By Dan Metcalf, Jr.
Clipper Film Correspondent
The Wolverine (20th Century Fox)
Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, some sexuality and language.
Starring Hugh Jackman, Tao Okamoto, Rila Fukushima, Hiroyuki Sanada, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Brian Tee, Hal Yamanouchi, Will Yun Lee, Ken Yamamura, Famke Janssen.
Written by Mark Bomback, Scott Frank and Christopher McQuarrie.
Directed by James Mangold.
I'm one of those geeks who knows enough about comic book characters to get excited when a movie about one of them is announced, yet not much of a comic book aficionado. I like the movies, and could care less whether any particular writer or director takes liberties with the canon of any particular comic book hero (or villain). If filmmakers followed the source material to the tee, we'd end up with movies that are six hours long, which would also require audiences to read volumes of comic books, just to keep up. The Wolverine is the fifth movie (not counting a very funny cameo in X-Men First Class) about the indestructible mutant with retracting claws.
Hugh Jackman is back as Logan (or “Wolverine,” if you prefer), a mutant that never ages and can heal his own wounds, especially the ones created whenever he shoots the long metal claws from his fists (okay, they weren't always metal, but let's not get all comic book “purist” here). The story begins in 1945 Japan, inside an American POW camp on the outskirts of Nagasaki. Logan is one of those POWs when the infamous second atom bomb is dropped, and he saves the life of a Japanese soldier named Yashida (played by Ken Yamamura as a young man and by Haruhiko Yamanouchi when the story changes to present day). Flashing forward to present day, Logan lives in the woods, where he is haunted by the ghost of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen). Logan happened to kill Jean when she transformed into the hybrid mutant Phoenix and nearly disintegrated the world in X-Men: The Last Stand.
After dealing with a few yokels who killed a grizzly bear near his woodland hideout, a young Japanese woman named Yukio (Rila Fukushima) contacts him, and convinces Logan to travel with her to Japan to pay his last respects to Yashida, who has become the richest and most powerful man in the country. Yashida is also dying of cancer, and asks Logan to protect his beautiful granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto) before he passes away. Yashida is attended by a beautiful American doctor who seems mysterious and is probably hiding some kind of mutant power.
After Yashida apparently dies, it is revealed that he left his entire inheritance to Mariko, which angers her father Shingen (Hiroyuki Sanada) and other powerful people. During Yashida's funeral, a huge battle takes place between a gang of ninjas and the Yakuza (Japanese mafia) who attempt to abduct Mariko. Logan manages to get Mariko to a safe house in Nagasaki after an intense battle on top of a bullet train. Logan and Mariko fall in love and become intimate during their sojourn.
Eventually, the bad guys get to Mariko and take her to a huge lab on top of a mountain where the truth behind Yashida's original plans are revealed. Logan is forced to choose between joining Jean Grey in death, or remaining on Earth as a soldier for good.
The Wolverine is a fine film, and a little better than the other Wolverine stand-alone film (X-Men Origins: Wolverine). Some purists will take issue with some of the things associated with Logan's claws that happen during his final battle with some sort of mecha. It's also more like a martial arts film than most comic book movies.
I'm also impressed with Hugh Jackman and his evolution into the role of the Wolverine. He's a fine actor, and seems to get better with each new role he takes on, especially the Wolverine. The Wolverine as a movie will confuse some who are not well-versed with Marvel's X-Men lore, but fans (despite some possible geek rage over alterations in the Wolverine canon) will get it and enjoy all that makes everyone's favorite mutant so cool.
One bit of advice: be sure to stay through the first half of the end credits for a huge surprise that will tease X-Men fans.