This is the best big-budget superhero/monster/Sci Fi action movie of the summer. In The Wolverine, Logan (Hugh Jackman) rediscovers his calling as a soldier for the forces of good. Director James Mangold (Walk the Line) and his collaborators show us that all it takes to make a decent superhero movie is a well-written script and thoughtful direction to add weight to the ridiculous fantasy violence and comically impossible situations.
The key triumph is Mangold’s, as his direction is thoughtful and beautifully attuned to detail. There are no throw-away moments here. Each action has a payoff, from the opening scene to the last. After the movie’s over, you’ll find yourself thinking about how well the action fit together, and how carefully each character has been conceived.
This is a neat trick, because The Wolverine is still a movie about an immortal mutant with endless powers of self-regeneration and a set of metal claws that jut out of his knuckles when he’s riled. The movie begins at Nagasaki on the day of the atomic bomb attack, a horrifically—and thus, effectively—rendered sequence that’s only mildly annoying for being reduced to a backdrop for a showy demonstration of Logan’s regenerative powers. Logan also shields a Japanese soldier from the blast, setting up the modern-day action in which he’s drawn back into the now-elderly man’s orbit as the soldier-turned-industrial magnate is dying.
The magnate croaks, setting off a series of violent clashes over control of a vast industrial empire. Logan finds himself aligned with the man’s granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto) against the rest of the family, with her friend Yukio (Rila Fukushima), a mutant with psychic powers, as his only other ally.
How does the film deliver the action-movie goods? With a lot of hand-to-claw combat, of course. There are ruthless, gun-toting Yakuza. There are archers. There are a lot of ninjas. There’s a cleverly conceived and shot fight sequence set atop a bullet train moving 300 miles per hour; and a climactic mountaintop battle with an evil, poison-emitting mutant (Svetlana Khodchenkova) and a giant silver robot samurai with powers strong enough to defeat Logan. If you’re looking for satisfying popcorn action, The Wolverine delivers the goods.
It also delivers more. Jackman seems to have settled into the role; there isn’t a trace of the blatant Clint Eastwood mannerisms of his performances in the early X-Men films. And his relationships with the other characters are nuanced and nicely sketched in. As summer superheroes go, The Wolverine is the real “man of steel.”