Friday, July 26, 2013

Just Dying To Find Out

Reel To Reel: The Wolverine

Going Rate: Worth matinee price
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Will Yun Lee, Hiroyuki Sanada, Hal Yamanouchi, Tao Okamoto
Rated: PG-13
Red Flags: Mild language, intense action violence and swordplay
ADVISORY: Stay through the credits for a bonus scene. I didn't. :(

Unlike 2009's X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the new Wolverine flick plays like a series of setups for a series of fight scenes, including the Big One At The End which could've come off the cutting-room floor of Transformers. I like Hugh Jackman, and I like him as Wolverine, but this film doesn't give him much range beyond slashing and hallucinating.

As I have discussed before, mutants like Wolverine are just about immortal, which explains how the Warrior Formerly Known As Logan is able to save a Japanese officer Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi) from the atomic bombing of Nagasaki. While shielding his captor, his body shakes off a nuclear meltdown. Gotta love that immortality. We're not really sure why Logan has a desire to let this one live other than some basic humanity and a basic need to develop the rest of the picture.

Decades later, we find Logan living in the woods as the standard-issue retired superhero mutant after the breakup of the X-Men. He doesn't get around much, except to avoid the bears and pick up some basic rations. He constantly wakes up from nightmares about his dead love Jean (Famke Janssen). Even in this off-the-grid existence, Yukio (Rila Fukushima), one of Yashida's associates, tracks him down and urges him to go back with her to Japan. Turns out the Japanese officer is now the dying mogul of a technology behemoth. He'd like to say goodbye to the man who saved his life before he loses it.

We know it's not that simple. Logan gets caught in a messy power struggle involving Yashida, his daughter Mariko (Okamoto), his son Shingen (Sanada), yakuza, samurais, ninjas, and lot of talk about family honor. And if that's not bad enough, the former Wolverine finds he's losing his immortality after what's supposed to be a tantalizing prospect from Yashida: wouldn't it be great to live a normal life for a change? Let me put it to you this way: if you were unbreakable and staring at a shriveling man with one foot in the grave, how would you answer?

The film is full of lightning-fast martial-arts kicking and swordplay, along with a fight on top of a bullet train that's only believable because we've suspended our disbelief so many times for the sake of CGI. Yes, Logan ends up in the sack with another girl along the way. And no, he's not the only mutant in this film.

As I reflect upon all the film's lasting images, of all its ninjas and samurai and yakuza, the film walks a fine line between paying tribute to Japanese culture and stereotyping it. In one way, it's a nice step up from martial arts B-movies. Otherwise, I didn't find a whole lot to get excited about. For me, the X-Men films are great when they promote their social themes as much as their kick-butt antics. While there's a compulsory element of that here, it's a very thin one, and it falls flat.