Movie review: The Wolverine

05:00 AM, Jul 27, 2013

Hugh Jackman in a scene from 'The Wolverine.' (Ben Rothstein/AP)/


Written By Bill Goodykoontz | Gannett Chief Film Critic

Some gigs are just hard to step away from:

Boxer.

Rock star.

Football coach.

Wolverine.

And so it is in The Wolverine, in which we find the immortal Logan (Hugh Jackman, back for his sixth stint with the character) with his claws retracted, living as a long-haired hermit in the Yukon, having sworn to former girlfriend Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), who he, um, kind of killed but who keeps showing up in his dreams, that he won’t hurt anyone again.

Yeah, well. That lasts about 10 minutes.

Some hunters raise Logan’s ire, but before he can do too much damage, he’s interrupted by Yukio (Rila Fukushima), handy with a ninja sword and bearing a message: Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi), who in a prologue we see Logan save during the bombing of Nagasaki at the end of World War II, is now dying and wishes to tell him goodbye.

But not really. What Yashida, now a rich business magnate, wants is Logan’s immortality, allowing Logan to live the mortal life he had dreamed of. It’s a tempting offer, but Logan is hesitant to give this “gift” (to him it’s a curse) to anyone.

Not that it matters. Soon Logan, while still able to whip out his claws when needed, finds his powers are weakening. When he gets shot (or stabbed or beaten or gored or whatever), he doesn’t heal immediately. He feels pain, and it doesn’t go away.

Can mortality be far behind? It’s an interesting premise, tackling a question that your smarter vampires struggle with. Is life unending a life at all? Whatever you gain in immortality, do you lose with the eventual, inevitable loss of all those whom you love?

Jackman is a good-enough actor to give some credence to Logan’s weighing of the question. But, despite the introspection, this is a summer superhero movie, so, you know, bang boom pow! The unwritten rules of these movies evidently state that the final 20 minutes be devoted to ridiculously over-amped fight scenes, and The Wolverine is no exception.

How do we get there? Both Logan and Yukio find themselves trying to protect Mariko (Tao Okamoto), Yashida’s granddaughter and reluctant heir to his empire. Along the way we will meet Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova) and the Silver Samurai (lots of nuts and bolts and computer effects), among other characters. None are interesting enough to provide anything the way of memorable villainy.

In one scene Logan is set upon by a small army of archers. They fill his back with arrows and pull on the ropes tied to them, while Logan struggles on. There’s a metaphor in there somewhere.

Don’t worry, director James Mangold’s film is worlds better than 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine. It’s a lot more thoughtful, and a couple of the action scenes are outstanding, particularly one in which Wolverine fights a guy atop a bullet train traveling at 300 mph. The physics on display probably don’t hold up to scrutiny, but the adrenaline and excitement certainly do.

But to what end? Much like the Superman movie Man of Steel earlier this summer, the filmmakers work at creating a new take on an old protagonist, and then don’t really have much new to do with him once they’ve achieved that. It’s a good effort. Just not an entirely successful one.