"The Wolverine" is a fun ride
Director James Mangold’s ("Walk the Line," "3:10 to Yuma") "The Wolverine" has taken its introduction from the Marvel Comics 1982 limited series "Wolverine," written by Chris Claremont and drawn by Frank Miller. That is not a bad thing. Mr. Miller at the time was injecting many stories and titles, including Daredevil, with a Japanese influence. The limited series was very cinematic. It combined the animalistic ferocity of Wolverine with the elegance and simplicity of Japanese traditions. The movie would have benefited tremendously if it had followed the artistic lead of the series. "The Wolverine" starts off the same way the limited series did. Wolverine, aka Logan (Hugh Jackman), is out in the wilderness doing some meditation and soul searching. He comes across a bear that was shot with a poison arrow by a group of hunters. These hunters do not bother to track and kill it so the bear goes on a rampage killing some campers. Wolverine puts the bear out of its misery then tracks the hunters. He is about to introduce them to his form of justice when a Japanese girl, Yukio (Rila Fukushima), interferes and allures Wolverine to Japan. This is where the movie veers away from the limited series. The story, like the series, involves Japanese Mafioso, ninjas and a Japanese love affair. The movie adds samurai, robots and twenty first century technology.
The screenwriters Mark Bomback ("Total Recall ," "Live Free or Die Hard") and Scott Frank ("Marley and Me," "Minority Report") add an interesting twist to Wolverine’s trip. Yashida (Haruhiko Yamanouchi) was a soldier in a POW camp near Nagasaki when the bombs were dropped. Wolverine saved his life. On the trip to Japan Yukio informs Logan that Yashida is dying and wants to say his farewell. When he makes his audience Logan is surprised to learn that Yashida is not so eager to leave this world. He has found a way to transfer Logan’s mutant ability- self-healing- from the mutant into himself. Yashida makes an attempt to persuade Logan that he has outlived his gift. He has seen much death including the love of his life, Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), and living so long without purpose is hell. He offers Logan a chance to become mortal. It’s an interesting story line. Nothing creates more intrigue then watching the protagonist lose the source of his power while he tries to get it back; more so when he loses it involuntarily.
The problem for "The Wolverine" is what most action pictures suffer from and that is a director who is unable to create tension or excitement within action sequences. In all the action sequences there is a feeling that Mr. Mangold is performing a balancing act between showing Wolverine- who is a killer without remorse- doing what he does best, while at the same time not turning off families. There is precedent here. The old directors of samurai films from the fifties and sixties such as Akira Kurosawa ("Seven Samurai," "Yojimbo") and Kihachi Okamoto ("Samurai Assassin," "Sword of Doom") show merciless violence in their films but with an artistic flare. There is no gore. They also use a stationary camera. The action is shown without jittery movements or multiple cuts so you can see an assailant sneak up behind the protagonist and get a charge when he’s terminated. During "The Wolverine" a dizzying sensation accompanies the action sequences which are filmed with a moving camera. During a chase scene all the participants of a melee run through the streets and the camera jumps up and down as though we’re running along side of them. We can’t tell who’s chasing who or identify anyone except for Wolverine (thank goodness the scene doesn’t take place on the streets of Oregon or we would lose sight of him as well).
The backdrop of "The Wolverine" is spectacular. The art director Ian Gracie ("Star Wars: Episode III- Revenge of the Sith," "Moulin Rouge!") has created a picturesque canvas within traditional Japanese houses and villages where the action takes place. The violence among such beauty is a nice contrast. Mr. Miller’s series created some memorable visuals using the same backdrop to accompany the violence. He had the ninjas and Wolverine confront each other at night where they both feel they had the advantage. It was a series of pictures of only their silhouettes, within the darkness, with only the moonlight gleaming off the ninjas’ swords and Wolverines claws showing us the action. Watching "The Wolverine" one wishes Mr. Mangold could conjure up the same visual artistry. Fortunately the story carries us to the conclusion which, unfortunately, drops like a bag of bricks. Too much of the twenty-first century comes into play and an arch-villain, Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova), who is pretty much irrelevant throughout the movie finally wears out her welcome. But running along side Wolverine is still fun even when it makes you dizzy.