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(2013) (Hugh Jackman, Rila Fukushima) (PG-13)

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Action: An immortal human mutant travels to Japan to visit a dying man he once saved long ago, only to become involved in a power struggle involving the man's family and control of his empire.
Following the dissolution of the mutant group known as The X-Men, Logan (HUGH JACKMAN), a.k.a. Wolverine, has given up his fighting ways and lives deep in the forest. Plagued by nightmares that feature his deceased lover and fellow mutant, Jean Grey (FAMKE JANSSEN), the immortal being -- who possess retractable adamantium claws in his hands -- simply wants to be left alone. Unfortunately for him, a young Japanese woman, Yukio (RILA FUKUSHIMA), has been tracking him and finally makes her introduction.

It seems Logan saved a young Japanese soldier from the atomic bombing of Nagasaki and that man now wants to make his final amends. A reluctant Logan travels to the land of the rising sun where he meets his former rescuee turned extremely successful but now dying businessman, Master Yashida (HARUHIKO YAMANOUCHI). Knowing of Logan's curse of immortality and equating him to being a samurai with no master, Yashida offers to use his high tech gear to transfer Logan's immortality over to him and thus allow the mutant to grow old and die with dignity.

Logan declines the offer but then ends up embroiled in a power struggle regarding Yashida's family upon his passing. The man's son, Lord Shingen (HIROYUKI SANADA), isn't pleased to learn that his own daughter, Mariko (TAO OKAMOTO), will inherit the family's holdings rather than him, although her arranged marriage fiancÚ, Minister of Justice Noburo (BRIAN TEE), doesn't seem quite as perturbed at the prospect. Even so, things come to a head at Yashida's funeral when mafia types kidnap Mariko.

Her former boyfriend and current samurai Harada (WILL YUN LEE) tries to come to her rescue, as does Logan, but the latter's previous surprise encounter with Yashida's doctor -- who's really a mutant by the name of Viper (SVETLANA KHODCHENKOVA) -- has rendered him increasingly mortal. Now called back into action as a super soldier, Logan tries to find and rescue Mariko, all while dealing with those who want to save as well as harm her.

OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10
When it comes to superhero characters, they may occasionally be killed off in their respective comic book series, but they otherwise live on in perpetuity be that in print, online, in TV shows and/or movies. The same doesn't hold true, however, for those who portray them in live-action offerings. While some of that is obviously due to years and decades passing by and/or the mortality of said performers, as well as some of them not wanting to be pigeonholed in such roles, the rest is due to studio execs wanting fresh faces playing the popular characters.

Heck, since 1989, Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, George Clooney and Christian Bale have portrayed Batman in multiple films, while Brandon Routh only got one chance at playing Superman before being replaced by Henry Cavill. So far, however, only Hugh Jackman has donned the retractable knuckle-claws and muttonchops as Logan, a.k.a. Wolverine, both in the various "X-Men" movies as well as the character's standalone piece, 2009's "X-Men Origins: Wolverine."

Considering the latter's poor critical reception (we gave it a 5 out of 10, while the rest of the critics on Rotten Tomatoes gave it just a 38% approval rating) and "disappointing" box office returns (just under $180 million domestically, with another $190 million plus from overseas coffers), it was no certainty that either the character or Jackman would return in their respective roles. After all, Routh lost the Man of Steel franchise after "Superman Returns" "only" made $391 million worldwide.

Nonetheless, the Wolverine character remains the most popular "X-Men" persona among the masses and thus we now have his latest flick, "The Wolverine." With the origins story out of the way, scribes Mark Bomback and Scott Frankhave set their tale sometime after the events of "X-Men: The Last Stand." They've also placed most of the action and drama (save for a domestic sequence following the literally explosive opening scene) in the land of the rising sun.

That allows new-to-the-fold director James Mangold ("3:10 to Yuma," "Walk the Line") to play up and off the cultural aspects of the Japanese warrior, especially, as one character puts it, Wolverine being akin to a ronin or a samurai without a master. It also provides the filmmaker with the opportunity to throw lots of martial arts inspired action into the mix of the usual clawing-based fighting that's long enveloped the character.

In doing so, the filmmakers have crafted a superhero tale that, thankfully, doesn't feel like so many of its recent contemporaries involving such characters bashing and smashing each other through various cityscapes in full video game mode. That's not to say that this flick reaches the thematic, intelligent or emotional depths of say, "The Dark Knight," but it's nice to see such a genre entry at least trying to be a little different.

It certainly doesn't hurt that Jackman completely owns the character, both physically (oh, the pecs, biceps and abs on display) and soulfully, and that the actor has such a magnetic onscreen charisma that you simply can't take your eyes off him. I don't know if one could watch him playing the character in some staid Elizabethan costume drama (as that would just be plain silly), but he's a perfect fit in an action pic such as this (although, if you really think about, it's also silly).

Beyond the various themes in play (the warrior mentality, mortality and immortality, family dynamics, etc.), the plot isn't anything remarkable as the tale places Jackman's character into a family power struggle in Japan. After the opening scene has Wolverine saving a Japanese soldier from the Nagasaki atomic bomb, he's summoned by a young and fetching warrior (Rila Fukushima) to visit the now old man (Haruhiko Yamanouchi) who's dying and offers to relieve Logan of his immortality.

If he doesn't get that, he's going to bequeath his empire to his granddaughter (Tao Okamoto), much to the chagrin of her father (Hiroyuki Sanada). That's all while a young samurai (Will Yun Lee) wants to protect the granddaughter, and an oncologist (Svetlana Khodchenkova) ends up being far more poisonous than curative in her endeavors.

Despite not containing a clear-cut villain throughout as most such flicks possess, and having an unfortunate late in the third act reveal that does the flick no favors (as it seems out of place while also feeling too much like what we've seen in so many other flicks -- not to mention a certain other Jackman flick featuring rock 'em, sock 'em robots), the film works.

The action is above average (and puts a terrific Japanese touch on an old action film stand-by, the fight atop a train sequence) and the chemistry between Jackman with both Fukushima and Okamoto is nicely handled. Although some recurring dream-like sequences (featuring Famke Janssen playing the now dead mutant Jean Gray wanting Logan to come over to the other side) may feel like lesser such moments from the Liam Neeson flick "The Grey," overall I liked the pic for what it's trying to be and how it turns out.

It's not the best superhero movie ever made ("The Dark Knight" and the '78 version of "Superman" still sit atop that heap), but it's certainly entertaining and enjoyable enough for both superhero fans and those simply looking for some depth and characterization mixed with their comic book action. "The Wolverine" rates as a 6.5 out of 10.

Reviewed July 23, 2013 / Posted July 26, 2013

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