Movie review: ‘The Wolverine’ offers fresh perspective on classic character

the_wolverine_movie-review-2013-8What is the cost of immortality? At what point does it become a curse rather than a blessing, and when does living become more of a burden than dying?

That’s a pretty heavy theme for a summer comic book superhero movie, but the newest X-Men movie “The Wolverine” (out July 26) doesn’t shy away from addressing it. While the film merely explores those questions, instead of definitively answering them, it does offer some interesting food for thought and forces the most famous member of the X-Men team — the Wolverine — to grapple with his sense of isolation, brought by the fact he can’t die but everyone he cares about can.

“The Wolverine” picks up after the events of “X-Men: The Last Stand,” as Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) continues to deal with the emotional fallout from his decision to kill fellow mutant Jean Grey when she became a danger to humanity. Logan has become weary of the mutation that has made him immortal, and he’s now living alone in the Canadian wilderness. Then one day he’s visited by a mysterious messenger who invites him to travel to Japan to say goodbye to an old friend who is now on his deathbed. This “old friend” turns out to be Yashida, a wealthy businessman saved by Logan the day an atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki during World War II. Yashida learned of Logan’s self-healing power and now has a proposal — he would like Logan to transfer that power to him, saving himself from dying and allowing Logan to live a normal, mortal life. 

Logan hesitates to accept the offer, and the elderly man dies. However, Logan quickly realizes this isn’t going to be the end of the story, and not all of Yashida’s employees or even family members can be trusted. Logan goes on the run with Yashida’s granddaughter Mariko to protect her after an attempt is made to kidnap her at her grandfather’s funeral. Logan’s healing powers also have begun to mysteriously weaken. Without the power of his mutation or the other members of the X-Men team to protect him, Logan must decide what he’s willing to fight for and if it’s worth the sacrifice — and if maybe immortality isn’t as meaningless as he thought.

“The Wolverine” is the second solo film for the Wolverine but is very different in tone from the first outing, “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.” It actually plays more like a drama than a traditional superhero movie, and it’s a much more serious, introspective film.

“X-Men Origins: Wolverine” had a strong opening weekend at the box office when it was released in 2009, but it wasn’t well received by critics or fans. While I did enjoy parts of the movie, I’ll agree it is one of the weaker entries in the X-Men saga, and I do feel it was a missed opportunity to really explore who Logan is as a character and what motivates him. “Origins” perhaps featured too many other mutant characters that distracted from Logan’s story.

“The Wolverine” is a more personal film and showcases another strong performance by Hugh Jackman. Every once in a while, there are roles actors seem to be born to play — Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes, Daniel Craig as James Bond, Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones — and I think Hugh Jackman as Wolverine joins this list. After playing Wolverine five times in films (or actually six, if you count his brief but great cameo in “X-Men: First Class”), no one would blame Jackman if he was phoning in his performance at this point. However, he doesn’t. You can tell he really enjoys playing this character, and he pours his heart and soul into this role. He does a good job pulling off the nuances in Wolverine’s character — anger and sadness, toughness and vulnerability.

Another thing I liked about the film was its setting. The film takes place almost exclusively in Japan, a factor which also helps to give the film a fresh perspective and separate it from the other films in the franchise. The movie isn’t as special effects heavy as other superhero films and (at least appears to) rely more on traditional stunt work.

The third act of the film does veer into more conventional superhero film territory, and I would have liked to see more development for one of the villain characters, a mutant known as “Viper.” Then again, I think there’s enough going on in the rest of the film her character maybe could have been cut from the plot and saved for another film.

While “The Wolverine” doesn’t rise to the same heights as my favorite of the X-Men films, “X-Men: First Class,” Jackman’s performance and the great setting make this a fun watch for fans. Also make sure you stay for the credits — there’s a great teaser for next year’s “X-Men: Days of Future Past.”

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