The Wolverine (2013)

Rating: ****
Review Date: 8/12/13
Director: James Mangold
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Tao Okamoto, Rila Fukushima, Hiroyuki Sanada, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Will Yun Lee, Famke Janssen, cameos by Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart

A tormented Logan (Hugh Jackman) is living a life of isolation in the Canadian Rockies, haunted by the memories and spirit of a cruel and bitter Jean Grey (Famke Janssen). One night he meets a Japanese girl named Yukio (spunky Rila Fukushima) who is an expert with the sword, and she convinces him to go to Tokyo with her to say goodbye to an old acquaintance from World War II. The old man owns the most powerful technology company in the world, and he offers Logan the gift of mortality, saying that he has the ability to remove his mutant healing power. Things get quickly out of hand when Logan gets infected with something that causes him to stop healing, and the old man's granddaughter, Mariko (impossibly pretty Tao Okamoto), is targeted by Yakuza hitmen. Without his ability to heal, Logan puts his life on the line to protect Mariko as they make a desperate run for safety. The evil mastermind behind the entire charade finally emerges at the end in a gratuitous and confusing CGI drenched climax.

The film turned out to be MUCH better than I expected, especially after the overly disappointing "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" (2009). It reminded me very much of the spirit and energy in the original "X-Men" (2000), which I thoroughly enjoyed. It's a straight forward character driven action film that's not bogged down with pretense, social commentary, moral messaging, juvenile dialog, immature sensibilities, and political posturing, which I found extremely refreshing. In fact, it's so straight forward that the expected plot twist and betrayal never happens, which came as a complete surprise to this jaded and cynical viewer.

It's a slow starter and the beginning isn't very interesting, but once they get to Japan it becomes completely engrossing. Once again, Hugh Jackman is wonderful as the rough and rugged Logan, constantly struggling to contain his rage and emotional torment. Tao Okamoto is stunningly beautiful and overflowing with charm and grace. You simply can't keep your eyes off of her. Rila Fukushima is an adorable bad-ass, and her fight scenes are the highlight of the film. The fight choreography and execution is extremely good, and even though there is digital trickery involved, I was very surprised and satisfied with the results. As a PG-13 film, there's no blood, which is pretty laughable considering all of the slicing and impalement that takes place onscreen. Action legend Hiroyuki Sanada makes an excellent rival and his fight scenes are wonderful. He has aged well and still commands a sense of dignity and strength. The film also gets high marks for listing the Japanese staff credits in Japanese, which really drives home the cross-cultural nature of the film. Apart from a few poor dialog choices, the biggest disappointment is Svetlana Khodchenkova's overly sexualized portrayal of Viper. She's a ridiculous caricature of every femme fatale trait in the book, and it's impossible to take her seriously. But overall, it's a delightful return to form, and Marvel has done a remarkable job of putting the series back on track. I can only hope the next "X-Men" outing continues to follow this trend.