THE WOLVERINE. Starring Hugh Jackman, Tao Okamoto, Rila Fukushima, Hiroyuki Sanada, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Will Yun Lee, Hal Yamanouchi, and Famke Janssen. Rated M (Frequent action violence and coarse language). 126 min.
This American/Australian production is the sixth instalment in the X-Men film series and follows on from the events of the last film, “X-Men: The Last Stand” (2006). Hugh Jackman returns to the title character, Logan/Wolverine, the iconic super-hero figure of the celebrated set of Marvel adventures about mutants in the X-Men series.
The film focuses on Logan’s internal struggle with his immortality. He needs desperately to rediscover his identity after allowing himself to lose his purpose for living. Because he knows he can’t die, and haunted by the death of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), he is in torment, and Logan chooses to solve his conflicts by opting out of life. Looking unkempt and dishevelled, this film finds him exposed and vulnerable, but, summoned by someone from his past wanting to express gratitude for being rescued years before, he finds himself caught up in dramatic events that push his life in directions for which he is unprepared. They take him to the limits of his physical and emotional endurance, but, by surviving them, he confronts his internal struggle and rediscovers his identity. For all the films in the Wolverine series, this is the most personal one of all. His animal-like qualities become human.
The film is set in Japan where Wolverine is offered the chance to be no longer immortal by the soldier he saved in the past. The main antagonist to Wolverine is Shingen Yashida (Hiroyuki Sanada), who is a Yakuza crime boss and Wolverine’s chief nemesis. Mariko Yashida (Tao Okamoto), is the daughter of Shingen and granddaughter of Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi), and she is torn between her love for Wolverine and her duty to her father. Mariko is caught in a gangland war, and Logan is given the job of protecting her by her grandfather, who is the soldier he saved. The film emphasizes strongly the relationship between herself and Wolverine, but Mariko is promised to another man. Romance between Wolverine and Mariko is forbidden; it disrupts everybody’s plans; and it earns the anger of her ambitious father.
Positioned also against him, and recruited by Mariko’s grandfather, is Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova), who once worked with Wolverine and who is a mutant that is immune to toxins. She stalks Wolverine, and uses her powers to literally breathe weakness into his heart.
Jean Grey was a love interest to Wolverine in earlier films, but now he has the love of Mariko to help him cope. Kenuichio Harada (Will Yun Lee), the sword-wielding Silver Samurai is always a step behind Wolverine, and Yukio (Rila Fukushima) delightfully plays an assassin body-guard there to try to protect Wolverine.
The film is action-packed, violent, and full of near-fatal mishaps. From Samurai-sword fights, to defending himself shackled to a laboratory harness while Viper moves in on him, to doing battle on the top of a Japanese Bullet train while hurtling at more than 200 m.p.h. through Japan (a fantastic action sequence), a bulked-up Jackman rises to the challenge of his role very well, and the action everywhere is extremely intense. Such is the pace of the action, however, that broader themes such as Logan’s (im)mortality, finding a purpose for living again, and maintaining loyalty and commitment to the women in his life, all take second place behind the energy of the pace. Plot coherency takes a decided turn for the worse when Wolverine meets a huge metal monster, set in action by Viper, in the film’s final fight sequence. Here, story-consistency and character development lose out completely to the thrill of special action effects.
This is a high-action adventure movie that continues the vitality of previous Wolverine films. The special effects are a little derivative, but suitably impressive, which is now par for the course in well-produced superhero movies. By the end of the movie, after he has experienced weakness, Wolverine is stronger and more determined than ever before. The stage is set, it seems, for one more film (at least) in a very popular series.
Peter W. Sheehan is associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.
Twentieth Century Fox.
Out 25th. July, 2013.