Rating: Who else but Hugh Jackman could drift from playing the Wolverine to hosting the Oscars in 2009? Come on, aren’t you a bit curious?
Of all the films based on Marvel Comics, I view none as more intriguing than The X-Men series in general and The Wolverine in particular. Thor, Iron Man, Spiderman and Superman are all foolishly enjoyable at times, but none suffered from the angst and depression of Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine.
The Wolverine just wants to be alone. He doesn’t particularly like doing good deeds, and he certainly doesn’t like himself. He’s lost the love of his life with the tragic death of Jean Grey, and living doesn’t have much meaning anymore.
More to the point, he is haunted by the fact that he will live forever. His blessing is his curse. However, his attempt to live as a hermit in America’s great Northwest is interrupted by the appearance of an athletic, red-haired Japanese female Ninja named Yukio.
It seems that Yukio is seeking to take the Wolverine, known simply as Logan, back to Japan to visit her aging, dying boss. He purportedly wants to reward Logan for saving his life years earlier during World War II, and Logan reluctantly agrees to a brief visit.
Discovering that his reward is to have the benefits of mortality returned to him, Logan is deceived through the cunning work of his host’s voluptuous physician, known as Viper. As Logan becomes physically weakened by her treachery, he is confronted by a killing group of Samurai seeking the Wolverine’s secret to immortality. An adventure ensues as Logan tries to escape possible death.
Ironically, the strength of The Wolverine comes from the fact that it is an adult film. Logan wants death until seeing its cost. Though it seems to be a sublimely idiotic role for Mr. Jackman, he breathes life into a creature who has the disturbing ability to turn his hands into piercing steel claws. Sure, he has the world’s worst sideburns, but he finds strength when he again recognizes the value of siding with good over evil.
Mr. Jackman is a magnificently talented actor. Who else has the talent to play the Outback character known as Drover in the less than great but far from average Australia (2008); displaying his singing chops as Jean Valjean in the heartbreaking Les Misérables (2012) and then embodying the psychotic Logan in repeated movies about The Wolverine. He may not have won an Oscar, but he stands in the front line of his acting profession.
But what makes this chapter of The Wolverine saga work are the stellar performances of three women. To begin with, Rila Fukushima plays Yukio, a tiny woman with dangerous skills. Sure, she is pretty, but she is as mean as a poisonous snake. On top of that, it is her willingness to serve as Logan’s bodyguard that repeatedly saves him from imminent destruction.
Tao Okamoto plays Mariko, the granddaughter of the man who appears to be Logan’s benefactor. She too is lovely, but there is nothing remotely weak about her either. She and Logan develop a romantic interest, and it is far more compelling than that seen in Man of Steel between Superman and Lois Lane.
However, it is the voluptuous Viper, played by Svetlana Khodchenkova, who dominates every scene where she appears. Tall, thin and radiant, one shouldn’t ignore the disturbing fact that she has a flickering tongue reflecting her name.
The confrontation that ensues is not some never-ending scene as reflected in many of this Summer’s action films. Yes, there is an encounter on the top of a speeding commuter train where Logan is confronting several mean-spirited Samurai, but it is fun to watch in and of itself. But in the end the battle comes down to Logan and his two female allies against the vicious Viper and her many wretched talents, and there is nothing artificial about the emotional impact of this epic struggle.
What also makes this a strong film is its ability to weave the horrific consequences of the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki in January, 1945, thus providing the underlying theme of the film itself. Logan was there, and the destruction done to the Japanese people is not lost. It doesn’t hurt that we Americans again visit how we got to where we are in 2013.
Logan hates that memory almost as much as he does the loss of Jean Grey. Played again here by Famke Janssen, she appears in bed next to him in his haunted dreams. He repeatedly reaches the point where he would welcome death because she has experienced it, as it is the only way that they can be together again.
So if you are remotely interested in seeing a Summer action film, leave White House Down, After Earth, RIPD and Red 2 to die quick deaths and see The Wolverine. It is fun, endearing, heartbreaking and sexy as hell. The Wolverine is not some teenage boy’s Summer action film. It is far darker and more mature, and it is worth the price of admission.
If you think The Wolverine is worth missing, you are dead wrong.