Monday, January 6, 2014

Short Take: The Wolverine

This review was originally published on Pol Culture.

The Wolverine is the sixth film in the X-Men movie franchise, and the second solo outing for the title character. played by Hugh Jackman. It’s also the best film in the series since 2002's X2: X-Men United. The picture, directed by James Mangold from a script credited to Mark Bomback and Scott Frank, recaptures the dynamic that made the character compelling in that film and the franchise’s first outing. Better yet, the picture presents that dynamic in new ways. Wolverine is again haunted by his past, although this time by guilt over a death he caused. He’s still caught in the conflict between his compulsively violent nature, his hatred of it, and the sense of duty that inevitably gives that violence an outlet. Jackman’s performance isn’t as fresh as it once was, but he still plays the character quite well. Most of the story takes place in Japan, and the unfamiliar locations provide for some entertaining action set pieces. The best is an extended fight-and-chase sequence that begins at a funeral in a Buddhist temple, continues into the Tokyo streets, and climaxes on the roof of a moving 200-mile-per-hour bullet train. The plotting isn’t especially coherent. The two main story threads--the hero’s efforts to save a Japanese heiress (Tao Okamoto) from assassination, and keeping a sinister Russian doctor (Svetlana Khodchenkova) from stealing his healing abilities--never comfortably weave together. But until a silly, overblown science-fiction action finale, the film is compelling. The Japanese setting and several of the characters (although not the story) are taken from a four-part 1982 Wolverine comic-book series by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller.

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