"The Wolverine" (2013)- Movie Review

                                                                                   Directed by James Mangold                          Written by Mark Bomback and Scott Frank 
                Starring Hugh Jackman, Tao Okamoto and Famke Janssen

‘A Genuine Surprise’

Perhaps, the most pondering problem with superhero movies these days is that the antagonist is not much of a threat. Heroes tend to be strong, both in muscle and personality, while the bad guys are often crafted by paying more attention to looks rather than characterization. In terms of appearance, the average villain is certainly made to look terrifying but ultimately let down due to lousy motivations or a dull personality. Filmmakers appear to put much emphasis on the hero himself, whereas the villain is just placed in the background. Every now and then, with movies such as “The Dark Knight” trilogy as well as the recent “Star Trek” follow-up, baddies are given the shining spotlight. Yet only once-in-a-while do directors focus on them. When they do, the villain always has to be an external conflict.

Here to break the trend of that stereotypical characterization as well as the dry spell of superhero fare is “The Wolverine”, a highly entertaining movie that poses a greater threat for it’s hero than expected. Although there are plenty of human baddies in this comic book-caper, there’s something more dangerous that’s on the verge of destroying it’s main character. An intriguing asset that makes this blockbuster edge-of-the-seat engaging is the vulnerability it’s hero has to deal with. Stripped off his powers, and returning to his alter-ego ‘the wolverine’ after a seemingly long time, Logan (Hugh Jackman) is in more danger than he has ever experienced before. Gone is the tough-as-steel protection he received of being an invincible mutant; and as a result missing is his most pivotal power: healing. Without it, he’s practically naked to injury and unlike the majority of superheroes these days, in a time-ticking situation of being killed at any moment in his life.

Could you put any ‘hero’ in a more dangerous position than this? Probably not. Over the years, Hollywood has proved that, more than anything, the villain just has to be an opposing human. So has continued the workings of this stereotypical characterization with little room for surprise; at times sweeping us of our feet, while in other cases, doing the exact opposite. Either ways, with filmmakers relentlessly coming back to this human-villain formula, there has been a lack of originality. A thirst to try a new method of craft, perhaps a rare one, has generally been avoided. James Mangold’s “The Wolverine”, however, makes itself open to those directions. Unlike the cavalcade of outings it’s lead character has had before, this ambitious film brings the real deal to the plate: the human-like side to wolverine.

After the sour taste left by 2009’s “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”, it seemed highly unlikely that studios would go anywhere interesting with this character. But they have, with wonderful panache and delight. Not only is “The Wolverine” an impressive improvement on the character’s last outing, it also brings refreshing life to his persona. Instead of displaying him an invincible machine that cannot die, the filmmakers have taken out the time to realize the human beneath the steroid-like muscles and sharp claws. Underneath the entertainment-value, which includes high-testosterone action sequences plus adrenaline-pumping thrills, there’s actual drama that’s worth diving into.

With action-heavy entertainers as well as character-oriented dramas under his belt, James Mangold turns out to be the vital director to pull it off. Problematic is the challenge to mix the two genres in a way that one doesn’t overrule the other. A seemingly tough job, it has managed to bring action movies either burning to the ground or flying above expectations. Surprisingly enough, Mangold nearly finds a balance to work with. Juggling drama, story and action all at once, he mostly hits the right notes with “The Wolverine”. At times, the proceedings do fall out of control as full-out action sequences overbear the story. Thankfully, though, that’s not the only thing that this director is interested in.

He’s fascinated, more so, by what’s under the rage of Marvel’s popular superhero. What is it really that makes him so angry and ferocious all the time? Like director Christopher Nolan re-discovering Batman, Mangold cares about the hero’s internal conflicts and troubled past. It’s subtle understanding that’s hard to catch, perhaps not as clear as Nolan’s style, yet still glowing. When we’re not getting thrilled by spectacular action sequences, this director purposefully let’s the human side of wolverine take over. As the drama ensues, we are pummeled into what keeps haunting the character: his dreams of past love and a brave rescue that formed a friendship. Although Mangold doesn’t necessarily dive deep or provide insight with any of these elements, he manages to make the character more sympathetic than your average superhero- it’s hard to not care for a lonely man that’s devastated by his past.

And who could portray these feelings better than Australian actor Hugh Jackman? Reprising the role of the mutant an astounding 6th time, this seasoned performer is at the top of his game: hair-raising intense in presence yet likable in persona. He’s also, as proved with last year’s “Les Miserables”, masterful at evoking countless emotions such as anger, ferocity and palpable fear.

Occupying the supporting ensemble is the hypnotically engaging Famke Janssen, as well as foreigner Hal Yamanouchi in the role of a man with a dark, troubled past.

That’s not to say that “The Wolverine” is completely solemn throughout; it’s fun, campy and at times nearly as goofy as last year’s “The Avengers”. Whether you’ve got the lead character jumping on top of a moving train in a stylistically breathtaking sequence, or trying to inject stuff out of his body, there’s always room for care-free entertainment. Director James Mangold keeps the offerings for action-crazed fanboys enough in amount, along with a lighthearted feeling in terms of dialogue. Humor erupts out of the script when you least expect it, with Hugh Jackman offering dry wit as the hero himself.

Yet as the goofy antics are proceeding, Mangold gets carried away with them resulting in a ridiculous twist near the end of the film. It’s a surprising, utterly ambitious reveal that displays the filmmaker as a risk-taker. Perhaps too creative, however, as the twist is only cartoonish and doesn’t making any sense at all. It also ends up ruining the conclusion, only coming across as idiotic in a movie that otherwise isn’t.

In the long run, though, wolverine’s vulnerability keeps this action-caterer as exciting as a non-stop roller-coaster ride until that inevitable end. The intensity and sheer liveliness of it is so strong that even under-developed villains with clunky motivations are made up for.

As an entire piece, “The Wolverine” isn’t deep or complex enough to be remembered for long. But as a 2-hour adrenaline-rush to the senses, it guarantees a highly enjoyable time at the movies…

3/5 stars

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