Hugh Jackman is awesome in “The Wolverine”. As hero Logan he commands the screen. He is absolutely shredded and fights with fierce samurai skills. Jackman authentically explores Logan’s despair in his immortal fate with the Director James Mangold’s envisioning of Wolverine’s search for purpose. Jackman is deftly droll as Logan, hiding a well of emotion. “The Wolverine” ebbs on the verge of great with resonant values of mortality, purpose, and honor.
The movie opens with an amazing newsreel-like sequence of Nagasaki in World War II. Logan selflessly saves his captor Japanese officer Yashida (young Ken Yamanouchi) from the atomic bomb explosion. In present-day Logan (Jackman) returns to the site with Yashida’s granddaughter Mariko (stunning and beautiful Tao Okamoto). She recalls her grandfather’s stories. She tells Logan, “Everything finds peace eventually.” This gets lost in the last 20 minutes of the movie when it implodes into standard action mayhem.
The screenplay by Mark Bomback and Scott Frank is based on a classic storyline by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller as Logan travels back to Japan. Though familiar, but not having read it, some of the appealing backstory is displaced. “The Wolverine” misses the profound opportunity to show Logan become a samurai. Battling vicious Yakuza at the Shinto ceremony is elegantly spectacular. The martial arts are exquisite. Hiroyuki Sanada (of “The Last Samurai”) is world class. As Shingen his katana duel with the Wolverine is signature precision. Rila Fukushima as Logan’s “protector” Yukio is so cool with thrusting staff and kicks.
Jackman as Logan fights in deadly martial arts style. It is weird that Logan’s samurai skills are not really explained, though he is a rogue samurai—Ronin without master or purpose. He comments on Shingen’s kendo mastery display, “He’s good.” A clue? Too bad samurai themes of mortality and fatalism are not more fleshed out. Jackman and Mangold hint with Logan’s seeming restraint. Wolverine’s “beserker” rage has an element of focus. I was expecting “The Last Samurai” meets the Wolverine, but unfortunately not. The sword fight on top of the Bullet Train is breathtaking, and the Ninja archers in the snowy village are high drama. Given the tantalizing setup, we really don’t get an eloquent resolution of Mariko’s deserved peace or the discovery of one’s purpose in mortality.
To that end we find Logan having nightmares about his beloved Jean Grey. Famke Jassen is beautiful and strangely haunting. Logan poignantly wishes for death. However, his regenerative powers make him virtually immortal. Since Jean’s death, he lives alone in the icy woods of Alaska. About to exact revenge on reckless grizzly bear hunters, Logan is saved from himself by J-pop warrior Yukio (strong and spirited Rila Fukushima). She has been looking for him for over a year. Yashida is dying of cancer and would like to see Logan. Yashida (solid Harahiko Yamanouchi) is now the richest man in the World. He offers to repay Logan with is mortality—”Eternity can be a curse.” Logan says. “You don’t want what I got.” Logan becomes immersed in the Family drama. Shingen (Sanada) and his daughter Mariko clash over who will be heir to the Yashida Empire. Mariko is in a beneficial, but loveless engagement to Noburo (good snakelike Brian Tee). Mariko has a protector in Harada (brave Will Yun Lee), a former lover. The mysterious Viper (enigmatic and evil Svetlana Khodchenkova) may have secretly weakened Logan.
Twists ensue and Logan becomes Mariko’s savior and defender. I actually think their love story is inspired. Jackman and Okamoto have touching chemistry. Again like much of narrative, we miss a gratifying payoff. “The Wolverine” is an awesome action movie, and Mangold generates beauty with Japanese locals and distinct culture. Through all this Hugh Jackman commands “The Wolverine” and makes it worth watching. Jackman is powerful. He genuinely enrolls us in Logan’s vulnerability tempered with his great courage. He is amazing. He makes us pull for the poetic samurai conclusion.
“The Wolverine” and Hugh Jackman are amazing.
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