Thursday, April 24, 2014
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
99 CENTS

‘The Wolverine’: Slick superhero stuff

“The Wolverine”

Four stars

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Rila Fukushima, Tao Okamoto, Hiroyuki Sanada, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Will Yun Lee, Haruhiko Yamanouchi, Famke Janssen

Rating: PG-13, for intense sci-fi action, mild sensuality and fleeting profanity

Hugh Jackman owns the title role in this engaging franchise entry

By Derrick Bang
Enterprise film critic

I’ve never understood why critics sharpened their claws so gleefully while savaging 2009’s “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.” Few bona-fide actors have inhabited a superhero role with the panache Hugh Jackman brings to this Canadian-born berserker, and that earlier solo adventure was just fine, in my book.

Sure, it lacked the wit and overall snap of “The Avengers,” but that’s true of most big-screen superhero epics. The more important observation is that “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” was far, far better than, say, “Daredevil” or either “Fantastic Four” bomb.

And, for the purposes of our discussion, Jackman’s newly released sequel, “The Wolverine,” is better still.

Writers Christopher McQuarrie, Mark Bomback and Scott Frank focus on the key element of Wolverine’s character: that he’s a modern ronin, a samurai without a lord or master to serve. Building further on that core, McQuarrie & Co. have constructed a narrative from several of the X-Men/Wolverine comic book story arcs that found our clawed protagonist in Japan, a country that understands and practices the same warrior’s code of honor by which he lives.

Perhaps the surprise success of the big-screen adaptation of “Kick-Ass” had something to do with this, thanks to that saga’s flamboyant, sword-wielding character of Hit Girl; perhaps it’s mere coincidence. Whatever the reason, we finally get live-action embodiments of Mariko Yashida and Yukio — characters co-created in the Marvel Comics universe by writer Chris Claremont and artists John Byrne and Frank Miller — and brought to excellent life by Tao Okamoto and Rila Fukushima, respectively (although costume designer Isis Mussenden shouldn’t have based the latter’s look quite so heavily from the aforementioned Hit Girl).

Angst-ridden journeys of the soul always make good sagas, and this one’s no exception. The core plot doesn’t always hold together — the barrage of double- and triple-crosses makes it rather difficult to separate some of the good guys from the bad guys — but the destination isn’t nearly as important as the trip itself.

This new solo adventure finds Logan brooding in an unspecified Canadian wilderness, surfacing to deal some payback to thrill-seeking hunters. That’s long enough to be noticed by Yukio, a feisty, sword-wielding samurai bodyguard. She has been sent to find Logan, and request that he accompany her back to Japan, where an old friend — Lord Yashida (Haruhiko Yamanouchi), a wealthy industrialist — wishes to say goodbye before he dies.

We’re granted Yashida’s back-story via a series of brief flashbacks that occasionally interrupt the core story, and we gradually learn that Logan saved the young Japanese soldier from certain death when American forces dropped its second atomic bomb on Nagasaki during World War II. A grateful Yashida tried to present his ceremonial sword to Logan at that point, but the latter gently refused, promising to collect it at some unspecified time in the future.

That time appears to have arrived, and honor demands that Logan grant his long-ago comrade’s dying wish.

Logan and Yukio arrive at Yashida’s heavily guarded estate at a tempestuous time. The elderly industrialist hovers at death’s door, despite the best efforts of his doctor (Svetlana Khodchenkova), a sinister-looking, green-eyed blonde. Logan is equally curious about Yashida’s granddaughter, Mariko, who seems to have serious issues with her curt and condescending father, Shingen (acclaimed stage and film star Hiroyuki Sanada).

Business intrigue fills the air, with Yashida’s imminent death necessitating the transfer of his corporate empire to … somebody. This instability has prompted threats from local Yakuza thugs, under the control of … somebody. Then there’s the mysterious Kenuichio Harada (Will Yun Lee), a master archer and member of the Black Hand, a cadre of ninja warriors tasked with protecting House Yashida. Harada, in turn, answers to … somebody.

Ordinarily, these disparate elements would ring Wolverine’s heightened alarm bells, but he’s further distracted by an offer from the dying Lord Yashida, who claims — after years of medical research — to have discovered a way to remove Logan’s invulnerability, thus allowing him to live a normal life, and then die gracefully. Logan, beset by constant nightmares involving Jean Grey (Famke Janssen, returning to her role), finds the offer tempting. Perhaps.

But then all hell breaks loose, with Yakuza goons, Black Hand warriors, Yashida’s bodyguards and other persons unspecified shooting, slicing and dicing each other. Mariko appears to be the primary target, and so Logan takes her under his wing as they flee across Japan. Along the way, he discovers — to his horror — that his healing factor doesn’t seem to work any more. He’s being hurt … and with Mariko to protect from massive enemy forces, this sudden weakness couldn’t have come at a worse time.

