Film Of The Week: THE WOLVERINE (2013)


SYNOPSIS:
Based on the celebrated comic book arc, The Wolverine finds Logan, the eternal warrior and outsider, in Japan. There, samurai steel will clash with adamantium claw as Logan confronts a mysteriousfigure from his past in an epic battle that will leave him forever changed.

REVIEW:

One of the best things I can possibly say about the longstanding X-Men film franchise, is how it has remained mostly consistent over the years. I largely put this on the count of some really brilliant acting and screenwriting, put forth in a setting I almost never thought I would see as a live-action property. The amount of creativity it takes to help bring this comic book story to life is such that it's definitely a challenge, especially when fans so desperately want to see a good film that reflects so heavy on their favorite lifelong heroes. For actor Hugh Jackman, it is a challenge he willingly and wholeheartedly accepts in director James Mangold's The Wolverine, and it more than a decade later, he still gets the job done.

Jackman returns once again as the mutant with the endoskeletal adamantium interior that initially enhanced his natural mutant powers. His character, Logan, has since parted ways with life as an X-Man and continues to live as a drifter, living a rugged, hard and lonely life, suffering intense nightmares that haunt him sleeplessly with the memory of the late character, Jean Grey, played by Famke Janssen. The plot thickens when Yukio, a mysterious swordswoman played by Rila Fukushima, whisks him away to Japan at the behest of her master and dying surrogate father, Yashida, played by Hal Yamanouchi. The preconceptions here are that Yashida's last request is to thank him for saving his life when Allied Forces dropped the atom bomb on Nagasaki back in World War II. As fate would have it, Yashida has other motives for his wealth and the fate of his megacompany, partly including the protection of his reluctant progeny and granddaughter, Mariko, played by actress Tao Okamoto. And with corporate and political influences, and other forces at play-both hidden and in plain sight, Logan suddenly finds himself on a harrowing mission, protecting Mariko from Ninjas, the clutches of the Yakuza, and while fighting for his own life long enough to seek answers.

Without giving too much away, I love how Mangold has helped redefine The Wolverine. It's the most famed story arc of the X-Men storyline, and fans were probably skeptical of how The Wolverine would be reinterpreted this time after X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Needless to say, Jackman continues to do his thing in his sixth stab as the silver-clawed loner. It has been thirteen years since he first portrayed the character in Bryan Singer's 2000 hit film, X-Men, and to this day, Jackman has neither lost his touch nor his passion for the character that he has come to know and love as much as the fans have. And it is not exactly hurting his career either, for fear of being typecasted is an issue for some actors. But there is a lot of love here as fans have come to know Jackman through the years, in action, drama, comedy and music, in all his versatility and artistry. And as we enter a new era of superhero movies, it is safe to say that that love will be there for a lot longer, particularly if these films continue to do well.


Actress Rila Fukushima is a fine actress as she shares the screen with the titular hero from time to time. Her role as Yukio, was not underwritten, nor was her performance campy or undermining in anyway, as her own layers get peeled back throughout the film. Yukio is a tough chick when she needs to be, but never too tough to show her charismatic, more softer side, and it shows through Fukushima's soulful performance. Her action scenes are very well handled, illustrating just how good she is on set when it's time to cross swords. This is best shown when her character comes face to face with Mariko's father, Shingen, masterfully played by Asian cinema favorite, Hiroyuki Sanada who is no joke when it comes to action either, a fact you know full well if you are familiar with his work over the past four decades. As an actor, he knows just how to command the screen, and I am very happy to see him come into his own on the Hollywood front. He also has one of the better fight scenes of the film with Jackman, showcasing his usual flawless coordination and form with a sword. Sanada will soon be seen in the upcoming film, 47 Ronin, which I plan on seeing when it releases this Christmas. Beyond that I have some pretty high hopes for this actor, and I certainly wish my hopes come to fruition while he is still around.


Tao Okamoto is another up-and-coming favorite of mine these days. As it turns out, The Wolverine is Tao's big screen acting debut, and I could have sworn she was acting much longer than this. And her character, Mariko, was no damsel in distress either, as she befits that of an able-bodied, resilient woman who knows how to handle a blade when she needs to. On that note, I was very pleased by her handling of such a big task in carrying over this installment of the film series. Moreover, considering that her character shares a bit of a four-way romantic conflict of interest since a trilogy that now sees Logan into a state of nightmarish mourning after ultimately killing the woman he loved in X3, Okamoto had some pretty big shoes to fill. But her character doesn't try to replace Jean either. Although rough and apprehensive at first, there is a mutual respect and love that grows between Mariko and Logan, and it helps build Logan's character in the process of healing from a bitter tragedy immortalized by his own regret and self-deprication.

