‘Wolverine’ remains a big question mark

Hugh Jackman in "Wolverine."
August 1, 2013

I cannot tell if it is the film itself or the fact that superhero film fatigue is setting in, but even at its most impressive moments, “The Wolverine” remains a big question mark as to why it exists.

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The character’s first solo vehicle, “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” was supposed to launch a host of mutant start-up flicks for the “X-Men” franchise. But the film was such a colossal letdown that the “Origins” track has been stalled in favor of the younger (less expensive) cast from the “X-Men: First Class” film.

If none of this makes any sense to you, that’s perfectly understandable, as Marvel has turned its focus toward its more-successful “Avengers” pictures, and - like the heroes of the comics in which they are based - treated them like mutants.

This second Wolverine spin-off is partially based on a series of graphic novels that many enthusiasts feel is the definitive story of the character, but aside from setting the film in Tokyo and the names of some of the characters, there is little of the dramatic arc or flourish that marked the four-part series.

In the film, Wolverine (again played by Hugh Jackman) is invited out of hiding to visit a man he saved during World War II who is now a multimillionaire on his deathbed. He’s been trying to dodge death’s fateful touch and feels that the key may be in the immortal blood of his old mutant pal. The old fella also has a hot granddaughter, Mariko (played by Tao Okamoto) who serves as a bandage for Wolverine’s heart, still bleeding for a lost love. But first Wolvie must go through Mariko’s pop, who's pretty ticked about the relationship, as it puts a wrinkle in his plan to take over his dying father’s company.

One villain apparently is not enough for summer superhero films anymore, so “The Wolverine” also adds the wholly unnecessary Viper (played by Svetlana Khodchenkova), who looks like a castaway from the bad old days of Joel Schumacher’s handling of the “Batman” franchise. She even borrows Uma Thurman’s Poison Ivy costume, I think.

Director James Marigold is capable of making films with humanity (starting with such smaller fare as “Girl, Interrupted,” “Cop Land” and “Walk the Line”), but there are far too many peripheral characters here to allow any of them to make even the most marginal impact. So it skips from one action scene to the next: some silly fun (like the battle atop a bullet train), but most just a morose slog through various armies trying to stop an ageless, steel-clawed hero who can be stopped by neither bullet nor blade.

There is little doubt that “The Wolverine” towers over the reviled origin tale from 2009 (hell, even Jackman’s turn in the campy “Van Helsing” was better than that film), but there just seems so little reason for the flick to exist in the first place. The story that served as the basis for this film gave Wolverine an emotional core that made him such a fan favorite, but it is nowhere to be found here (unless you count the numerous gauzy flashbacks in which Wolverine’s dead lover nags at him for leaving her alone). And it is yet another film that tries to distance itself from being a “comic”-based movie by adding gratuitous amounts of stabbings, slashings and impalings - just as long as we aren’t privy to the blood loss.

But “The Wolverine” also doesn’t have blood where it truly needs it - its heart.

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