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Slicing and dicing: Mutant antihero carves up Japan

Jul. 26, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Hugh Jackman reprises his role as the beclawed mutant antihero Logan in 'The Wolverine.'
Hugh Jackman reprises his role as the beclawed mutant antihero Logan in 'The Wolverine.' (20th Century Fox)
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The Wolverine

Rated PG-13 for considerable but almost completely bloodless violence.

Ninja. Samurai. Bushido. Ronin.

Japanese warrior culture is steeped in mystery and intrigue, which makes it a fine backdrop for the latest film starring one of Marvel Comics’ most mysterious and intriguing characters.

That would be the savage, stoic, brooding, lone-wolf mutant Logan, aka Wolverine (a ripped-to-the-max Hugh Jackman) — the guy who possesses six razor-sharp blades in his knuckles and a “healing factor” that essentially makes him immortal.

Or “The Wolverine,” as his new film refers to him. Not sure why he needs that wholly superfluous article, but whatever.

The comic-book Wolverine has had several adventures in the Land of the Rising Sun over the years. So making Japan the setting of his latest solo film feels right.

But before hitting the Far East, we must be reacquainted with the character, off screen since 2009 (an eon for comics characters nowadays, especially for Marvel).

When we first meet him, he’s Sad Wolverine, living in a hillside cave with unkempt hair, unwashed clothes and a tinny portable radio as his only companion.

He’s trying to run from his past and failing miserably, his dreams dripping with existential angst over his lost love and fellow mutant Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), whom he had to kill in his last chronological flick, 2006’s “X-Men: The Last Stand,” after she became the powerfully destructive being called Phoenix.

On a rare trip into town, he meets Yukio (Rila Fukushima), an elfin redhead who says she’s the adopted granddaughter of Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi), sent to bring Logan back to Japan.

As a young Japanese army officer in World War II, Yashida was saved from death in the Nagasaki atomic bombing by a nameless American prisoner with some rather unique physiological qualities. Now Yashida is dying and wishes to see his savior once more.

I could go on at length about the plot, but this is a summer action movie, so the plot doesn’t matter — least of all to the filmmakers. All you need to know is that it’s a family power struggle for control of a major Japanese corporation involving Yashida, his beautiful granddaughter Mariko (newcomer Tao Okamoto, flashing a silky confidence that belies her lack of film experience) and her black-hearted father (Hiroyuki Sanada).

Beyond that, all that matters is the stunts and effects, and it’s a pleasure to report they’re all cool and intense.

Highlights include Wolverine (sorry, THE Wolverine) taking on a huge armored samurai and later facing off with many ninjas armed with bows and arrows.

The topper is a claws-to-knives fight with Yakuza thugs atop a speeding bullet train that ends in grisly fashion with an excellent fakeout that shows Logan can use his wits as well as his claws.

An evil mutant named Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova) also is in the mix, with little purpose and less explanation. But since she’s a smoking-hot blonde with a long, forked tongue who can spit poison and shed her skin, who really cares?

It may not qualify as anyone’s definition of harmonious yin-yang balance, but as summer action flicks go, those razor-sharp claws should carve out a highly profitable box-office niche for “The Wolverine.”

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