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Thursday, Aug. 1, 2013 03:50 pm

Restrained Wolverine engaging and character-driven

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Hugh Jackman stars as Logan/Wolverine in The Wolverine.
PHOTO COURTESY 20TH CENTURY FOX

After the misfire that was X-Men Origins: Wolverine, it could be argued that the last thing we need is yet another film featuring the most famous of the Marvel mutants. However, Hugh Jackman, who came to fame playing the Adamantium-laden hero, knew there was more life left in the character and was the driving force behind the latest entry in the X-Men film series, The Wolverine. If the actor’s intent is to make audiences forget that previous entry, he succeeds handsomely as this movie is everything the 2009 feature wasn’t. Engaging, character-driven and sporting a weighty tone that serves it well, the movie puts the character back at the forefront of Marvel’s mutant universe and serves as a strong stepping stone for next year’s X-Men: Days of Future Past.

The film hits the ground running as we find Logan (Jackman) hiding in the Alaskan wilderness, haunted by memories of his lost love Jean Grey (Famke Janssen). He’s content to let the world pass him by but is pulled out of exile by Yukio (Rila Fukushima), a psychic martial arts expert who delivers a message from her employer Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi), a powerful Asian industrialist. Seems Logan saved his life some 70 years ago and now that he’s dying, the billionaire wishes to pay his respects to his savior. Our hero reluctantly travels to Tokyo to grant this wish and unwittingly steps into a familial quagmire in which Yashida’s offspring and rivals are vying to take over his corporation while his granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto) has become the target of the Yakuza and competitors as well as it is assumed she will be left his fortune.

Based on a comic book miniseries, the script by Mark Bomback and Scott Frank reveals the characters’ motives in a deliberate manner that keeps us engaged throughout. One of the film’s most welcome surprises is that while it contains its share of action sequences, none of them are overblown nor do they dominate the movie. They’re used in service of the story. This genre exercise is a character-driven film that focuses on the emotional toll exacted on Wolverine, not on how many enemies he can slice and dice. This lends gravity to the film that sets it apart from the empty blockbusters that have littered the cinematic landscape this summer.

It’s hard to believe Jackman was the second choice for the role of Wolverine all those years ago when the first film in the series was made. He so fully embodies the role that it’s hard to imagine anyone bringing the character to life as well as he does. In being able to do his own stunts, the actor lends a credibility to the role that’s welcome, but it’s his emotional investment that makes the hero his own. He’s ably supported by Fukushima and Okamoto as well as Svetlana Khodchenkova as Viper, a particularly deadly mutant with a toxic skill set.

With a “surprise” ending that’s as predictable as the sun rising in the East, The Wolverine isn’t quite as clever as it hopes to be and like so many movies this year, it’s about 20 minutes too long. Yet it must be commended for bringing the character back to its roots and serving as a template for future superhero movies. It reminds us that the focus should be on what makes heroes tick not the special effects that bring their powers to life.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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