If you go
“The Wolverine,” rated PG-13
Rating: 3 out of 4 stars
Running time: 126 minutes
Starring: Starring: Hugh Jackman, Tao Okamoto, Svetlana Khodchenkova and Famke Janssen
Now playing at Wildhorse Stadium Cinemas and Craig’s West Theatre.
Craig It takes a lot of determination, and perhaps stupidity, to perform open-heart surgery on yourself, offer up your body as target practice for dozens of archers at once or bear the brunt of an atomic blast. Of course, there are other kinds of bombs that can be more damaging, and if the hero of “The Wolverine” can survive his last solo feature, his threshold for pain clearly is beyond human understanding.
All super-powered mutant Logan (Hugh Jackman) wants is solitude, but even holed up in the forests of Canada, peace doesn’t come easy. His time with the X-Men has wounded him in a way even his built-in healing abilities can’t fix, leaving him with a long lifetime of painful memories and the desire to just end it all.
However, no good deed goes unpunished, as he finds out when he is approached by a representative (Rila Fukushima) of a powerful Japanese family who brings him to the Land of the Rising Sun to settle a decades-old debt. Ichiro Yashida (Haruhiko Yamanouchi), once a soldier whose life was saved by Logan’s intervention at the end of World War II, is now the head of one of Japan’s top technology companies and seeking a way to preserve the life that’s slipping away from him.
Yashida’s offer is to transfer Logan’s virtual immortality into his dying body, thus giving the mutant the chance to finally live a normal life. Naturally, he refuses, but it’s a moot point when the old man dies anyway.
Logan’s time in Japan isn’t over by a long shot as he’s forced to play the hero once Yashida’s granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto) is nearly apprehended by members of the Japanese mafia, the Yakuza. But the duty of guarding the young woman becomes a much more difficult job when the bodily functions that have made him nearly invincible suddenly disappear.
Still, it takes more than an onslaught of gangsters, ninjas and other villains to take out the Wolverine!
Jackman gives his most thoughtful portrayal yet of the Marvel Comics antihero, whose soul grows wearier by the day no matter how much his adamantium-infused skeleton and retractable claws keep him from harm. Looking ripped beyond belief with veins about to explode out his skin, Wolvie is a far cry from the emaciated Jean Valjean, but beyond the physical demands, the actor has had plenty of time to perfect that signature reaction of slowly turning his head to reveal an instantaneous healing cut courtesy of a broken bottle or katana to the face by someone who’s about to be dead meat.
We’ve come a long way since the seminal 2000 movie that showed Marvel’s properties could make a ton of money, and there have been ups and downs. Jackman’s faith in sticking through the series — the only cast member to be in all six — pays off here much greater than 2009’s sloppy “X-Men Origins.”
Instead of assaulting our sensibilities with loud action and needless appearances from characters not even comic book lovers care about, director James Mangold gives his protagonist the introspective approach he deserves. The bit of East meets West, first created in the 1980s miniseries that launched Wolverine’s own title, shows the benefits of an international cast, an attribute overlooked by many superhero films.
As for the ronin — masterless samurai — hailing from the Great White North, all you need do is point him at an enemy, be it in the middle of a ritualistic funeral or atop the Bullet Train, and watch him launch into his trademark Berserker Rage attack. Because of his inherent likenesses to Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name and the many warriors Toshiro Mifune played in Japanese cinema that inspired the spaghetti Westerns way back when, it’s most satisfying to see Logan more complex than he’s ever been as a protector, as a lover and, as always, as a man who’s destined to walk alone.
If “Origins” had you doubting, “The Wolverine” shows you that “the best at what he does” has still got legs in the comics world. Some confusing moments with fictional metallurgy aside, it’s probably the best Wolvie-centric movie you could want.
On a side note, be sure not to leave the theater too soon, because this story ain’t over yet, bub.
Andy Bockelman can be reached at 970-875-1793 or firstname.lastname@example.org.