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In Theaters: THE WOLVERINE (2013)

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THE WOLVERINE
(US/UK - 2013)

Directed by James Mangold.  Written by Mark Bomback and Scott Frank.  Cast: Hugh Jackman, Hiroyuki Sanada, Tao Okamoto, Rila Fukushima, Famke Janssen, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Will Yun Lee, Haruhiko Yamanouchi, Brian Tee, Ken Yamamura. (PG-13, 125 mins)

A largely stand-alone adventure for the most iconic character in the X-MEN canon, THE WOLVERINE draws a bit from events in 2006's X-MEN: THE LAST STAND and the Silver Samurai makes an appearance, though with a significant change to his identity so as to thoroughly enrage the purists.  Hugh Jackman turns in his toughest, grittiest performance yet as Logan, introduced living in the wilds of the Yukon and haunted by visions of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) trying to coerce him into joining her in death.  This is not possible for the immortal Logan, who's then brought to Japan by spunky sword-fighter Yukio (Rila Fukushima), a mutant with the ability to see when someone will die.  Yukio has been sent by dying tech giant CEO Master Yashida (Haruhiko Yamanouchi), who was rescued from the Nagasaki bomb by Logan during WWII.  Logan's been told that Yashida wants to personally thank him for saving his life all those years ago, but his real intention is to harness Logan's immortal life force and allow the pained ronin--masterless samurai--to live a normal life and to grow old and die.  Yashida fears for the safety of his beloved granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto) and distrusts his duplicitous son Shingen (Hiroyuki Sanada), who has already committed Mariko to an arranged marriage with promising politico Mori (Brian Tee).  Yashida dies and yakuza thugs ambush the funeral, kidnapping Mariko, sending Logan and Yukio into action.  Logan finds Mariko and the two go on the run, with yakuza and ninjas in hot pursuit, but Logan finds himself in a weakened state, his abilities partially drained by the lethal Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova), incognito as Yashida's oncologist.

A somewhat draggy middle is surrounded by a rousing first and third act, with several intense fight and action sequences, most notably Logan and a yakuza battling it out atop a bullet train going 200 mph.  The funeral ambush is another memorable set piece, as well as the final showdown between Logan and the Silver Samurai, introduced much later in the film and with a surprising true identity.  Jackman is a lot of fun here, playing Logan at his absolute crankiest and least patient.  He's given terrific support by a tremendously appealing Fukushima, a beautifully odd-looking young actress who resembles an anime character come to life.  It's great to see '80s Eurocult/Italian post-nuke fixture Yamanouchi (ENDGAME, THE NEW GLADIATORS, 2019: AFTER THE FALL OF NEW YORK, 2020: TEXAS GLADIATORS) getting some significant screen time in a huge Hollywood blockbuster, and only Russian actress Khodchenkova seems like the weak link in the ensemble. An award-winning actress in Russia, Khodchenkova is hampered by playing the film's most weakly-constructed character and by the obvious fact that her entire performance has been awkwardly dubbed over by someone else, so distractingly at times that it's very likely this was a rushed, eleventh-hour decision by the filmmakers.  She certainly has the screen presence, so if her performance is lacking, it may not be entirely her fault.

The film was originally set to be helmed by PI and REQUIEM FOR A DREAM director Darren Aronofsky, who bowed out and was eventually replaced by the unlikely James Mangold, director of COP LAND, GIRL INTERRUPTED, WALK THE LINE, and the remake of 3:10 TO YUMA.  More at home with character-driven drama, Mangold handles massive action sequences quite well, but as far as superhero movies go, this is comparatively smaller and more character-based, so perhaps he's not as unusual a choice as one might think.  If anything, THE WOLVERINE deserves some credit for being the first big superhero/sci-fi event movie of the summer to not resort to climactic 9/11 disaster-porn imagery and benefits nicely from its unique Japan setting.   The script is credited to Mark Bomback (UNSTOPPABLE) and veteran screenwriter Scott Frank (OUT OF SIGHT, MINORITY REPORT, THE LOOKOUT), though they reworked an early draft by an uncredited Christopher McQuarrie (THE USUAL SUSPECTS), who was attached when Aronofsky was supposed to direct it.  THE WOLVERINE could use some tightening in the midsection, and runs a little long at just over two hours, but if you're burned-out with the same old blurrily-edited schtick in big-screen superhero cinema and if your eyes just glaze over at the thought of more dull and interchangeable CGI destruction, then this welcome change-of-pace may have come along at just the right time in the summer.



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