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With: Hugh Jackman, Rila Fukushima, Tao Okamoto, Hiroyuki Sanada, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Brian Tee, Haruhiko Yamanouchi, Will Yun Lee, Ken Yamamura, Famke Janssen
Written by: Mark Bomback, Scott Frank, Christopher McQuarrie
Directed by: James Mangold
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, some sexuality and language
Running Time: 126
Date: 07/26/2013

The Wolverine (2013)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Snikt Off

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

One of the hardest things about reviewing movies is being objective, especially if one is familiar with and fond of original source material. For example, I love the four-issue "Wolverine" comic book mini-series written by Chris Claremont, drawn by Frank Miller and published in 1982. This is one of my all-time favorite comics. James Mangold's new movie The Wolverine is more or less based on this series, but almost completely changed. Claremont doesn't even get a "story by" credit.

Now my job is to decide whether The Wolverine is a good movie despite those changes, or even perhaps because of them. Considering the changes on their own, they start to sound pretty stupid, designed more for summer blockbuster purposes than to serve the story.

First up is the inclusion of a supervillain, Viper (played by a slinky blonde Russian with a pert nose, Svetlana Khodchenkova). What she's actually doing in the story, who she's working for and what her agenda is, are all up for interpretation. Next we have a giant robot that fights Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) during the big climax, plus a "surprise" reveal when we find out who is inside it.

Then there's a long sequence wherein Wolverine (also known as Logan) loses his super-healing ability and suffers mortal wounds, just like the rest of us. This idea was also attempted in Superman II, perhaps as a way to get the audience to "identify" with the superhero a bit more, but it really doesn't work. Plus the filmmakers seem to have forgotten that it's this healing ability that allows Wolverine to unsheathe his claws, which tear through his skin each time.

Aside from these blunders, the rest of the characters just don't seem the same. In the original comic, Wolverine has already met and fallen in love with Mariko (Tao Okamoto) and goes to Japan to rescue her from an arranged marriage, but must navigate a complex web of honor and duty in his dealings with Mariko's father Shinghen.

Now there's a whole plot about Wolverine going to Japan to meet up with Mariko's grandfather, whom he saved during the Nagasaki bombing. He doesn't even meet Mariko until he gets there. The grandfather's big plan is to steal Wolverine's healing power. When assassins try to kill Mariko during the old man's funeral (for no apparent reason), Wolvie rescues her and they go on the run together while falling in love.

In the comic, a feisty assassin called Yukio falls for Wolverine, but betrays him. She's here, too, but pretty much as window dressing (played by Rila Fukushima). She more or less tags along with him now and fights the secondary bad guys. Also, Wolverine occasionally suffers from nightmares where he speaks to Jean Grey (Famke Janssen).

The movie's opening follows the comic book's -- Wolverine stalking an injured bear -- but it, too is changed just a bit to fit Wolverine's "crisis-of-conscience." (He's not going to be violent anymore.) So whereas the comic book's opening was dramatic and suspenseful, here it becomes more of a coincidence.

Mangold has become a pretty good craftsman, especially when it comes to low-stakes genre films. He was at his best on 3:10 to Yuma (2007), and both Identity (2003) and Knight and Day (2010) had their good points. However, on The Wolverine, he appears checked out. The action sequences feel obligatory (and shaky) and the needless 3D effects don't help much. It definitely starts to slog after about an hour.

Jackman is probably the movie's high point. He was always a great casting choice for Wolverine, and he makes an appealingly tormented, tough character. It's just that he has no one remotely interesting to play off of, and a fairly uninteresting plot to wade through.

Even so, fans will be relieved that The Wolverine is better than both X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) and Brett Ratner's X-Men: The Last Stand (2006), even if it's not as good as the other three films in this series (X-Men, X2: X-Men United, and X-Men: First Class). Not exactly glowing praise, but at least I can always go back and re-read the comic book.

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