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The Lashing Samurai

MOVIE REVIEW
The Wolverine (2013)

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Ben Rothstein/20th Century Fox

Be it James Mangold or Darren Aronofsky in the director’s chair, Christopher McQuarrie or Mark Bomback on script writing duties, this is very much Hugh Jackman’s vision of how Wolverine should be.

The actor has pushed hard for this particular version of Wolverine to be committed to film, and now his wish has been granted. Supposedly based on a collection of comics from Frank Miller and Chris Claremont loosely known as the Japan Saga, “The Wolverine” transports Logan to Tokyo where he clashes both with the culture and the local yakuza.

Gone are the tight leather jumpsuit and mutants-standing-together rhetoric. This is a rougher, meaner, more nihilistic Wolverine. On the edge and seemingly ready to walk away from everything, even life itself, still haunted by the memories of Jean Grey (briefly reprised by Famke Janssen).

There are two films fighting for attention here: One is an intelligent, but underexplored, Post-it note on the nature of immortality and having no purpose. The other is a glossy, explosive, fan-pleaser of a chase movie complete with the kind of snappy one-liners that Bruce Willis or Arnold Schwarzenegger used to keep in their back pocket for every occasion.

Japan is the perfect setting for questions of honor, duty and a moral code, although it would appear that the morals of most of the characters are leaning toward the unethical — even those who appear at first to be the good guys. Some of these themes that are explored, particularly in relation to seeking an honorable death, are what Wolverine is searching for as suggested by the film.

All of this is quickly abandoned, however, in favor of lots of fighting — a boss battle that would not seem out of place in many of today’s video games. The action is very good throughout. It is meaty, fast-paced and elegantly shot, a fight on a bullet train being one of the highlights.

However, the film’s descent into the usual, mundane action tropes, and a particularly cringe-worthy one-liner at a crucial moment, weaken what could have been a crowning moment in the Wolverine canon.

Mr. Jackman is convincing as always, frowning and quipping his way through everything. Some of the sharpness of the humor of “X-Men” is missing, replaced by a fashionable darker tone, but there are one or two laugh out loud moments. The rest of the cast are solid enough. Tao Okamoto’s turn as the beautiful but headstrong Mariko creates an emotional center for Logan, and manga-inspired Yukio, played playfully by Rila Fukushima, is an excellent foil for his angry brooding.

The mutant contingent is represented by the soulless Viper, played in equal measures of sultry and cold by Svetlana Khodchenkova, feels more like a concession than a choice. Of course there are other mutants in the world; some good, some bad. But it is never really made clear why Viper is in Japan, and why she is involved in this thinly explained scientific experiment. She doesn’t really fit in this otherwise believable world, and she is a connection back to Logan’s American roots that the film doesn’t require.

“The Wolverine” is better than “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” but not as tight and engaging as “X-Men” and “X2,” and if the mid-credit sting is anything to go by, Logan hasn’t really learned anything from his exchange visit to a foreign land, back to business as usual in time for “X-Men: Days of Future Past.” That’s a pity.

THE WOLVERINE

Opens on July 25 in Britain and on July 26 in the United States.

Directed by James Mangold; written by Mark Bomback and Scott Frank; director of photography, Ross Emery; edited by Michael McCusker; music by Marco Beltrami; production design by François Audouy; costumes by Isis Mussenden; produced by Lauren Shuler Donner and Hutch Parker; released by 20th Century Fox. Running time: 2 hours 6 minutes. This film is rated 12A by B.B.F.C. and PG-13 by M.P.A.A.

WITH: Hugh Jackman (Logan/Wolverine), Hiroyuki Sanada (Shingen), Famke Janssen (Jean Grey), Will Yun Lee (Harada), Rila Fukushima (Yukio), Tao Okamoto (Mariko), Svetlana Khodchenkova (Viper) and Haruhiko Yamanouchi (Yashida).

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