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  • Writer's pictureBen Kemper

The Wolverine

Or: Gulo Exotica (now with extra Ninjas!!!)

“You don’t want to to watch this part” grunts Logan (Hugh Jackman), the ever surly and ever popular Wolverine during one of the more wince worthy moments of this film. And I really didn’t, but I kept my eyes on it anyway.

The fifth installment of the checkered X-men series takes us to the colorful wonderland of Japan for more thrills, chills, and ruptured arteries. Alone in the world, haunted by his feral nature, his relentless immortality, and the ghost of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) Logan is called to pay his respects to Yashida (Haruhiko Yamanouchi), a former officer at the POW camp at Nagasaki who he saved from the atomic blast. In the intervening time, Yashida has become head of the largest tech and has since become a technology zaibatsu, and nearing the end of his life, has passed his vast business empire to his granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto) who immediately becomes the biggest insurance risk in Japan. Logan joins forces with Yukio (Rila Fukushima) Mariko’s adopted sister to protect her from the Japanese mafia on one hand and a sinister plot lead by the Yakima’s oncologist Dr. Green (Svetlana Khodchenkova) on the other.

Quite apart from earlier X-men films, which relied heavily on the Marvel mythology, screenwriters Mark Bombeck and Scot Frank have compiled their story out of a score of Japanese movies both homegrown and imposed from abroad. Everything from the romantic arc of The Last Samurai to the laughably painful end of Throne of Blood. In any given scene you have spliced and hasty dialogs, that should be in completely different films, steeped on such cheep tricks as making us exclaim “Oh my, he called her b*&tch! He must be really angry.” It’s really quite pathetic.

More credit should be given to Cinematographer Ross Emery for his attention to mindless violence that make the lizard brain waddle up and cheer. The battle on the Bullet Train is particularly well executed as is the deployment of Ninjas(!!!) midway through the film. If the fight scenes are a little jumpy they make up for it by often being as as brisk as the old Kurosawa epics. It’s a sad thing when our enjoyment of a film bypasses story (a predictable and bloody one at that) and hangs upon to visual stimulants, but its a comfort when those stimulants are top quality.

Putting the claws on for the fifth time, Jackman suffers terribly from the chockablock script. His usual one liner snarls have been replaced by the hard edged lines that drop out his mouth like stones, and that ought to belong to Rick Blaine, or maybe Han Solo. He suffers, and O how he is made to suffer, with a willing wide eyed, bared teeth, howling/snarling/jiggling motions as he’s shot, struck, poisoned, eviscerated and otherwise abused. Rage and suffering have become so ingrained in Jackson’s performance that he has a hard time squeezing out tenderness when it is provided.

This may be caused by the fact that most of the tenderness is directed towards Jean Grey, shown lying beside him as he tries to sleep, in a come-hither low-cut slip and gory stomach wound ensemble. One imagines Jackson’s frustration, no matter how genial bloke he may be, in trying to get into lover-left-behind gear. Clearly no one has told Ms. Grey that You Only Die Twice. We can but hope she’ll be exercised before the next, inevitable, film.

Still, Janssen’s “corpseing” is a sight more refined than Khodchenkova’s laziness. Dr. Green has by far the best tools to work with in the film (the animators love her and so do the costumers), and she looks every inch the comic book villainess. But the Viper is content only to coil up and bask in the efforts of others. We barely get a performance out of her: a little smirking, a little spitting, a little gouging, but there’s no life in it. Granted, as an actress who until now has only done Russian films her american accent is impeccable, but please! She doesn’t even give us the occasional sibilant S! Villainy is a fine art, you have to work at it!

More up to snuff are Mariko and Yukio, Logan’s allies and friends. No collapsing damsels in Kimonos these. Both prove their mettle in combat and inner turmoil time and time again. It’s sad though that their performances are obscured by all the archetypes of the Japanese heroine who have come before them. Okamoto is restrained by her role as the proud samurai's daughter fighting to keep her honor shining while divided between the attractions of her old sweet heart, Ninja (!!!) Captain Harada (a wild eyed WIll Yun Lee) or the handsome tortured man-beast she used to dream about as a child. No prizes for who she takes up with. Fukushima is more fortunate. She is given much more self-determination in her heroics and takes the title of niftiest combatant, but is still stuffed into the triple role of the Fanny Price/scholarship assassin and feeling it/manic pixie dream girl. These she juggles admirably, with pink hair, occasional eye glistening and a well subdued but still gnawing inferiority complex. We look forward to seeing more of her in the future, in a film that will let her blaze her own trail.

In spite of all my gripping I must admit I was entertained by the Wolverine, when I wasn’t turning my head in revulsion at the newest spurt of blood, or taking the writers to task for laziness or reaching out to tweak Khodchenkova’s nose in irritation. “Entertained” may be the runty sibling to enjoyed, but it gets the job done. No where was I tempted to get up and walk out, and if the film was predictable at least it left me wondering exactly how we’re going to get to the inevitable. The Wolverine, like its predecessors, is a shallow film and troubled film, and a cheap one to boot, but in it the good wade through happily and the bad get their comeuppance and there are some nice visuals of people getting cut to pieces with swords in between. And there are Ninjas. Did I mention the Ninjas?

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