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The Wolverine

We like Wolverine. Apparently we really like him; “The Wolverine” is the sixth movie in which Hugh Jackman’s played the character, which was created in 1974 by Len Wein and John Romita, Sr. He was originally an enemy of the Hulk. (The Wolverine, not John Romita, Sr.  I don’t know how Romita feels about the Hulk.  But we can all guess how the Hulk feels about Romita.) To understand why we like Wolverine so much, I think it’s helpful to think back to 1974. America had just lost the war in Vietnam, thanks to the politicians, despite winning all the battles (whether or not this is factually true, it was the general zeitgeist of the time.) We’d just found out our President was a crook, and forced him to resign. A lot of Americans had a lot of rage, a problem with authority, a hard time trusting anybody, but also a deep thirst for justice and revenge. We’d stopped believing the system was ever going to deliver it for us, and were ready to get it any way possible. We felt powerful, cheated, and pissed, and somebody needed to pay.

As Wolverine’s popularity skyrocketed in the comic books, Clint Eastwood became one of the most popular stars in Hollywood playing a brooding cop with a big gun who always got the bad guy but had a hard time playing by the rules. There’s a lot of Dirty Harry in Jackman’s portrayal of Wolverine, and I’m still waiting for the movie that introduces Eastwood as Logan’s long-lost father.

“The Wolverine” picks up where “X-Men: The Last Stand” left off, which is a bit of a stumble, because that movie was made 7 years ago and there have been two X-Men films since then. It took me a while to recapture the storyline: Logan killed Jean Grey, the woman he loved, because her alternate personality, the Phoenix, was taking over and destroying everyone and everything around her.

Wolverine has fled to somewhere very wooded and become Grizzly Adams. He is haunted by dreams of Jean Grey, and promises never to hurt anyone again ever, a promise he keeps for about five minutes, until someone hurts one of his ursine friends. While he is beating up rednecks, a pink-haired Japanese ninja girl (Rila Fukushima) finds him and begs him to come to Tokyo, where a man he once saved is dying, and wants to say goodbye.

Logan agrees, and somehow never suspects that the man he is going to see– billionaire tech giant Yashida (Haruhiko Yamanouchi) — might have an ulterior motive for bringing him across the ocean. Logan gets embroiled in a complicated, nearly incoherent family controversy, wherein the Yakuza are trying to assassinate the old man’s granddaughter, except maybe they’re hired by the pretty girl’s father, who’s mad that he’s not mentioned in the old man’s will, except maybe not, because there’s also a playboy fiancée with political ambitions and a jilted boyfriend with lots of ninja friends, and maybe the old man’s not as dead as he appears.

I don’t know if it all makes sense. I don’t feel like wasting the brainpower it would take to untangle it all and see if it makes sense. What it all boils down to is that Logan is going to protect the pretty granddaughter (Tao Okamota) because she’s pretty and vulnerable and likes to kiss him. And a lot of people want to kill her, some with guns and some with swords and some with poison-tipped arrows, and it’s not all that important who sent them, or why.

“The Wolverine’s” convoluted plot, as well as an airless, joyless third act where everything is explained but nothing makes sense, are the film’s weaknesses. But it has plenty of strengths. The film is strong on atmosphere and aesthetics, and director James Mangold knows how to make the most of his Japanese settings. It’s packed to the brim with exciting action sequences, including one aboard a bullet train that bears more than a passing resemblance to the space suit action sequence in “Star Trek: Into Darkness.” I don’t say that to disrespect it; these two are probably the best two action sequences in movies this summer.

This is as much a samurai film as a superhero film, and that’s pretty cool. Svetlana Khodchenkova has a lot of fun playing sexy villainess Viper, who likes to wear green, scaly tight-fitting things and kill people by kissing them with her acidic, forked tongue. She’s not really given enough to do and her death is anticlimactic, but the Russian actress makes the most of what the script and the screen time give her.

Also, she has the unexplained ability to take away Wolverine’s healing factor, rendering him killable. The script makes the most of this, and Jackman meets them halfway; the result is a protagonist who isn’t invulnerable (like Superman and Thor,) but seems genuinely surprised by how much being hurt, well, hurts. Logan briefly contemplates letting himself be killed, so that he can join Jean Grey (and the countless other people he’s watched die over his 200-year lifespan) in the afterlife. But there’s the ingénue to save from the bad guys. Sigh… seems like there’s always an ingénue to save from the bad guys. Superheroes never get a chance to spend quality time with their loved ones, dead or alive. It’s a tough life.

I wonder if, as an audience, we’ll ever grow tired of Wolverine. 1974 was a long time ago, and it’s been a while since we nearly impeached a president or lost a war. I suppose there’s always plenty to be angry about, but successful, entertaining and even humorous movies featuring more brightly colored, optimistic superheroes – guys like Iron Man, Thor and Captain America – make me think the age of the dark, angsty protagonist may finally be coming to an end. There’s another X-Men movie in the works (make sure to stick through the credits to see the teaser for “Days of Future Past”) but maybe after that, Jackman can hang up the claws once and for all. I’ve enjoyed the Wolverine movies — most of them — but don’t really feel like I need any more of them.


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Posted in All Reviews, by Will Krischke. Tagged with , , , , , , , , , , .

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