(NEW YORK) — The Wolverine marks the sixth time Hugh Jackman bares his claws as the popular character from Marvel’s X-Men universe and as far as I’m concerned, he can grow those mutton chops and snarl at the camera as many times as he likes.
Jackman is so good at playing this character, he got to do a sequel to a movie that teetered on the edge of awful. That would be 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine, a film Jackman acknowledged wasn’t so good and which prompted him to declare he didn’t want to do another Wolverine movie without a better script. With the arrival of The Wolverine, he got his wish.
The very first shot of The Wolverine is a stunning perspective. We’re on the shore looking out over a large body of water. The sky is blue, sprinkled with clouds. In the distance, we see what turn out to be B-29 bombers slowly approaching. Pan to the right to reveal a Japanese POW camp, where soldiers desperately make preparations for their final moments. They release the POWS, except for one. Logan, aka Wolverine, sits in a subterranean holding cell in the middle of the camp. A sympathetic soldier named Yashida opens the cell to release the dangerous prisoner but instead of running, Wolverine pulls Yashida beneath the ground and protects him with his own near-indestructible body from the atomic blast that destroyed Nagasaki.
Cut to the present. Logan has renounced violence and is leading a solitary existence in the Yukon. That’s not going to last very long, however. Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi) has sent one of his minions — a petite, red-haired, butt-kicking foot soldier named Yukio (Rila Fukushima) — to retrieve Logan and bring him back to Japan, so Yashida can personally thank him for saving his life in Nagasaki.
Oh, did I mention that Yashida is now the richest and most powerful man in Japan? He heads up a tech company and let’s just say he doesn’t really want to say good-bye to Logan: he wants to harness Logan’s immortality. In the process, Wolverine gets mixed up with Yashida’s son, Shingen (Hiroyuki Sanada); his fetching granddaughter, Mariko (Tao Okamoto); and an equally fetching but far more dangerous mutant named Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova).
The Wolverine isn’t this summer’s most entertaining super hero movie: that title belongs to Iron Man 3. However, it is the most complete and satisfying super hero movie of the summer. Thematically, dramatically and existentially, The Wolverine is comparable to Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, though it’s not as good as either of those movies. It’s a bit unwieldy but its moral complexity, Jackman’s acting and an absolutely stunning sequence that manages to turn the overdone top-of-the-train chase scene into something we haven’t seen before, puts The Wolverine in the upper echelon of super hero summer blockbusters.
Four out of five stars.
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