It would be too much to call The Wolverine a "classical" superhero movie, but it's less over-the-top than most recent entries in the genre - to say nothing of the year's other baroque blockbusters, from the underrated The Lone Ranger to Pacific Rim. Few buildings are visibly toppled, nor is the planet threatened with destruction.
The Wolverine - Trailer
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The Wolverine - Trailer
Watch the official trailer for The Wolverine, starring Hugh Jackman.
Instead, the main stakes are emotional. Along with his mutton-chops and retractable claws, the surly mutant Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) has the ability to recover instantly from physical injury - but his psychological scars remain.
Picking up where X-Men: The Last Stand broke off seven years ago, the film finds him still mourning his lover Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), who died at his hands after her transformation into the deadly Phoenix.
Logan, as he prefers to be called, now just wants to be left in peace. But it isn't long before a crimson-haired telepath (Rila Fukushima) brings him to Tokyo, where he studies martial arts, battles yakuza and meets a new love interest in Mariko (Tao Okamoto), who occupies a dangerous position as heiress to the largest corporation in the East.
The latest Hollywood blockbuster to court the Asian market, The Wolverine is a reasonably successful example of cultural fusion. Subtitled scenes are frequent - and if the Japanese characters are exotic stereotypes, they're at least accorded some respect. The ultimate loner, Logan is confronted with a society that deeply reveres family and tradition; both sides in this encounter have lessons to learn.
Scripted by a team of faceless pros - including Scott Frank, whose credits range from Minority Report to Marley and Me - The Wolverine gains some personality from its director, James Mangold, a jack of all trades who brings a distinctive intelligence to each assignment while showing no ambition to become a household name.
Mangold might not be an obvious choice for a superhero movie, but there's something authentically comic-book about his style, which combines clear, linear storytelling with a discreetly expressionist bent, manifested via an interest in troubled protagonists and distorted perceptions (see, notably, Girl, Interrupted; Identity; and Walk the Line).
|Genre||Action/Adventure, Fantasy, Sci-Fi|
|Screen Writer||Mark Bomback, Christopher McQuarrie, James Mangold, Scott Frank|
|Actors||Hugh Jackman, Famke Janssen, Will Yun Lee, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Rila Fukushima|
|OFLC rating||Yet to be classified|
Wolverine makes a voyage to modern-day Japan, where he encounters an enemy from his past that will impact on his future.
Like the heroine played by Cameron Diaz in Mangold's spy thriller Knight and Day, Logan drifts in and out of consciousness - allowing the film to explore his psyche through dream sequences (mostly featuring Janssen) that bridge the gaps between action scenes.
If the character is deepened, it's only in a relative sense. It's always been odd watching the cheery, extroverted Jackman do what amounts to a technically efficient impression of the younger Clint Eastwood, without conveying any of Eastwood's visceral disgust. As ever, he's playing a family-friendly notion of a tough guy: if he tosses a henchman off a building, we can count on a cutaway indicating no permanent damage has been done.
Still, it's a plus that Jackman lacks the macho vanity that might deter him from looking vulnerable. Inevitably, Logan loses his powers - if he stayed immortal, it would be hard to maintain suspense - and has to rebuild himself, starting from his fragile core.
Putting the matter in crude demographic terms, this is one of the few superhero movies made with women in mind. It's worth recalling that Mangold directed both Angelina Jolie and Reese Witherspoon in Oscar-winning performances, not a feat that could plausibly have been achieved by, say, Christopher Nolan.
Of The Wolverine's four female stars, the standout is Svetlana Khodchenkova as the evil Viper, who flaunts her long, scary tongue and coolly describes herself as ''a chemist, a nihilist, a capitalist, a mutation''.
With her contented smirk and soft, mocking voice, she's an unusually warm femme fatale - a worthy successor to Rebecca Romijn's Mystique in the earlier X-Men films. When the mooted Barbarella remake finally gets off the ground, the producers would be wise to give her a call.