Thursday, July 25, 2013

Searching for his inner warrior

It may not be a classic, but The Wolverine proves solid.
Moving the Wolverine series to Japan seems to have been good for both Wolverine and for his audience. Efficiently titled and unafraid of an occasional quiet moment, The Wolverine turns out to be a worthy addition to the Marvel Comics gallery of big-screen superhero movies.

Hugh Jackman already has demonstrated his talents as a hero with anger management issues, but director James Mangold (Walk the Line and 3:10 to Yuma) proves that he's equally adept at creating a big-screen comic book.

As has been the case with most of this summer's "blockbuster" fare, Wolverine can't be called a total success: You'll find segments that sag and drag, but there's still plenty to pull you into a story about this troubled mutant, a character whose pain isn't only inflicted by enemies but by his own turbulent emotional life.

This time, Wolverine -- a.k.a. Logan -- even wonders whether a mutated life that includes immortality is really all that appealing.

If you're the sort of viewer who thinks that one terrific set piece is enough to put a movie over-the-top, then you'll be amply rewarded by a breathless fight staged atop a speeding bullet train.

The story also benefits from a considerable amount of Tokyo-style exoticism. Can any movie that makes room for stealthy Yakuzas be all bad? And what about the impressive, towering Samurai robot that stomps into the finale?

The movie's screenplay -- a Mark Bomback/Scott Frank adaptation of a 1982 comic book by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller -- places Logan at the center of a battle for control of one Japan's leading corporations. To up the dramatic ante, the screenplay contrives to deprive Wolverine of his super powers, making it increasingly difficult for him to kick the requisite amount of butt. He loses the ability to heal his wounds instantly. He may be headed for death.

Wolverine also is having troubling dreams about his late lover (Famke Janssen), a beautiful presence beckoning him to reunite with her in death.

The story moves Wolverine and his razor-sharp, retractable claws from an isolated life in Alaska to the bustle of Japan, forcing him into situations in which he must rediscover his inner warrior and renew his commitment to it.

At the beginning of the movie, Logan's totally fed up with fighting and in full Greta Garbo mode: He wants to be left alone. He lives a hermitic existence in a cave, venturing out for activities such as standing mournfully in the rain. He gets rained on a lot.

Once in Japan, it doesn't take long for Wolverine to wind up as the protector of beautiful Mariko (Tao Okamoto), the granddaughter of Lord Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi), a tycoon who owes his life to Wolverine. We learn about the relationship between Wolverine and Yashida in the movie's prologue, a compelling sequence set in Nagasaki at the precise moment when the U.S. dropped its second A-bomb.

The story also introduces a red-headed, punkish Japanese woman (Rila Fukushima), a character who becomes a kind of back-up for Wolverine, who needs all the help he can get to protect him from Mariko's sinister father (Hiroyuki Sanada) and a villainous blonde woman called Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova). Viper is plenty attractive, but kissing her qualifies as a life-threatening mistake.

I wasn't overly impressed by Mangold's use of 3-D, but, in the main, director of photography Ross Emery has made a good-looking movie, taking full advantage of the Japanese settings and, at times, giving the story the feel of a James Bond movie, assuming 007 had hairy mutton chops and a really bad haircut.

Dull spots and all, Wolverine passes muster as one of the more solidly executed of summer's offerings. Thankfully, then, there's no need to sharpen any critical claws.

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