Hugh Jackman plays for the sixth time the comic book character Wolverine
aka Logan, a superhero whose super power is advanced healing and an
adamantium skeleton with retractable claws that emerge from his fists.
He first appeared as the protagonist in X-Men (2000), which was
about a group of mutants brought together to fight the forces of evil.
Logan, all the while, has had his own demons and with this film he might
finally deal with the core of those demons.
Logan's ability basically makes him immortal. He doesn't age and he can't be killed. This makes him lonely and isolated. Recently, we've seen another potential immortal who became lonely and isolated in Man of Steel. The early part even depicts Clark Kent as a bearded, cold-weather-clothed, scruffy, working-man type. An image of Logan that's very similar to that early Clark Kent had me dubbing Logan not Man of Steel, but Man of Adamantium. Adamantium is of course the comic book metal that looks like steel but is a thousand-times stronger.
The opening scene establishes a problem with a new character who is introduced specifically for this film. His name is Yashida. He's a 20-something, Japanese soldier in World War II. He's stationed at an installation in Nagasaki. During WWII, Nagasaki was devastated when the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on it. Right before the bombing, Yashida decides to free an American prisoner who's there.
That prisoner turns out to be Logan. The other Japanese soldiers who are present know that the Americans might take the installation, so they are under order to commit suicide, but Yashida can't. This is the essential problem for Yashida, played by Ken Yamamura. He can't face death, even death that is inevitable and unavoidable, or rather he doesn't want to face it.
It's not that committing suicide shouldn't be something he should face, but almost 70 years later when Yashida is old and decrepit, still he can't face death, even though it's clearly his time. Logan, however, is the opposite, but it's probably because he can't die, so he has no problem facing it.
Yet, the villain in this movie is Viper, played by Svetlana Khodchenkova. Viper is a mutant who is half-human and half-snake. She's also a scientist who figures out a way to take away Logan's healing power. Another mutant who befriends Logan is Yukio. She has long hair that she's colored red. She's also a skilled martial artist and very handy with a sword. She possesses the super power of clairvoyance, particularly seeing people's deaths.
Yukio, played by Rila Fukushima, tells Logan after Viper takes away his
healing that Logan will die. Despite that, Logan still walks into the
situation that will ultimately lead to his death. Logan's problem is not
facing death. He does so even without his power. His problem is facing
life. For example, Logan keeps dreaming of Jean Grey, played by Famke
Janssen. Even when he's in bed with other women, he dreams of Jean. I
wonder if he ever watched I Dream of Jeannie, but something about him doesn't want to live fully in the moment.
It's interesting that in multiple instances, Logan wakes up disoriented from a lot of dreams. Director James Mangold has many shots of Logan's face opening his eyes from various states of slumber. He almost is reiterating the fact that this is what Logan needs to do. Logan is almost like a Canadian bear in hibernation. Ironically, it takes a bear's death to draw Logan out, which occurs in the first reel.
The rest of the movie is Logan having to accept that he wants and possibly needs his power as well as accepting who he is. It's the common lesson that characters from the X-Men have to learn. It's a lesson that Rogue didn't learn in X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) but it's a lesson that Mystique and Beast did learn in X-Men: First Class (2011). Typically, the lesson comes by way of someone trying to take their powers away. It's the same here.
Jackman plays it well, though the film is less about his emotional journey. It's more about his physicality. Jackman is probably the most shirtless here than he's been in any of the films. For no reason, Logan is stripped naked and two Japanese girls forcibly bathe him. He has several scenes where he gets out of bed without most of his clothing and he has an extended fight scene shirtless as well. It's no wonder as to why. Jackman is definitely jacked. He is so massive and muscular that even his veins are bulging.
Logan is present for the bombing of Nagasaki. He then visits the city
some 70 years later. I haven't seen too many movies address what could
be considered American guilt about that particular bombing. Obviously, a
ton of innocent people died in that explosion, and the U.S. was
justified given what WWII had wrought against Americans in Pearl Harbor
and others elsewhere, but that still doesn't change the fact that
innocent people did die. Logan's act during Nagasaki's bombing seems to
address that guilt. Unfortunately, the ending undermines that.
Basically, Logan saves Yashida from the bombing, so immediately Logan assuages that guilt from the jump. It would have been better if that guilt wasn't assuaged so early. Screenwriters Mark Bomback (Live Free or Die Hard and Unstoppable) and Scott Frank (Get Shorty and Out of Sight) should've maintained that guilt throughout the film, if not merely a little longer. If not, I don't see why Logan would ever agree to go to Japan. His motive for going is flimsy at best, given his disposition and temperament in the beginning.
Aside from an action scene atop a bullet train, most of the fight scenes in this film are inspired by martial arts movies or samurai films. Logan is called a ronin at one point. Instead of a samurai sword, Logan has his retractable claws. The action scenes here work, but none of the fights in The Wolverine are as thrilling as Logan versus Lady Deathstrike in X2: X-Men United (2003). Logan does get away with using the "s" word many times and one f-bomb.
Three Stars out of Five.
Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, some sexuality and language.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 6 mins.