With Hugh Jackman, Rila Fukushima, Tao Okamoto, Will Yun Lee, Famke Janssen, Svetlana Khodchenkova. Written by Mark Bomback and Scott Frank. Directed by James Mangold. Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, some sexuality and language. 126 minutes.
Of course THE WOLVERINE has the big special effects battle at the end of the movie. It’s a summer superhero film. What did you expect? However, along the way it proves to be an interesting, character-driven story where the women are complex and the most of the men––the title character excepted––seem to be along for the ride. It makes for a curious and very entertaining movie.
Logan (Hugh Jackman) is the mutant X-Man whose body can heal itself and can project sharp claws from the knuckles of his hands. At the start of the film he is living the life of a hermit in the wilds of Alaska having pretty much withdrawn from human society. However he is being watched by Yukio (Rila Fukushima) because she has a request to make. She works for Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi), whose life Logan saved during World War II under highly unusual circumstances. Now Yashida is dying and he would like to say goodbye to Logan.
Logan, who refuses to be called “Wolverine” for much of the movie, finds himself sucked into corporate and political intrigue in Japan. He ends up as protector to Mariko (Tao Okamoto), who is Yashida’s granddaughter and who is the target of much interest by the Japanese underworld. She is also under the protection of a mysterious archer (Will Yun Lee).
There’s much more to the plot, although it needn’t concern us here. The key to the movie is that it is, in many ways, about the redemption of Wolverine. He needs to start caring for himself again, and the key to that is by getting beyond himself and helping Mariko. Looking like a Japanese version of a young Audrey Hepburn, Mariko is someone everybody assumes is helpless and weak but who proves to have surprising reserves.
Her step-sister Yukio also has an interesting backstory, and the close bond between her and Mariko is one of many connections that will be challenged in the story. Not all of them hold up until the end. She is also a fierce and talented fighter, proclaiming herself Logan’s “bodyguard.” Challenging Logan are two very different women. One is Jean Grey (Famke Janssen)––or her spirit, anyway––who haunts Logan through the film and urges him to join her in the afterlife. The other is Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova) who emerges as one of the film’s villains and has powers which are clearly implied by her name. The performances of all four women are strong, and one should probably look for Yukio and Viper to become “cosplay” (i.e., costumed play) characters among fans.
As for Jackman, he’s played the part several times now and he gives his best performance in the role to date. His crisis here is more existential than it is about fighting the bad guys: who is he and what does he really want out of life? Indeed, if his existence is so unhappy, why doesn’t he change it when given the opportunity?
“The Wolverine” proves to be a class act, but it’s also a commercial entertainment, right down to the added scene during the closing credits. No spoilers here, but if you want to see the first teaser trailer for what’s likely to be one of the big summer films of 2015, stick around.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His first novel, Shh! It’s A Secret: A Novel About Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide has just been released. He teaches at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.