James Mangold’s The Wolverine

It should come as no surprise that I saw The Wolverine when it came out. I was impressed enough that I bought the DVD when that came out. (Another coupon – I try to avoid paying full price for anything.) Yes, it was worth it.

The story opens in a Japanese prisoner of war camp on the outskirts of Nagasaki in August, 1945. Logan (Hugh Jackman) because of his special nature, is in solitary confinement, in what amounts to a deep hole in the ground with a lid. As the bomb is dropped on the city across the bay, Logan rescues a young Japanese soldier, Yashida (Ken Yamamura) from the effects of the blast, shielding him with his own body.

Fast forward to the now. Logan has lost himself in the wilderness after the events in X-Men: The Last Stand, haunted by the memory of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), who appears in his dreams, inviting him to join her in death. He’s tempted: Logan’s life no longer has any meaning for him. But then again, he’s Logan. On one of his rambles in the mountains, he discovers a grizzly, shot with a poisoned arrow and left to die. Logan tracks the hunter to town, where he is discovered by Yukio (Rila Fukushima), sent to find him and bring him to Japan. Having nothing better to do, and things in town having gotten a bit uncomfortable after he and Yukio have dealt with the hunters, he goes along.

It seems that Yashida, now in his last days (and now played by Haruhiko Yamanouchi) has an offer for Logan: in return for saving his life in 1945, Yashida will give him mortality, which he can do thanks to the research of his doctor, the Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova) – although she doesn’t actually use that name in public. Yashida also asks Logan to protect his granddaughter, Mariko (Tao Okamoto).

The whole thing is halfway accomplished – Logan is losing his healing ability — when suddenly, Yashida dies. And when Mariko is kidnapped by a group of yakuza at the funeral, the fun really starts.

The most obvious plus in this movie is that no one tries to trash Tokyo. There’s a lot of action, but it’s – how shall I put it? – intimate: one on one, martial arts, and not limited to Logan and the band of ninja led by Harada (Will Yun Lee), also sworn to protect Mariko. It seems that Yukio’s joke about being Logan’s bodyguard was no joke, while Mariko manages to get in a few licks of her own – she’s not exactly helpless.

The other big plus is that Logan actually becomes a person, much more than a comic-book character. He’s haunted by memories, which are a little heavy-handed, but only a little. In fact, this is a big plus for this one almost across the board: we are given real people in a fanciful milieu, to the extent that the characters make the story seem almost normal. Only Khodchenkova is a little over the top, but given what the script would have allowed, I have to applaud her restraint.

The story is good and tight – there’s not a lot of flab here, and even the quiet scenes add to the narrative flow, keeping it moving at a respectable, if not necessarily break-neck, pace. Credit to director James Mangold on that – there are places where the story could very easily have bogged down, but he keeps it moving. And for a change, the effects don’t even try to take over.

(Twentieth Century Fox, Marvel Entertainment, 2013)

About Robert Tilendis

Robert M. Tilendis lives a deceptively quiet life. He has made money as a dishwasher, errand boy, legal librarian, arts administrator, shipping expert, free-lance writer and editor, and probably a few other things he’s tried very hard to forget about. He has also been a student of history, art, theater, psychology, ceramics, and dance. Through it all, he has been an artist and poet, just to provide a little stability in his life. Along about January of every year, he wonders why he still lives someplace as mundane as Chicago; it must be that he likes it there.

You may e-mail him, but include a reference to Green Man Review so you don’t get deleted with the spam.