Movie Review: The Wolverine
Austin360.com | Austin American-Statesman
Oh, Wolverine. Why, oh, why, in the name of all that is awesome and pointy, don’t your movies work?
This really shouldn’t be that hard. For nearly 40 years, you have been one of the coolest superheroes around, with your indestructible adamantium claws and your mutant healing factor and your gravity-defying hair.
Your mythology is packed with weird science, amnesia, super-senses, swords, psychic redheads and berserk rages. You are the killing machine with the heart of gold.
Things were OK at first. With little-known Australian Hugh Jackman embodying brilliantly your feral charisma, you pretty much walked away with 2000’s “X-Men.” You were practically the plot engine in “X2” (2003).
The whole franchise got wobbly in 2006’s lousy “X-Men: The Last Stand,” and the often-incoherent “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” from 2009 didn’t help. The ship righted itself by 2011’s “X-Men: First Class,” but hey, you had a 10-second cameo in that one.
Besides, the other Marvel movies — “Iron Man” and “Captain America” and “Avengers,” the ones made by Disney/Marvel rather than 20th Century Fox as are the X-Men films — gave the whole genre a fresh energy. Where those movies bounced and boomed, yours, Wolverine, including this new one, have seemed ponderous and grouchy.
Based awfully loosely on the 1982 “Wolverine” comic book miniseries by longtime X-Men scribe Chris Claremont and future “Sin City” creator Frank Miller, “The Wolverine” is better than “X-Men Origins,” but that is like saying a day-old sandwich is better than dumpster diving.
Directed by James Mangold, this one opens with the title character in rough shape. No longer the Wolverine, now simply Logan, he lives deep in the Canadian woods, hangs out with bears and looks like he hasn’t seen a barber in years.
And, oh yeah, he occasionally hallucinates and talks to his dead crush, Jean Grey (Famke Janssen, softly lit) whom he was forced to kill at the end of “The Last Stand.” He is just a homeless ronin, a samurai without a master or a regular place to shower.
Logan is forcibly pulled out of his funk by a young woman named Yukio (Rila Fukushima), an assassin with red hair and a cool sword, who takes him to Japan for a meeting with Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi), an industrialist whom Logan saved from obliteration during the atomic bombing of Nagasaki (yes, Logan outran a nuke).
Now old and dying, Yashida offers the ageless Logan the unthinkable — a respite from our hero’s pesky immortality.
Throw in a gorgeous love interest named Mariko (model Tao Okamoto), a Yakuza subplot that never quite gels, a bunch of ninjas and a super-powered oncologist with whom you would never, ever want to make out and you have yourself a movie, more or less.
“The Wolverine” tries its dunder-headed best, struggling for larger themes of life and death, the lure and burden of immortality versus the fear of death and a few tributes to legendary Japanese filmmaker Yasujirô Ozu (mostly falling snow).
And the action bits, the roaring and the slashing and the stabbing, work fine, from well-choreographed martial arts combat, a running battle on a bullet train and a smartly shot sequence of Logan versus a whole mess of archers.
The more “The Wolverine” acts like a poorly dubbed martial arts movie you might see at 3 a.m. on a local station, the better it is.
But a plot that should have a pulpy swagger keeps having to be explained, often in terrible dialogue. And when the loudest applause comes from the by-now-no-longer-surprising 60-second epilogue during the credits, the one that teases the next movie, all you can think is, “Well, better luck next time, bub.”