Roeper: Hugh Jackman keeps action intense in ‘The Wolverine’
What happens when the Wolverine is rendered nearly human and declawed?
He becomes much more interesting.
Dramatically ambitious and deliberately paced, set mostly in Japan and featuring a lead mutant who finds himself vulnerable to knives and bullets just like regular humans, “The Wolverine” is one of the better comic-book movies of 2013 thanks in large part to an electric performance by Hugh Jackman.
The often shirtless, 44-year-old Jackman is so ripped he’d blend in among NFL prospects half his age at a scouting combine, and he kills it in the action scenes — but this Wolverine is more than just gruff growling and big brawls. He has a heart.
About that heart. At one point Logan literally performs open-heart surgery on himself, and I’ll just leave it at that and let you enjoy the PG-13 gruesomeness of that particular scene.
There comes a time in the life of nearly every superhero, human hero, mutant hero and/or antihero when he goes off the grid. This usually means growing a scraggly playoff beard and living like a vagabond in some anonymous and often cold corner of the world. (I guess they never go tropical because they’re punishing themselves.)
In summer 2013, only varying time lines and parallel universes have kept Clark Kent; Tony Stark; Raleigh Becket, the rogue pilot from “Pacific Rim” and Logan aka Wolverine from bumping into each other in some seedy bar or a under a tree in a rainstorm.
It’s getting crowded out there on the fringes.
Working from the blueprint of a popular Wolverine comic-book story arc from the early 1980s, “The Wolverine” finds Logan out of the soldiering game, still reeling from having to kill the love of his life, Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), after she was possessed by the Phoenix and did some really bad stuff.
Logan is living more like a wolf than a man in the Yukon — but he’s persuaded to return to civilization by Yukio (Rila Fukushima), a fetching, sword-wielding young woman who comes to his aid during a nasty bar brawl.
Turns out Yukio has been tracking Logan so she can ask him to come with her to Japan and say his goodbyes to Lord Yashida, whom Logan saved when Nagasaki was hit with an atomic bomb in World War II.
Yashida is now the head of a giant tech company and he’s the most powerful man in Japan, but his empire and his family are under siege, and his own time is running out. He claims he has found a means to transfer Logan’s immortality to his own system, giving Logan his wish to no longer be cursed with an endless life of soldiering and bloodshed.
And then things get really complicated.
After an impressively photographed and terrifically choreographed battle sequence at the old man’s funeral, Logan takes it upon himself to protect Yashida’s granddaughter Mariko (the beautiful Tao Okamato) from the seemingly endless wave of Yakuza gangsters trying to take her out. Problem is, Logan now bleeds real blood, and his wounds no longer magically heal.
There’s also the matter of the nightly dream visits Logan receives from Jean Grey, who keeps trying to convince Logan to join her in the afterlife. (It seems to be kind of creepy there, Jean’s rotating wardrobe of negligees and the soft-focus lighting notwithstanding.)
Director James Mangold nimbly walks the tightrope between authentic, sometimes dense exposition and first-rate action. Mangold delivers a number of relatively quiet, dialogue-driven scenes in which Logan learns more about the family of the man he once saved, talks about being a Ronin (a masterless samurai) and explores a new romance.
But we also get some outrageously entertaining action sequences including a battle atop a bullet train that will have you squirming if the sounds of nails on a chalkboard get to you. It’s only in the final 15 minutes or so when “The Wolverine” gets kinda ridiculous.
As to whether you should stick around after the initial round of credits for a bonus scene with some applause-inducing cameos: of course you should.
And you won’t be disappointed.