The Wolverine opens with Logan (Hugh Jackman) in self-imposed exile, afraid he will continue to hurt the ones he loves. I didn’t remember the back story but apparently he accidentally eviscerated his love, Jean. We get flashbacks to get us up to speed on it. Apparently, Logan doesn’t want to be The Wolverine anymore. He’d rather hang out in the wilderness with the bears. So you’d think that when he gets the chance to stop being The Wolverine, he’d take it. And that’s the set up, at least at first, for the movie. Back in World War II, The Wolverine saves a Japanese officer, Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi), from the nuclear bomb blast at Nagasaki. The Japanese officer has since become one of the most powerful, and most eccentric, businessmen in Japan. Yashida is obsessed with death and immortality. On his deathbed, Yashida offers Logan the one thing he thinks he can’t have: death.
But before The Wolverine can respond to Yashida’s offer, Yashida dies, dragging The Wolverine into a whirlwind of violence and political maneuvering to take over control of Yashida’s empire. There’s so many super-heroes, gangsters, princesses, ronin, and politicians fighting it out you almost need a cheat sheet to keep up with the action.
As The Wolverine tears up Japan from one end of the island to the other he also has to Deal With His Stuff. This is well handled. The movie never descends into smarmy speechifying. And most importantly, the story never puts The Wolverine on a pedestal, never holds him up as a paragon of virtue. And that brings me to why I like the movie. The Wolverine might be a superhero, but he’s not super-human. He’s got faults, and foibles, and falabilities just like the rest of us.
And the theme becomes less about the pros and cons of immortality and more about our falabilities making us human. Every single character in the movie makes mistakes, poor judgments, and wrong turns as the drama unfolds. And those poor choices make the inevitable conflicts, right up to the monster ninja robot fight scene, believable.
On the action adventure front. there are some truly spectacular hand-to-hand fight scenes, which I’d never seen done before. Some pretty good martial arts sword play, none of which, thankfully, is performed by The Woverine.
Props go out to Tao Okamoto as Mariko who plays Yashida’s granddaugher and Rila Fukushima as Yukio, Mariko’s adopted sister. They are the touchstones to traditional Japanese society and current Japanese pop culture that run throughout the movie. They give the movie wieght and context for Logan’s character to act.