On top of which — and this really isn’t a spoiler, since her cover is blown pretty quickly — Yashida’s doctor turns out to be Viper, an über-deadly supervillain with a ghastly snake’s tongue and a rather novel method of dispersing venom.

Although these numerous elements allow director James Mangold to stage plenty of slickly choreographed action scenes — none better than a crazed, hell-for-leather skirmish atop the cars of a speeding bullet train — he also ratchets back to allow Logan plenty of time for soul-searching, along with time for the developing bond with Mariko.

Indeed, this film resonates — lingers as more than a flashy series of battle scenes — because of Logan’s deftly crafted relationships with Mariko and Yukio. Okamoto lends gentleness, dignity and unexpected flashes of defiant spirit to her complex portrayal of Mariko, who transcends the superficial characters generally found in such films.

I’m reminded of the way both Akiko Wakabayashi and Mie Hama similarly humanized the otherwise cartoonish elements of 1967’s “You Only Live Twice,” along the way encouraging more heartfelt emotion from Sean Connery’s James Bond, than that film probably deserved. The same is true here; Okamoto is a well-conceived and sensitively played heroine-in-peril, who in true Shakespearean fashion must contend with a family not known for its finer instincts.

Logan’s growing bond with Yukio, on the other hand, is purely professional: the mutual admiration of professional assassins. Fukushima is equal parts sparkle and sass as this jokey, black-garbed killer with day-glo purple cellophane tresses, and the actress knows how to employ her mocking smile before dispatching another goon.

Mangold and editor Michael McCusker pace their film well, so that it doesn’t flag at 126 minutes, and cinematographer Ross Emery grants both painterly beauty and big-city bustle to these disparate settings within the Land of the Rising Sun. On the other hand, the after-the-fact (i.e. fake) 3D effects add nothing to the film, so save your money.

All told, this is a solid superhero entry: a stylish romp with a welcome undertone of character pathos. And it clearly sets up events for next year’s “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” so be sure to linger in your seats until all the credits are done.

— Read more of Derrick Bang’s film criticism at http://derrickbang.blogspot.com. Comment on this review at www.davisenterprise.com

LEAVE A COMMENT

Discussion | No comments

The Davis Enterprise does not necessarily condone the comments here, nor does it review every post. Read our full policy

.

News

 
4-H members get ready for Spring Show

By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A1 | Gallery

 
Will city move forward on public power review?

By Dave Ryan | From Page: A1

 
Obama to Russia: More sanctions are ‘teed up’

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

 
2 pursuits, 2 arrests keep Woodland officers busy

By Lauren Keene | From Page: A2

 
 
Youth sports in focus on radio program

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

 
Rummage sale will benefit preschool

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

Concert benefits South Korea exchange

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

 
Conference puts focus on Arab studies

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

Davis honors ‘green’ citizens

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

 
Water rate assistance bill advances

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

Program explores STEM careers for girls

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5, 1 Comment

 
Embroiderers plan a hands-on project

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

Central Park Gardens to host Volunteer Orientation Day

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5 | Gallery

 
Volkssporting Club plans North Davis walks

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

Hotel/conference center info meeting set

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

 
MOMS Club plans open house

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A7

 
Cycle de Mayo benefits Center for Families

By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A8

Author to read ‘The Cat Who Chose to Dream’

By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A12

 
.

Forum

Things are turning sour

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: B5

 
The high cost of employment

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6, 1 Comment

High-five to Union Bank

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

 
Broken sprinklers waste water

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

Three more administrators?

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

 
Neustadt has experience for the job

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

Here’s a plan to save big on employee costs

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A6, 3 Comments

 
Davis is fair, thoughtful

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

Ortiz is the right choice for Yolo

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

 
Tom Meyer cartoon

By Debbie Davis | From Page: A6

.

Sports

DHS tracksters sweep another DVC meet

By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
Another DVC blowout for DHS girls soccer

By Evan Ream | From Page: B1 | Gallery

Young reinvents his game to help Aggies improve on the diamond

By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
DHS boys shuffle the deck to beat Cards

By Thomas Oide | From Page: B1 | Gallery

DHS/Franklin II is a close loss for Devil softballers

By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

 
Baseball roundup: Giants slam Rockies in the 11th

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
UCD roundup: Aggies lose a softball game at Pacific

By Enterprise staff | From Page: B3

 
Jahn jumps to Sacramento Republic FC

By Evan Ream | From Page: B8

.

Features

.

Arts

Congressional art competition open to high school students

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A11

 
Emerson, Da Vinci to present ‘Once Upon a Mattress’

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A11

 
Winters Plein Air Festival begins Friday

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A11

 
Bach Soloists wrap up season on April 28

By Jeff Hudson | From Page: A11

 
.

Business

.

Obituaries

.

Comics

Comics: Thursday, April 24, 2014

By Creator | From Page: B6