3.5 stars. Rating: PG-13, for intense sci-fi action, mild sensuality and fleeting profanity
By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 7.26.13
I’ve never understood why critics sharpened their claws so gleefully while savaging 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Few bona-fide actors have inhabited a superhero role with the panache Hugh Jackman brings to this Canadian-born berserker, and that earlier solo adventure was just fine, in my book.
|Logan (Hugh Jackman) finds himself helplessly manacled, his claws unable to extend,|
as the sinister Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova) reveals that this imprisonment is
merely one element of her horrible plans. Still to appear: the dread Silver Samurai.
Sure, it lacked the wit and overall snap of The Avengers, but that’s true of most big-screen superhero epics. The more important observation is that X-Men Origins: Wolverine was far, far better than, say, Daredevil or either Fantastic Four bomb.
And, for the purposes of our discussion, Jackman’s newly released sequel. The Wolverine, is better still.
Writers Christopher McQuarrie, Mark Bomback and Scott Frank focus on the key element of Wolverine’s character: that he’s a modern ronin, a samurai without a lord or master to serve. This definition applies to the X-Men mythos in both comic books and big-screen adaptations, where Wolverine may or may not consider himself part of the team at any given moment, depending on recent events.
Building further on that core, McQuarrie & Co. have constructed a narrative from several of the X-Men/Wolverine comic book story arcs that found our clawed protagonist in Japan, a country that understands and practices the same warrior’s code of honor by which he lives.
Perhaps the surprise success of the big-screen adaptation of Kick-Ass had something to do with this, thanks to that saga’s flamboyant, sword-wielding character of Hit Girl; perhaps it’s mere coincidence. Whatever the reason, we finally get live-action embodiments of Mariko Yashida and Yukio — characters co-created in the Marvel Comics universe by writer Chris Claremont and artists John Byrne and Frank Miller — and brought to excellent life by Tao Okamoto and Rila Fukushima, respectively (although costume designer Isis Mussenden shouldn’t have based the latter’s look quite so heavily from the aforementioned Hit Girl).
Angst-ridden journeys of the soul always make good sagas, and this one’s no exception. The core plot doesn’t always hold together — the barrage of double- and triple-crosses makes it rather difficult to separate some of the good guys from the bad guys — but the destination isn’t nearly as important as the trip itself.
One other caveat: McQuarrie, Bomback and Frank assume that viewers either know the Marvel universe or have seen all previous X-Men films, which I regard as mildly presumptuous. For the benefit of newbies, then, a few key facts left unexplained:
Logan (Wolverine) is essentially immortal, thanks to a scientific process that laced his bones with the indestructible metal allow adamantium, and a “healing factor” that quickly repairs all wounds. He’s also much older than one would expect, and doesn’t show his age. Finally, he’s currently consumed with guilt and grief over having been forced to kill X-Men teammate Jean Grey, when she “went evil” as Dark Phoenix (that crisis depicted in 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand).