The Wolverine (2013)

The Wolverine (2013), directed by James Mangold

The Wolverine is the most straightforward superhero movie I’ve seen this summer, possesing none of the gravitas of Man of Steel and Iron Man 3. That’s probably a good thing. It's a star vehicle for the charismatic Hugh Jackman, who’s finally aging into the heavily muscled yet battle-scarred comic book character fans know and love ever since he started playing Logan back in 2000. Yes, ladies and gentlemen. If you can remember that far back, you too are old.

The Mutant vs. Human struggle gets left far behind as the eponymous hero travels to Japan and becomes entangled in the political intrigue of the extremely wealthy and powerful Yashida family. As a fish out of water tale, the movie is a throwback to the days when Japan was overwhelmingly defined by the West as the land of samurai, ninja and yakuza. Not surprising since the story is loosely based on a comic book from 1982 (incidentally, neither Wolverine creator Len Wein or original comic story creators Chris Claremont and Frank Miller get any recognition in the film credits, though Len was apparently paid by the studio. That's nice). There’s the usual cliched banter about honor, duty, loyalty and sacrifice that often describes those inscrutable Japanese, with an arranged marriage thrown in for good measure. Damsel in distress Mariko Yashida (a vision of delicate beauty played by Tao Okamoto) naturally gets rescued by handsome outsider Logan who labels her “princess”, probably for the benefit of the audience members who haven’t figured out what’s going on. The movie doesn’t employ the well-worn trope of the wayward White Guy who learns martial arts and bests the treacherous Orientals at their own game, but Logan is almost immediately identified by the locals as a “ronin” anyway. That’s a samurai without a master, in case you didn’t know. However, there's this one small lesson on how to handle a katana that becomes crucial later on.

What else? There’s the inevitable humor about cultural misunderstandings. Logan cluelessly walks into a love hotel with Mariko at one point, innocently hoping to rent a room for the night. Ha ha! When Mariko meets Logan for the first time, he looks pretty much the stereotype of the uncultured, dirty, hairy, and presumably very smelly gaijin. This leads to a bath scene involving some stern-looking house servants brandishing wash sticks. On the other side, virtually every Japanese male is a scheming, chauvinist SOB who treats Mariko and best pal Yukio (played by a red-haired Rila Fukushima fashionably dressed like a hip young lady going about the town) like personal property, though Yukio does get her share of badass moments. The plot makes no sense as it depends on the separate machinations of all those schemers to perfectly line up. I’m sure nitpicky fans have already expressed their thoughts all over the Internet. Then there’s the junk science about transferring Logan’s mutant healing powers to mere mortals. Apparently, all it takes is a direct infusion from Logan’s bone marrow, though why it requires removing his claws with high-tech samurai armor made of adamantium completely escapes me.

If the viewer can get past those little contrivances and massive plot holes, the reward is a stylish noire story with some very thrilling set pieces. Tokyo is shot as a gorgeous dreamland, whether it be the glittering modern skyline or more traditional structures, and where everyone is dressed to the nines. All except for grizzled mountain-man Logan of course. Like so many major Hollywood studio efforts, it falls apart in the third act. But hey, Hugh Jackman's back. And for completists, it connects X-Men: The Last Stand to the next movie in the series.