The story is also enhanced by a really great supporting cast of villains, particularly by Hal Yamamouchi (who seems to be standing out these days, and in a very good and promising way), along with actor Ken Yamamura, who plays Yashida's younger self. Their dual role in this film was brilliantly written, and I'm only going to say that much. Actor Brian Tee, best known for his commanding role as D.K. in the 2006 hit film, The Fast And The Furious: Tokyo Drift, also shares the screen as Noburo, a politically motivated opportunist with strengthening ties to Yashida's family and business pending his arranged marriage with Mariko goes through. Though his screentime is a bit minimal, Tee also holds his own, and shows lots of promise as an actor. And with his upcoming role in Mortal Kombat: Legacy - Season 2, I have no doubt in my mind that other casting directors are sure to take notice.

Will Yun Lee is always welcome in my book as one of the best actors I have ever seen on film. His character, Harada, is Yashida's devoted servant who lives to protect Mariko as well. He has all the qualities that illustrate a hero, but of course that would be typical, and in a film that aims to please, we can't have typical. So in the end, he is not perfect, as he aptly serves his master with honor, and often doing so at a price that may goes against his own intentions, which are still a mystery that make him one of the more intriguing characters worth paying attention to. And that you should.

To the film's avail, the forefront of The Wolverine's antagonistic presence is the the poisonous femme fatale, Viper, played by actress Svetlana Khodchenkova, whose character also stays hidden in plain sight until she strikes without warning. In hindsight, I would have loved to see Khodchenkova play a much bigger role, as I know her character is not designed to overshadow the real villainous center of this movie. Viper does play a key mechanism in Logan's unwitting transformation throughout the film on various levels, making her one of the most influential villains of any superhero movie. And I'm probably asking too much by wishing she had more screentime. Not for nothing though, as her character is well suited and applied accordingly, with a solid performance to boot. In my opinion though, she makes a great villain, as she an exceptional actress whose talents I hope to see more of in the near future.

Lastly, but not least, I cannot conclude this review without discussing how awesome it is to see Janssen back as the Jean Grey. She completely owns the character, and momentarily going back on the topic of shoes, if some director out there ever dares to reboot this franchise with this character in mind, well then good luck with that. Famke Janssen's beauty, maturity, grace and talent make her the perfect fitting for such an enigmatic role opposite Hugh Jackman. Their chemistry works so impeccably well that it pretty much underlines just what I mean earlier in this review on the subject of consistency. And as much as studios tend to changes actors and actresses for certain roles, I am certain there was no other way for this live-action transition to work. Of course, they could try, but like I said, I doubt it would garner the same magic that Janssen and Jackman bring to the screen in this story. In some ways, whether or not you believe in destiny, the casting choices for Jean and Logan were meant to be. Hell, back in 2000, I couldn't think of anyone else who could play The Wolverine as good as Hugh Jackman at the time. And even if an alternate casting choice is possible, until that day comes, I do not dare think of it. 

Jackman and Janssen are The Wolverine and Phoenix, and your argument is invalid.

Director James Mangold previously brought us films like the cop drama Cop Land, the romantic comedy Kate And Leopold, the Johnny Cash biopic Walk The Line, the Western thriller 3:10 To Yuma and the quirky action comedy, Knight And Day. In The Wolverine, as with these films and others, Mangold continues to reflect on some reocurring themes like the struggle to live with human suffering, highlighted by moments in the film merging reality and fantasy between characters consistently dreaming and waking up. These scenes intend to invoke the very pain of Logan's internal conflict with immortality, multiplied by his complacency with death while heartbreak and tragedy, until he begins his evolution back into the hero he needs to be, as a template for examiming his own purpose for living. Throughout the film, Mangold is able to apply this formula to a near-perfect fit, as Logan, even with his healing factor, is pushed to the ultimate limit, a limited tested in his climatic battle with the Adamantium-made gargantuan killing machine, "The Silver Samurai". With this in mind, The Wolverine maintains its stability and quality as a noteworthy installment of an invariably successful film franchise that fans will continue to love and appreciate for generations to come.

For anyone who may have been disappointed by X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, I can honestly decree that Mangold's interpretation of this Marvel character is a valid, solid piece of film work. Some people have varying opinions on these, whether it pertains to how true to the source material the films stays, or the action, etc. At best it's comic book-style action, and it suits the film well enough that it sells the story from begining to end, with Jackman showing off great physicality and adaptation to the movements of a character he is clearly perfect for. And more importantly, coming off of director Matthew Vaughan's X-Men: First Class, and going into next year's release of X-Men: Days Of Future Past, I think its safe to say that the future of the X-Men movie frachise in good hands. And with The Wolverine, the episodic pieces of this epic tale are sure to come full circle.

The Wolverine is now in theaters.

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