Directed by: James Mangold
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Rila Fukushima, Tao Okamoto, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Haruhiko “Hal” Yamanouchi, Will Yun Lee, Brian Tee
Rated: PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, some sexuality and language
The last big time we saw Logan, aka The Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), he was cradling the body of his beloved Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) in his arms, having killed her to stop her alternate personality from destroying the world. When we catch up with him in “The Wolverine,” he’s living in the middle of nowhere, only walking into town for occasional supplies. What draws him out of his self-imposed exile is a request from an old friend: Yashida (Haruhiko Yamanouchi) has sent young Yukio (Rila Fukushima) to find Logan and bring him to Tokyo. Back during World War II, Logan saved Yashida’s life and the man, now a wealthy industrialist, says he wants to repay his debt before he dies.
Naturally, things are more complicated than that. Yashida’s son Shingen (Hiroyuki Sanada) and granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto) have different ideas about how the old man’s company should be handled. Yashida’s oncologist (Svetlana Khodchenkova) is clearly making her own plans, as are other power players. Logan’s instinct is to get the hell out of Japan and back to his retreat, but he learns that Yashida’s idea of repaying Logan is taking away his mutant super-healing powers, turning him into a mortal. Add to this an attack by Yakuza thugs on Mariko, and Logan can’t leave until he figures everything out.
This isn’t your typical X-Men movie. The only famous mutant in it (aside from a mid-credits scene well worth staying for if you like the franchise) is Logan. The only other mutants are Yukio, who can see how people will die, and Yashida’s oncologist, whose powers, shall we say, run to the biochemical side of things. If you’re looking for super-powered slugfests, this is a film that will disappoint.
At its heart, “The Wolverine” isn’t a superhero movie, it’s a samurai film seen through a superhero lens. Logan has, as Yashida points out, become a masterless samurai, a ronin. He’s lost his reason for being The Wolverine, and no longer serves anyone but his own misery at having had to kill the woman he loved. Over the course of the film, we see him claw his way out of that dark pit and back into being himself. This is a film dedicated entirely to Logan overcoming the psychological effects of the previous film – everything else is just decoration or a reframing of the theme (after all, when he loses his healing powers, he becomes as physically vulnerable as his love for Jean made him emotionally vulnerable).
The battles are mostly swordfights, with some archery and staff work thrown in. Logan has his claws, of course, but there are no telekinetics here, no blasts of energy or manipulation of magnetic fields. There’s one impressive fight atop a bullet train, where Logan and a Yakuza thug with knives use their blades to hang on for dear life while fighting each other, but that’s as close as we get to anything particularly X-Man-like.
Still, fans of the character will likely enjoy this look at his past and the effects of the last film on his present, and fans of films packed with martial arts and Japanese swordfighting will not be disappointed. The film’s one weak point is uneven pacing, but the action sequences and occasional humorous scenes more than make up for the slow bits.