The Wolverine Hugh Jackman, Tao Okamoto, Rila Fukushima. Directed by James Mangold. Rated PG-13. Opens Friday.
At this point, Hugh Jackman has played Wolverine in more movies than any other actor has played any other superhero, and his experience with the character shows in The Wolverine. A major improvement over the first solo Wolverine movie, 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine, The Wolverine sets itself apart as an introspective character study more than an action movie, with a streamlined cast and an emphasis on personal relationships. Set following the events of 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand, The Wolverine finds the title character lost and haunted, specifically by the death of his teammate and onetime lover Jean Grey (Famke Janssen).
He’s called to Japan by a man whose life he saved during World War II, now an ultra-rich tech mogul on his deathbed. Wolverine finds himself caught up in his old friend’s family power struggles, protecting the man’s granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto) from various threats, aided by a young mutant named Yukio (Rila Fukushima). For much of the movie, his healing factor is neutralized, making him vulnerable physically as well as emotionally. Although it has plenty of action (including a very impressive sequence atop a moving bullet train), The Wolverine is really about its main character’s inner turmoil, his guilt at causing the death of the woman he loved and his difficulty at finding a place for himself in the world.
As such, the villains end up a little underwhelming, and no single threat emerges as the driving force of the plot. The climax, which involves Wolverine battling a robot samurai, is more than a little silly, although at least it doesn’t feature the wholesale destruction of a major city, like seemingly every other action blockbuster this summer. Thankfully, the character work is strong enough to overcome the shaky third act, and Jackman effectively conveys the weariness of a man who has seen so many of his loved ones die. Okamoto and Fukushima, both models making their screen debuts, deliver solid supporting performances, and the spunky Yukio would make for a good addition to the X-Men. The movie ends with a post-credits stinger setting up next summer’s X-Men: Days of Future Past, which will no doubt deliver all of the over-the-top spectacle that The Wolverine smartly and effectively sets aside.