When film critics aren’t pressed for submission dates it is often a good idea to step back, sigh a little, and then recompose the feeling one got when watching the movie. Now and then, the impact of the movie is so strong that images, sequences — even characters — linger around involuntarily in the consciousness; other times, one draws a blank — an utter, dark, dank, expressionless blank.
This is the case with “The Wolverine”, a present day sequel with Hugh Jackman as the six-foot tall, hairy-chested Canadian Mutant Logan, with kickass healing ability “unbreakable” adamantinum claws and a penchant for hooking up with dangerous dames.
In his sixth Wolverine outing — three X-Men movies, a cameo in X-Men: First Class and the origins prequel also called Wolverine — there’s little Mr. Jackman can do that’s nonconforming to what we know about Logan … and he doesn’t have to. Nonetheless, a brief bit into the past is, of course, statutory to any sequel (especially his).
Here, we open to a slightly unsettling front-seat to the Nagasaki bombing, where Logan saves a soldier’s life. Years later today, the soldier’s runner Yukio (Rila Fukushima) tracks Logan to the backwoods of Yukon with instructions to chaperone him to Japan. The soldier, Yashida (Haruhiko Yamanouchi), now a multi-billionaire technology industrialist lies withering from cancer and hopes Logan’s regenerating mutant-ability would help him out.
Alas, once there, Logan finds himself on the other end of some nasty stares (and some pointy katana’s) from Yashida’s son Shingen (Hiroyuki Sanada), the in-line heir who gets side-stepped by daddy in favor of granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto). A wildcard wedged into a daytime family soap, Logan runs away with Mariko (with the best of intentions, of course), while literally contending with Jean Grey’s (Famke Jenssen) specter, whom he dispatched in The Last Stand.
Logan’s girl-trouble, along with some mean action on top of a Shinkansen (the Japanese bullet train) leads to more girl-trouble, more action and not really that much storytelling (the screenplay is by Mark Bomback and Scott Frank).
The only gradual build-up is the movie’s own lack of consequence. We know Logan is hampered, and that there will be no shortage of visual effects (some choppy, few fine), and that there will be a big-brawl in the end — this time with a tin-battle suit.
On the production front though, Japan (custom built on sets in Australia by production designer François Audouy), is a mix of the soothing, the monotonous and the weird — in particular when Logan and Mariko check into a Love Motel. The effect is very much like the real place: a subjective amalgam of the past and present, secluded to particular districts. Tough luck, the sights only offer minute distraction.
Actually there is one other aspect worth rooting for: the mock father-daughter relationship between Logan and Yukio, who also is an effective assassin — and a co-mutant.
As the movie runs it’s relatively easy under-appreciating the ease of Mr. Jackman’s transition from a vulnerable killer to prized lab-rat tothat of afather figure for Ms. Fukushima’s Yukio(who also responds with an excellence bounce of performance).
While director James Mangold 3:10 to Yuma; Knight & Day doesn’t gush over sensational, specious, flair of the big-budget one is under contract to spend(well, sometimes), he still doesn’t consolidate the screenplay’s slack into an engaging experience. A few mutant-vs.-Yazuka fights here, a few mutant-vs.-mutant fight there — a slinky villainess, played by Svetlana Khodchenkova in a green designer figure-hugging body-suit, is adept at poisoning people — and The Wolverine is good to go.
Fanboys (who I would be one of too), would love to tick off and go bonkers over names like: The Silver Samurai, The Viper, and throwaway end credit teaser cameos for "X-Men: Days of the Future Past," but that would be equal to doing an essay on the futility of trending blockbusters.
Directed by James Mangold; Produced by Lauren Shuler Donner and Hutch Parker; Written by Mark Bomback and Scott Frank; Cinematography by Ross Emery; Edited by Michael McCusker; Music by Marco Beltrami; Production design by François Audouy; Costumes by Isis Mussenden.
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Hiroyuki Sanada, Famke Janssen, Will Yun Lee, Rila Fukushima, Tao Okamoto, Svetlana Khodchenkova and Haruhiko Yamanouchi. Released by 20th Century Fox, “The Wolverine” is rated PG-13. Claws snap out, slice people dead, and all that jazz.
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