by Bob Garver
July 29, 2013. It has been four years since Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine got to carry a movie in the pile of cinematic garbage that was “S-Men Origins: Wolverine.” The entire “X-Men” franchise would be a joke right now if it hadn’t creatively rebounded with the (mostly) Wolverine-Free “X-Men: First Class” two years ago. I have to question the wisdom in letting him stand alone, but then again there’s no denying that he’s the face of the franchise. Many critics argue that he shouldn’t be, favoring the other mutants with “better” powers, but it’s a harsh fact that we’re expected to find him terribly interesting. The good news for “The Wolverine” is that fans aren’t likely to find it as appalling as “Origins.” The bad news that that it’s such a hollow victory to be considered better than “Origins.”
I’m sure that the Wolverine of the comics is a complex, well-defined character, but the movie version basically limits him to three traits:he’s surly, he has those metal claws, and he’s indestructible. The bad guys have to keep coming up with loopholes for that last one for there to be any conflict. But I guess it’s better to have him face new challenges than to dig through his bloated backstory again.
The new film sees the ageless Wolverine travel to Japan so he can say goodbye to the dying Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi), whose life he saved during the bombing of Nagasaki. Yashida, a technology magnate, offers Wolverine the chance to remove his pwoers and live a normal life. Wolverine declines, but someone slips him something that drains him of his powers anyway. Of course as soon as he starts to lose his powers, he gets sucked into a deadly mission to protect Yashida’s granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto), who is set to inherit her grandfather’s company much to the consternation of her father (Hiroyuki Sanada).
Other characters include Rila Fukushima as an eye-candy bodyguard. Judging by her bright red hair, that candy would be Twizzlers. Will Yun Lee is a lovesick ex-boyfriend of Mariko who is determined to protect her even though he doesn’t even know what side he’s on. Svetlana Khodchenkova is a secondary villain called Viper, a chemist who kills men with kisses. The character is a lame ripoff of Uma Thurman’s Poison Ivy from 1997’s “Batman and Robin,” a comic book film somehow more despised that “X-Men Origins:Wolverine.” Then there’s the main villain, a character from the comics who I’m told is portrayed all wrong. The film drops many easy hints as to his identity. Several scenes before he was revealed, I was calling out, “have they seriously not figured it out yet?”
The scenes that are supposed to garner audience reactions are clumsy. The best example is a scene wehre Wolverine recovers from an attack and says, “i’m Wolverine.” The scene recalls Batman’s first use of “I’m Batman” in 2005’s “Batman Begins.” But the difference is that in that scene, Batman said it as a surprise, and we get the impression that it was the first time he had used the name; so in that context it was original. Wolverine has been Wolverine for five films now and this isn’t a prequel. There is nothing surprising or original about him saying his name at this point.
I’ve been hard on “The Wolverine” but it’s not all bad. I got a kick out of an action sequence on the Tokyo Bullet train. And when I say on the trail I don’t mean in the trail (George Carlin would be proud). It’s also worth noting that there’s a refreshing brightness to the movie, as opposed to the drowsy dimness of “Origins.” “The Wolverine” represents a step up for Wolverine, but a step down for the “X-Men” franchise. The next film promises to feature a team effort, let’s hope that everybody can pull together and make a better film than this.