We’re deep into the summer movie season and it’s becoming clear that blockbuster fatigue is setting in. “The Lone Ranger” has tanked, “Pacific Rim” has underperformed and “R.I.P.D.” … oh dear. Stand clear of that crater, kids. It might be radioactive.
Can anyone reverse the tide and stop summer’s slide toward big-movie ennui? How about … a superhero? How about “The Wolverine”?
Well, “The Wolverine” just might be the best comic-book-based superhero epic since Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Rises.”
Sure, it’s got CGI galore, starting with an A-bomb blast in its opening sequence and culminating with an over-the-top battle royal involving the hero and two digitally enhanced baddies that busts up the scenery real good. Set and shot on location in Japan, it’s also got ninjas and yakuza galore, along with Marvel’s iconic Silver Samurai.
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But it’s Hugh Jackman, ripped and raging, who centers the picture and compels our interest in the personality and personal struggles of Logan, aka the Wolverine, the man with the slashing, retractable adamantium claws.
The picture, whose script is credited to Mark Bomback and Scott Frank, benefits greatly from the tightness of its focus. Unlike the earlier X-Men movies, Logan is not part of an ensemble of mutant superheroes this time around. The spotlight is solely on him, which allows director James Mangold (“Walk the Line”) to delve deeply into his personality with no detours or distractions.
Logan is anguished and conflicted, the most agonized character in the Marvel movie universe. In a sense, he’s a figure in the Batman mold. Where Bruce Wayne is forever haunted by the deaths of his parents and angered by the injustices of the world that their murders symbolized, Logan is haunted by his immortality. In fact, he’s literally haunted, by the ghost of his lover and fellow mutant Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), who appears to him at intervals in the movie, voicing reminders that “everyone you love, dies.” Those he loves he outlives or, in her case, has killed.
Immortality and its accompanying invulnerability are burdens he grudgingly bears. So when a dying and immensely powerful industrialist, Shingen Yashida (Hiroyuki Sanada), whose life Logan long ago saved from the Nagasaki A-bomb blast, says he can “cure” him of his immortality and allow him to live, and die, as an ordinary man, he’s torn and tempted.
The screenwriters and Mangold have mixed and altered relationships among well-known characters from the comics in creative ways. Best of all, they’ve surrounded Logan with strong female characters who aren’t awed by his feral nature. Particularly noteworthy is Yukio (Rila Fukushima), a street-wise warrior whose
red manga-hued hair is one of the movie’s most obvious nods at its comic-book roots. She’s got a sly sense of humor that she often uses to puncture Logan’s seriousness. Strong, too, is Shingen’s granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto), who is besieged by gangsters and killers throughout, and is an effective martial artist as well. She provides the love interest.
The picture is terrific to look at and its set-piece fights, including one atop a speeding bullet train, are truly spectacular. So don’t give up on superhero cinema just yet. “The Wolverine” is a keeper.
Soren Andersen: firstname.lastname@example.org