motives. Not wanting to die, he explains that he's figured out how to transfer mutant powers from one person to another. Since Logan has grown weary of being immortal – which prevents him from being with Jean in the afterlife – Yashida offers his technology as a solution to both their problems. Logan declines, then ends up becoming a protector to Yashida's granddaughter, Mariko (Tao Okamoto), who is targeted by the Yakuza after she inherits his technology business. During this adventure, he also experiences an inexplicable loss in his healing powers and comes face-to-face with the mutant known as Viper.

The Wolverine is a great Logan story, but not necessarily a great story for everyone else. On the plus side, adapting this tale (even if some liberties are taken) was a smart idea. Wolverine has always been a troubled character, and this movie really drags him through the muck. Losing his powers, mourning a lost love, discovering that he has to embrace his mutant identity whether he wants to or not - all these things prove to be tests for him. This is a character who should never, ever be happy, because he's most compelling when he's most conflicted. The Wolverine keeps him that way, in the process picking him apart psychologically to see what makes him tick. Comic book-based movies are always best when they're focused on the human (or, in this case, mutant) behind the superhero. Much as Iron Man 3 put Tony Stark through the ringer, this film finds a lot of engrossing drama in making Logan come to terms with himself in the most brutal manner possible. By the end, we really feel like we're seeing him in a whole new way, and that's an amazing feat given that this is the fifth movie to prominently feature the character.

If it was all Logan all the time, The Wolverine might have been stellar. However, a fair amount of time is spent on Yashida's complicated family situation and why Mariko is wanted by the Yakuza. This is especially the case in the first hour, which is very deliberately paced. (And feel free to read that as “a bit slow” if you'd like.) The film doesn't seem committed to exploring the family dynamics, except as they relate to Logan's journey. That would be fine if they were made less prominent than they are. Several of the little twists and turns feel underwhelming or arbitrarily depicted, as though you're being given just enough information to understand how they affect our hero. Fleshing them out more would have created an operatic feel, thereby enhancing our understanding of their impact on Logan. There's also the matter of having several villains of varying degrees, none of whom are as compelling as Wolverine. Some streamlining in this department would have helped too.

Again, though, the quality of the Logan story is strong enough to support The Wolverine. If you've built up an interest in the clawed mutant, either through the comics or the films, there's plenty here to keep you hooked. It's a terrific character study of a beloved superhero. Several strong action scenes are beneficial, as well. A fight taking place atop a speeding bullet train certainly ranks as one of the most original and exciting in any film this year, and the final confrontation between Wolverine and an entity I won't specify is massively fun.

Hugh Jackman has played Wolverine six times now (including a cameo in X-Men: First Class), yet still seems just as invested as he did the first time. He makes Logan's struggles sympathetic. That certainly keeps us in his corner. Jackman owns the role, and The Wolverine proves that there's still a lot of good stuff left to mine in Logan's troubled, heroic psyche.

( out of four)

Note: If you're planning to see The Wolverine, by all means opt for the 2D version. There is nothing here that would benefit from being seen in 3D.

The Wolverine is rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, some sexuality and language. The running time is 2 hours and 6 minutes.

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