The Wolverine

The Wolverine (2013)
★★★ / ★★★★

At this point you might be thinking, “Oh, great. Another ‘Wolverine’ movie.” But retract those adamantium claws. “The Wolverine,” directed by James Mangold, is an installment worth seeing because it strives to show us something new: a Wolverine that, for the majority of the picture, is not indestructible. This haunted mutant gets exactly what he has been yearning for: a chance to become human again–and all the fragility that comes with it.

Logan (Hugh Jackman), living in isolation on the snowy mountains of Canada, gets a visit from a Japanese red-haired woman named Yukio (Rila Fukushima) who says that she has been given the task to find and take him to a man he saved in World War II, Yashida, formerly a soldier and now the leader of a tech giant in Tokyo (Ken Yamamura and Hal Yamanouchi, respectively). Yashida is dying and this might be Logan’s final opportunity to say goodbye to an old friend. During their meeting, the old man claims that he has a gift that is equal to the life Logan had given him so many years ago: mortality.

For once, I cared about Wolverine as he is shown running toward a fray. While many of his enemies know how to defend themselves with martial arts and various weapons, the battlefield is even in that, like the men he faces, Wolverine is capable of sustaining wounds for a long period of time. He bleeds. He stumbles. He slows down because of severe pain. At one point, we see him get stitches because bullets remain inside his body and gashes cease to close on their own.

The picture makes use of its Japanese setting. I enjoyed watching our protagonist and Mariko (Tao Okamoto), Yashida’s beloved granddaughter and Logan’s potential romantic interest, running all over the streets and inside establishments of Tokyo in an attempt to escape from the vicious Yakuza. This extended chase sequence culminates atop a bullet train where the most dangerous enemy is not a man wielding a weapon but sturdy objects that just happen to be in the way. I believe the best action scenes are the ones that demand so much attention that I end up not knowing what I would do if I were put in the same situation.

Urban areas tend to be places of physical confrontation while rural places is in accordance with contemplation. There are a number of conversations that touch upon topics like bravery, honor, and sacrifice–staples of the Japanese culture. This is where the pacing begins to feel a little slow, but they are necessary for us to understand why it is so important for Logan to consider himself as human again, not just in the way he feels inside but also in what can hurt him physically. He wants the entire package. I did, however, have a hard time buying completely in Okamoto and Jackman’s chemistry. Their characters’ friendship is enough to carry the picture and anything more feels forced.

For a while, it is difficult to pinpoint the main villain because several characters are thrown at us right when Logan arrives in Japan’s capital. However, the screenplay by Mark Bomback and Scott Frank gives each character enough time to capture our interest even though they are not necessarily multi-dimensional. I must say, however, that the one actor with whom I cannot help but look at even if she is simply standing on one side of the frame is Svetlana Khodchenkova, playing a biochemist in charge of Yashida’s cancer treatments. I wished the scientist had been given more depth and screen time.

Jackman is in the middle of this sci-fi action-adventure and he, as usual, holds his own. The sheer physicality required to play a convincing Wolverine is not easy achieve. And without the ability modulate hard and soft facial expressions while maintaining that there is constantly something going in the character’s head is equally challenging–if not more. Jackman does it exceedingly well and I hope he will choose to play Wolverine for years to come.

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