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Sunday, July 28, 2013

Movie Review: The Wolverine

THE WOLVERINE...undoubtedly, the X-Men's most popular character ever! Having appeared in numerous comic books, cartoons, video games, even music videos since 1974; he finally achieved life on the big screen when Hugh Jackman portrayed him in the 2000 X-Men movie. Since then, his popularity has grown immensely, slashing his way to the top! Jackman, now #3 in Forbes’ Top 10 List of Highest Paid Actors, returns for the fifth time (sixth if you count his brief, but hilarious cameo in X-Men: First Class (2011)) on screen as the short-tempered, Canadian, mutant in The Wolverine!
We find Logan, a.k.a. Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), living like a hermit in the Yukon wilderness. Haunted by the death of Jean Grey, a.k.a. Phoenix (Famke Janssen), by his own claws (in X-Men: The Last Stand (2006), Logan seeks solitude. When reckless hunters attempt to kill a grizzly bear with a poisonous arrow, it draws Logan to a local bar where he exacts justice. Soon he is found by a forceful, red-haired, young-Japanese girl named Yukio (Rila Fukushima), who offers him an ancient katana sword and requests he accompany her to Tokyo. Her employer, Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi), wishes to thank him for saving his life at Nagasaki during WWII. Reluctantly, Logan goes to Japan with her and he meets Yashida, now a powerful industrialist, who is dying of cancer. To thank him, Yashida offers to make him mortal, thus ending his "curse". Logan also meets his son Shingen (Hiroyuki Sanada) and granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamato). With the death of Yashida, after Logan denies his request, he attends the funeral and becomes involved in a sinister plot by the Yakuza, to kidnap Mariko! As Logan becomes infected by the venomous-villain, Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova), he loses his healing ability. Although wounded, he tries his best to keep Mariko safe, soon realizing he has become even more involved in this twisted plot!
Yukio (Rila Fukushima)
With intense, fast-paced action and exotic, foreign-locales, The Wolverine is a beautiful combination of James Bond-like action, with a more subtle approach to the typical super-powered, comic book movie.
The story of The Wolverine borrows heavily from the height of his comic book popularity, particularly the storylines in Uncanny X-Men #s 172-173 (1983) and of course the 1982 Wolverine mini-series by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller. As reveled early on in the comic books, Japan has always been a big part of Wolverine's past, especially when it involved his future fiancĂ©e Mariko Yashida, who first appeared in Uncanny X-Men #118 (Feb. 1979). One of Wolverine's most admirable characteristics came from the time he spent in Japan. As he had long been attracted to the self-discipline of the samurai, he adapted the warrior code of Bushido as a means of coping with his animalistic tendencies. While the romantic elements in The Wolverine are not as strong as in the comic books, the love that gradually grows between Logan and Mariko is nonetheless powerful. Also, is the strong bond of friendship that forms between Logan and Yukio, who despite being very different from her comic book-counterpart, is also impressive. The image of Yukio with her deep-red dyed hair is particularly striking as her tiny, petite form serves as a disguise for her deadly abilities.
While the story in The Wolverine is not directly adapted from the events in the comics, (which include complex and often convoluted backstories) many of the characters also change for the benefit of the movie, especially the involvement of Viper and the Silver Samurai. While the character of Harada (Will Jung Lee) appears in The Wolverine, he is NOT the Silver Samurai, as he is in the comics, instead he remains a highly-skilled (non-mutant) ninja, part of the "Black Clan" (removing the connection to "The Hand" ninjas, as seen in Elektra (2005), who protect the clan Yashida. The choice to make the originally non-mutant character of Viper a mutant (like making Juggernaut a mutant in X-Men 3) is somewhat perplexing, but it gives her a fascinating snake-like power, as yet unseen in the X-Men movies. She plays the role of a lesser-villain and also the "catalyst" to Wolverine's predicament in the film. As the majority of the film takes place in Japan and it's major cities, the whole feel of the film has a very exotic James Bond-quality to it and it's intense sword-swinging action hearkens back to the western-inspired, samurai films of Akira Kurosawa. The fight scene on-top of Tokyo's bullet train is particularly exciting!
Although many fans were disappointed with 2009's X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the X-Men franchise was saved by the prequel X-Men: First Class (2011). The Wolverine marks a turning point in the franchise as it also sets up  the plot of the upcoming X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014, see the End-Credits Stinger!).  As 20th Century Fox currently owns the rights to the X-Men, Fantastic Four characters as Sony owns the Spider-Man franchise, the Marvel Universe has been temporarily separated by corporate copyrights. As the Marvel Universe itself in the comics is all-encompassing, the Marvel movies has yet been able to merge or "team-up" characters as successfully as in Paramount/Marvel/Disney's Avengers. It will be several years before copyrights return to the original owners as we will no doubt see more films and franchises based on Marvel comic books. The Wolverine makes up for the disappointments that were X-Men 3 and Origins with it's highly-engaging story and successfully not overcrowding the movie with unnecessary, ancillary mutant characters as in Origins (i.e. Deadpool). With intense, fast-paced action and exotic, foreign-locales, The Wolverine is a beautiful combination of James Bond-like action, with a more subtle approach to the typical super-powered, comic book movie. The Wolverine is close to becoming the perfect Wolverine movie fans have waited years to see, exploring more of his roots, as well as his mysterious past. As Hugh Jackman has become the ideal image of the beloved character, it will be very hard to accept another actor portray him in the near future.
LINKS: The Wolverine Movie Website, Marvel.com20th Century Fox