‘I’ ON CULTURE
If you feel you’ve seen the new movie, The Wolverine, before, you are correct. It is pretty much the same story we saw in Iron Man 3 and a host of early Superman flicks. The hero loses his superpowers just as a real threat arises, but somehow gets them back just in time to finally save the day, usually with help from the supporting cast. That said, the movie is enjoyable, just terribly derivative.
Logan (Hugh Jackman), known as the Wolverine, saved young Japanese officer Yashida (Ken Yamamura) at a prison camp just outside of Nagasaki when the atom bomb went off. How a man who can reasonably fight his way out of anything with his knife-like claws and ability to immediately heal wound up in a prison camp is never shown. At any rate, at the current time he is in the backwoods of Canada, peacefully coexisting with a bear, when Yukio (Rila Fukushima), an emissary from the now-dying age officer (Hal Yamanouchi) who has become the head of a gigantic financial empire, finds him and gets him to return to Japan so the man could say goodbye. The old man offers him something unexpected: an honorable death. Since Logan is immortal and longs for death so he can be with his beloved Dr. Jean Grey (Famke Janssen, seen in his dreams), he considers it but decides to not follow that course.
The old man dies and, at the funeral, he rescues the man’s granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto). She resists at first and, as expected, falls for Logan. The rest of the movie is a struggle between Logan, Mariko and Yukio for survival and control of a great financial empire. Of course, the struggle involves a lot of sword fighting, arrows flying and death. One by one, villains die and it turns out there’s another villain waiting.
The theme of the film is loyalty. Logan is the most loyal of men. He saved the officer because the man was decent to him. He protects Mariko through that sense of loyalty as just about everyone else in the film finds a way to betray her. He winds up losing his power several times, taking away the easy advantage he usually has. And in the end, he is victorious.
Jackman gives a typical Jackman performance: all-in. He is pumped up for the role and carries through dialogue that would, in most cases, be weak. He is the center of the film and does an exceptional job. Okamoto as the girl at the center of the plotting is a bit weak; that probably is a flaw of the script rather than the actress. At times she is strong, other times particularly helpless.
I really liked Fukushima. Her character, who had been rescued by Mariko’s grandfather when he saw her as a starving child so that his granddaughter could have a friend, has plenty of spunk. She wields a sword expertly and does dialogue almost as well. When she tells a weakened Logan that she is his bodyguard, it stands as a meaningful declaration rather than a joke. Svetlana Khodchenkova as the Viper was a particularly effective villain. Unlike some of the other X-Men villains, she had no redeeming features. But she was a worthy (and beautiful) opponent.
As noted above, the theme of the picture is loyalty vs. betrayal. One by one, characters betray the young woman for their own purposes. It was painful the first couple of times but, after a while, almost expected, even though there were quite a few plot twists and turns.
X-Men movies have a sort of sameness, if only because all superhero films have to deal with the obvious disparity in power between the hero and all the villains. And, as I pointed out earlier, this is pretty much the same story as Iron Man 3. As Neil Diamond wrote, “except for the names and a few other changes, the story’s the same one.” But even with that caveat, this is a fast-moving action movie that will hold your attention until the end.
As I have been writing about movies all summer, it is a good, not great movie. Good with popcorn, nachos or any of the increasingly complex menu items the theaters now serve. If you are a Hugh Jackman fan or an X-Men fan, you will pretty much get your money’s worth.