September Issue 2013

By | Here and Now | Published 8 years ago

For the latest Wolverine feature, our sideburn-sporting hero travels to Japan to meet an old friend, only to end up fighting Yakuza gangsters on top of a bullet train and outrunning ninjas in a picturesque, snowy village.
During WWII, when the atomic bomb was dropped in Nagasaki, Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) saved a young man, Yashida’s life. Decades later, Wolverine still looks the same but Yashida, now the head of a powerful technology empire, has aged considerably and is on his deathbed (and what a high-tech deathbed it is). Yashida wants to repay Wolverine for saving him years ago by, essentially, offering to take the mutant’s life.

Wolverine’s self-healing abilities and metal-bonded skeleton make him virtually immortal. But outliving the people he loves — most notably fellow X-Men mutant Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) who frequently haunts him in his dreams — means his powers are more of a curse than a boon.

Yashida has developed the technology, with the help of the serpentine Dr Green, to transfer Wolverine’s powers to himself. This would put an end to Wolverine’s misery by allowing him to age and, finally, die. But the Yashida Wolverine sees before him now, greedy for both life and power, is not the same as the vulnerable and deferential Yashida he saved years ago. He balks at the offer and, soon after, the old industrialist passes away. The story could have ended here but, of course, it doesn’t. Mariko, Yashida’s granddaughter, has now inherited his empire — much to the chagrin of her power-hungry father. Caught in the middle of a family feud, and with gangsters hot in her pursuit, she finds a saviour in the form of Wolverine and the two traverse through the Japanese landscape, visiting a love motel and an idyllic harbour along the way.

Mariko, played by Japanese model Tao Okamoto, is a fairly typical romantic lead: pretty but passive. She is allegedly a martial arts expert and occasionally hacks at a gangster or two as they repeatedly try to kidnap her, but her performance is somewhat wooden. In contrast we have Yukio, a young woman who as a child was Mariko’s playmate. With her pixie features, swift sword skills and punchy dialogue, she is certainly more captivating as she helps Wolverine in his search for the mastermind behind the attacks. As the plot thickens, we also meet Mariko’s ex-boyfriend Kenuichio. A skilled archer extremely loyal to both Mariko and her grandfather, Kenuichio is later found to be taking orders from Dr Green alias Viper, a villainous mutant reminiscent of Poison Ivy from the Batman franchise.

With a primarily Japanese cast, who western audiences would most likely be unfamiliar with, Wolverine finds itself relying on Hugh Jackman’s star power and the various action scenes to entice cinema-goers. Jackman certainly delivers — it is his sixth reprisal of the role and he plays the rugged anti-hero to a T.

The plot, however, is less than perfect. The film begins with a disillusioned and hermetic Logan, who has forsaken his days of being Wolverine. But a few scenes later, he appears a little too eager to slice and dice thugs on behalf of Mariko. He eventually sleeps with her, but continues to dream at night of Dr Jean. There are too many loose ends in the plot, and many of the character transformations and motivations are left unexplained. How did Yashida become so power-hungry over the years, and what is Viper’s motivation for helping him? Is Kenuichio a lesser villain or is he, with his continuing love for Mariko, meant to be a sympathetic figure?

While these questions are not fully resolved, Wolverine is still an entertaining film. Stylised scenes featuring samurais and traditional Japanese houses are juxtaposed with images of ordinary citizens walking through busy Tokyo streets or killing time in gambling parlours. Many blockbusters make brief detours to foreign locales for a jolt of exoticism, but director James Mangold truly makes the most of Japanese culture to create a visually appealing action film.

 

Zehra Nabi is a graduate student in The Writing Seminars at the Johns Hopkins University. She previously worked at Newsline and The Express Tribune.