The potentially endless string of Marvel films continues with “The Wolverine,” starring Hugh Jackman as the title character. Following the events of “X-men: The Last Stand”, Logan (Jackman) is living as a hermit in Alaska. He is wrestling with the fact he was forced to kill Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) and relives the act in his nightmares.
What he doesn’t know is that the adopted daughter of an old acquaintance is trying to find him. It is when Logan goes into town to avenge the death of a large grizzly bear that was driven insane by poisoned arrows used by unscrupulous hunters that he encounters Yukio (Rila Fukushima). After extracting Logan before he ends up killing any of the hunters, Yukio offers him a katana and tells him the man he saved years ago in prison camp is dying.
Initially reluctant to revisit Japan, Logan agrees to go for one day to say goodbye to the aged man. What Logan does not know is that Yashida (Haruhiko Yamanouchi) is going to offer to take the healing factor that makes Logan unaging and immortal. Since the end of World War II, Yashida has become one of the most powerful businessmen in Japan and the target of numerous Yakuza plots and assassination attempts.
Logan refuses Yashida’s offer, but when Yashida suddenly dies, he finds himself at the funeral when the Yakuza attempt to kidnap Yashida’s granddaughter Mariko Yashida (Tao Okamoto). In his attempts to save her, Logan is wounded several times and his healing factor seems to have slowed down or stopped entirely. Eventually he is near death and Mariko has to get him help.
The pair flee to an old Yashida homestead in the southern part of the island. There, Logan learns that in three days Mariko is destined to inherit the gigantic Yashida corporation, becoming the most powerful person in Japan. Soon after learning this, Mariko is kidnapped and taken home by men working for her father, Shingen (Hiroyuki Sanada).
Shingen is livid at his daughter’s close relationship with her grandfather and that she might inherit what he had worked his entire life to gain. Before Shingen can do anything, ninjas of the Black Clan, historical protectors of the Yashida family under the apparent command of Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova) take Mariko to the Yashida stronghold before Logan and Yukio arrive.
Realizing what has caused his healing factor to weaken and disregarding the visions of his death Yukio has, Logan tries to repair the damage. Yukio, taking up the role of Logan’s bodyguard, protects him from the poisoned and now completely mad Shingen. Saving Yukio with his healing restored, Logan fights Shingen and accepts Wolverine as his name again before heading to rescue Mariko.
While based on the 1982 miniseries written by Chris Claremont and penciled by Frank Miller, the film adaptation is its own story. While there are a number of scenes that hearken back to panels in the comic, the weaving together of parts of multiple stories and points in the Wolverine timeline is sure to offend true fanboys of the character. Considering Wolverine is one of the popular Marvel characters that I never really took a liking to, I think “The Wolverine” does a good job of fleshing out the character.
Certainly there are some comic-logic flaws in the story when taken as a part of the Marvel Universe, and there has and will continue to be much whining about film adaptations of most stories originally put forth in a different format. “The Wolverine” is as effective as a hero mutant film can be for a wider audience. There is plenty of claws-out action and collateral damage to keep the viewing experience fast and captivating. There is a sprinkling of down time where Logan deals with his own demons.
Overall the story is complete with enough twists and turns that some may be confused, but anyone with experience reading comic books will see coming. Even though the particulars are distinct, the tone and pace are a good reflection of Claremont’s original four-part miniseries. In spite of my lukewarm feelings toward the characters and the setting, the story was almost enough to let me forget that and I mostly enjoyed the film in spite of some overacting and two-dimensional supporting characters.
What “The Wolverine” does is provide the grease between two X-men movies that need some space and a place for one of the characters in those films to develop in a way that would seem rushed and incongruous. Understanding that, “The Wolverine” does the job.