Domo arigato, Mr. ‘Wolverine’

The clawed, comics-based hero goes to Japan, for an adventure with depth and action

READY FOR HIS CLAWS-UP. Hugh Jackman IS the Wolverine. Photos from 20th Century Fox

MANILA, Philippines – There have been and will be better, exceptional films based on comic-book heroes than this.

There might even be room for a re-rendition of this particular character decades from now, one that might finally please hard-to-please fanboys across the globe.

But taken by itself, relished as its own cinematic beast, “The Wolverine” is a fairly satisfying moviegoing experience — legions of differing viewers notwithstanding. 

It helps that this fresh flick the sixth in all for Aussie actor Hugh Jackman as the protagonist also known as Logan — is able to zero in on one main hero (this time, coming out superior compared with the uninspired “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” of 2009) and is, more important, devoid of much visual and narrative clutter (unlike the recent “Man of Steel”). 

(Dear readers, that foregoing line concerns the movies per se and is not meant to set off a DC Comics-versus-Marvel Comics war the way this post inadvertently did.)   WOLVIE IN JAPAN. Model-actress Tao Okamoto and Jackman are an eye-catching pair

“The Wolverine” is an adaptation of the 1982 “Wolverine” series of comic books written by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller, largely set in Japan. 

As such, the film — originally scripted by Christopher “The Usual Suspects” McQuarrie but later on rejiggered by Mark Bomback and Scott Frank — is tempered with a sense of vulnerability.

Not only does the central, American character get implanted to the Land of the Rising Sun, but this man with the “adamantium” skeleton and claws (fictional alloy from Marvel comics) finds his otherwise self-healing attributes diminishing, thus endangering his immortality. 

For the most part, this theme of fading invincibility, of the main man becoming less of the powerful mutant Wolverine and more of the all-too-human Logan, makes for compelling viewing.

James Mangold, who had directed the dramas “Copland,” “Girl, Interrupted” and “Walk the Line,” is a good choice for helming this more somber take on the Marvel fan favorite — one that, as Mangold explained in an interview, is not “about stopping a villain’s diabolical plot.”   

Indeed, “The Wolverine” is not exactly endowed with a singular evil genius, instead having more of a vague diffusion of nefariousness among several apparent baddies, the way the Yakuza and this film’s own Black Clan of ninjas are wicked and clandestine collectives. 

MUTANT VERSUS NINJA. The Wolverine dukes it out with Japan’s covert warriors

Overall, the movie opts for a more realistic tone less comic book and more cinema, as witness, for one thing, the absence of the mutton-chopped hero’s original yellow-and-blue costume from the printed page.

Downbeat moments of intimacy abound as well, involving Wolvie’s flames of past (fellow mutant Jean Grey, who is sort of resurrected herein after getting offed in “X-Men: The Last Stand”) and present (Mariko Yashida, the descendant of a Japanese tycoon who happens to have had direct ties to Logan).

But since this is meant to be an action movie, “The Wolverine” is far from bereft of testosterone, Jackman’s beefed-up physique aside. 

Much has been said of the movie’s bullet train sequence, and it’s an undeniable heart stopper convincing and realistic enough to make observers be on the lookout hereon for any such brawls atop Japan’s trademark locomotive.

Yet Mangold et al. deserve kudos as well for providing sufficient buildup prior to the adrenalized sequences, often pulling off such moments when least expected and thus almost putting the audience squarely in the at-risk Logan’s shoes.

There is subtle emphasis as well on the deadly sharpness of blades be it the variety of swords here or Wolverine’s own little swords, i.e., his retractable claws.

Second fiddle

But just as Wolverine slowly but surely comes off as flawed as much as clawed, “The Wolverine” starts to manifest some flaws of its own down the line.

Others have griped about two rather ho-hum major action scenes toward the end, which are nevertheless watchable if not downright applause-worthy. 

What I would add are, one, the fact that while the movie is about the Wolverine, there is a tendency for the character to become second fiddle in the proceedings, as in essentially ending up as a babysitter of sorts to another major character. 

Two, the film, which is swell enough to avoid being a note-for-note rendition of its source material, could have been infused with a profound tragedy, one that would have truly prompted Jackman, convincing as he is in this pet role, to let out a raging scream instead of that perpetual scowl.

And three, perhaps in accentuating the film’s tone of realism, the villainous and pivotal Viper (played by Russian temptress Svetlana Khodchenkova) ends up added to Hollywood’s long line of criminally underused characters.

Here is a trailer of “The Wolverine”:

Yet in all, “The Wolverine” is a fine specimen of comic-book-based blockbuster, and Jackman, Mangold, and company deserve pats on the back for an entertaining enough diversion. 

Still, it’s engrossing to wonder about the emotional and visual heights this movie could have reached, had it been handled by two other potential directors, Darren Aronofsky (who had helmed the Jackman starrer “The Fountain” and was the original choice of this film) and Guillermo del Toro (who had been in talks to take on this flick but went on to meg the impressive “Pacific Rim”). 

If only most of us were immortal enough to watch a future take a century or so from now…


“The Wolverine,” released by 20th Century Fox through Warner Bros. Philippines, is currently showing in cinemas.

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