Grade: B Director: James Mangold (3:10 to Yuma, Walk the Line)
Screenplay: Mark Bomback (Unstoppable), Scott Frank (Get Shorty)
Cast: Hugh Jackman (Les Miserables)
Rating: PG 13 Runtime: 126 min. by John DeSando “Eternity can be a curse . . . a man can run out of things to live for.” Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi)
Mythology and poetry are rife with stories about gods who envy men, their emotions and even their deaths. The Wolverine admirably mixes this motif with some very fancy camera and foot work in one of the best sci-fi hero films of the summer.
Points should be given to director James Mangold and his writers for relocating the long-nailed hero, Logan (Hugh Jackman), to Japan, where samurai stories glorify lonely heroes with super battle powers. The contrast between his states-side forest home, where he strolls alongside a big bear that pees at will, and the glittering Tokyo with its perfectly appointed, exotic interiors, stresses the ambivalent world of a hero who wants to retire but is drawn back into civilization by his mission to be a soldier seeking justice.
Because it’s an action film, The Wolverine is practically required by law to have memorable set pieces, Mangold doesn’t disappoint. The mano a mano fight atop a 200 MPH bullet train is as good as any Bond battle. While the struggle with a giant Iron-Man/Transformers type mechanical enemy (why don’t they see how awkward these metal monsters are?) is also a traditional contemporary sci-fi trope, Logan has drawn us so much into this sympathy that there’s an extra anxiety in the suspense.
Unusual for a summer hero film, the hero is surrounded by strong, intelligent women such as his tough “body guard,” Yukio (Rila Fukushima), who has a wildly scarlet wig; and femme fatale Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova and an appropriate stand-in for Uma Thurman), whose serpentine tongue should make most sane men slither away. Come to think of it, she does characterize herself rather humorously: “A chemist, a nihilist, a capitalist . . . a viper.” Actually I miss the constant joking of a Bond film—there just isn’t enough wisecracking as when Logan fights Viper and says, “I can do this all day, you twisted mutant bitch!”
As effective as these mutants are, when Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen arrive on the scene, I am exultant. Nothing like seasoned actors exuding wisdom to make a critic cry in happiness. I’m satisfied to have a thoughtful and fun actioner toward the end of summer while feeling comfortable that Logan will return: “A lot of people have tried to kill me... and I'm still here.”
John DeSando co-hosts WCBE 90.5’s It’s Movie Time and Cinema Classics, which can be heard streaming and on-demand at WCBE.org. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.rr.com