Thursday, September 12, 2013

"THE WOLVERINE" (2013) Review


"THE WOLVERINE" (2013) Review

Fans of the X-MEN have been discussing the making of Bryan Singer's new entry to the franchise recently. But while said fans wait eagerly for "X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST", 20th Century Fox and Marvel Comics released a second movie featuring the mutant with adamantium claws called "THE WOLVERINE"

Directed by James Mangold, who first worked with star Hugh Jackman in 2001's "KATE AND LEOPOLD""THE WOLVERINE" is a tale that begins nearly seventy years earlier, during the waning days of World War II. In August 1945, James Howlett aka Logan aka the Wolverine is a U.S. Army soldier imprisoned in a Japanese-held prison camp near Nagasaki, Japan. During the atomic bombing of the city, Logan rescues a Japanese Army officer named Yashida and shields him from the blast. Nearly seventy years later, Logan is leaving as a hermit in the Yukon, struggling with his memories of being forced to kill fellow mutant Jean Grey in 2006's "X-MEN 3: THE LAST STAND". A mutant with the precognitive ability to foresee people's deaths named Yukio manages to track him down on behalf of Yashida, now the CEO of a technology corporation. Yashida is dying of cancer and wants Logan to accompany Yukio to Japan, so that he may repay his life debt. Upon his arrival in Tokyo, Logan discovers that Yashida's idea of repayment is an offer to transfer Logan's healing abilities into his own body. Not only would this transfer save Yashida's life, but also alleviate Logan of his immortality, which the latter considers a curse.

Logan also meets Yashida's son Shingen and granddaughter Mariko. During his first night in Tokyo, Yashida's physician Dr. Green (aka Viper) introduces something into Logan's body, but the latter dismisses the incident as a dream. The next morning, Yukio informs Logan that Yashida has died. At the funeral, Yakuza gangsters attempt to kidnap Mariko, but Logan and Mariko escape together into the urban sprawl of Tokyo, with the unknown help of Mariko's former lover, Kenuichio Harada, who is also leader of the Black Ninja Clan. When Logan is shot during their escape, he discovers that his wounds do not heal as quickly as they should. As he continues to struggle with this memories of Jean, Logan becomes involved with Mariko and tries to prevent her from being harmed by a feud between the Yakuza and the Yashida family. Meanwhile, he remains unaware of the actions of Dr. Green, who proves to be a lot more dangerous that Logan had originally surmised.

By the time I had watched the first half-hour of "THE WOLVERINE", I suspected that this movie might proved to be very interesting. It is not the only X-MEN movie that began in the past. In fact, this seemed to be the criteria for all of the movies in the franchise. But the World War II setting of the movie's beginning really blew my mind, leading me to believe I would be seeing something unique. Based on the 1982 limited series, "Wolverine" by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller, the screenplay became even more intriguing with Logan's state of grief and guilt over Jean Grey's death over sixty years later, and his meeting with Yukio in the Yukon. The movie also featured some intriguing scenes during Logan's visit to Japan - his reunion with Yashida after 60 to 70 years, the violent chaos that ensues during Yashida's funeral and especially the mind boggling action sequence atop a bullet train speeding through Tokyo. The movie's screenplay also continues Logan's difficulties in coming to terms over Jean's death via visions of the late red-haired mutant and the consequences of the substance that Dr. Green introduced to his system during his first night in Japan with every wound that he receives.

Unfortunately for "THE WOLVERINE", the movie seemed to slide into a mindless action flick by its second half. The Yakuza's pursuit of Logan and Mariko proves to be nothing more than a red herring to disguise a family feud between Mariko and her avaricious father Shingen over who would assume control of the family's corporation. And even that story line not only proved to be minor, but a waste of time. Unfortunately, it also dominated most of the film. I also a big issue with Logan's healing factor. "X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE" revealed that his healing factor prevented the adamantium in his system from poisoning and killing him. Even the Marvel comics support this. Which is why I am baffled over why the adamantium failed to affect his health, after his healing ability was affected by Dr. Green. I am not claiming that the adamantium should have killed him right away, but should have began poisoning him, once the healing factor became compromised. For the third time, Logan's penchant for passive women landed him into a dull romance. It seems that external factors - namely danger or a love triangle - can only make his relationships with Jean Grey, Kayla Silverfox and in this film, Mariko Yashida, interesting. Logan's romantic chemistry with these three women - especially Mariko - tend to fall flat with me. And I hate to say this, but I really disliked the final action sequence where Logan, Yukio and Mariko are forced to confront the Dr. Green, Harada (who eventually becomes repentant) and a new adversary, the Silver Samurai, who is also interested in Logan's healing factor. That is correct. Logan's healing factor has returned to the forefront of the movie's plot at the last minute. And I found the finale over-the-top and quite frankly, boring. 

The one aspect of "THE WOLVERINE" I had no problems with are the performances. Well . . . with a few exceptions. Hugh Jackman was certainly not that exception. I feel he gave one of his better performances as Logan aka the Wolverine, conveying a world-weariness and tinge of grief not really explored in his previous performances. It does help that Jackman is finally starting to show his age in this film. Hiroyuki Sanada gave a top-notch performance as Shingen Yashida, Mariko's greedy father who is willing to kill her in order to assume control of the family's business. Not only did I find Svetlana Khodchenkova's portrayal of the mutant called Dr. Green aka Viper insidious, but also creepy and cold-blooded. It seemed a pity that she was not the film's main antagonist. Will Yun Lee gave an emotional and morally complex performance as Mariko's former lover and head of the Black Ninja Clan, Kenuichio Harada. Ken Yamamura was especially impressive as the young Japanese Army officer, Yashida, who is traumatized by the Nagasaki bombing and his fear of dying, and shocked by his discovery of Logan's healing ability. My favorite performance in the movie came from former model, Rila Fukushima, who literally stole the film as Logan's strongest ally, the feisty and very deadly Yukio. Fukushima's performance was a pure joy to watch. 

However, there were performances that did not particularly impress me. One came from model Tao Okamoto, who portrayed Logan's main squeeze, Mariko Yashida. Although the character proved to be quite capable of taking care of herself, Okamoto's performance struck me as rather dull and petulant. And a mid-credits scene revealed Logan's encounter with Charles Xavier aka Professor X and Erik Lensherr aka Magneto at an airport, two years later. I love Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen, but they looked and acted like two old men who had dragged out of their sick beds to shoot that scene. 

"THE WOLVERINE" had the potential to be a very good film, thanks to James Mangold's energetic direction, a first-rate opening scene in Nagasaki at the end of World War II, a potentially intriguing story line and first-rate performances from a cast that includes Hugh Jackman and Rila Fukushima. But despite these virtues, Mangold could not rise above an uneven script written by Mark Bomback and Scott Frank, which included a mindless action finale. Pity. I only hope that the next X-MEN movie proves to be a lot better.

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