This time mutant Wolverine is in Japan and what's more -- he's totally ripped, and he's ready to kick all sorts of ass (yakuza, ninja, kaiju, whatever). Bring it on!
This is the sixth time Australian actor Hugh Jackman (most recently seen belting it out in "Les Miserables") has played Logan (aka Wolverine), after the three canonical "X-Men" movies, "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" and a cameo in the unfairly overlooked "X-Men: First Class" (and he'll be back in next summer's confusing-sounding "X-Men: Days of Future Past"). In short: you can't keep a good mutant down.
The question remains, of course, whether or not Jackman is once again in fine form or if it's time for him to hang up his adamantium claws (although, honestly, what else is he going to do? "Reel Steel 2?") Read on to find the answer to this tantalizing question and so, so much more.
1. It's Very Different From 'X-Men Origins: Wolverine'
Those who saw (and loathed) 2009's ill-fated origin story "X-Men Origins: Wolverine," rest assured this is very, very different. For one, it's not an origin story. For all intents and purposes, it takes place after the events of the similarly abysmal "X-Men: The Last Stand" (2006), with Wolverine feeling very, very guilty about having to stab his longtime love Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) to death (she visits him in ghostly form in this movie, always wearing sexy nightwear). Instead of whatever-the-hell was going on in "X-Men Origins: Wolverine," we're treated to a more self-contained story, one that starts at the end of World War II and concludes in modern-day Japan, where an ailing billionaire (the man who Wolverine saved from the atomic fallout) has a proposal to make Wolverine mortal. This is a much darker, edgier Wolverine than we're used to seeing and one that almost lives up to the character's legendary status.
2. It's Way Dark
This summer will probably be remembered if, for nothing else, than the fact that there were a bunch of movies that came out that probably should have been rated R but skated by with a PG-13 (things like "The Lone Ranger" and "White House Down"). "The Wolverine" is no different -- it is incredibly violent. In addition to all of the slicing and dicing our hero does, there are a number of visible gunshots and much more blood than we're used to seeing in the typical superhero flick. It suits the material, but parents should be forewarned: when Wolverine goes all-out berserker, he really goes nuts. Hack-and-slash it is.
3. It's Based on One of the Greatest Wolverine Stories Ever
"The Wolverine" takes its inspiration from a comic-book arc by Chris Claremont (who was instrumental in guiding the "X-Men" to glory in the '80s) and Frank Miller (creator of "Sin City" and "Batman: Year One," amongst many others), the events of which lead to Logan's engagement to be wed (awww). It is largely seen as one the greatest arcs in X-history (I would also put Brian K. Vaughan and Eduardo Risso's "Logan" miniseries amongst the very best) and one that has been lovingly created here, with some obnoxious deviations... But we'll get to those in just a minute. Meanwhile, you can rest assured that writers Christopher McQuarrie, Scott Frank, and Mark Bomback have tried to bring forth the essence of that series as well as they could, given the limitations of the studio and the fact that these movies are less movies than giant commercials for other things (including more movies). Still, if you want more background before you see "The Wolverine" or are enchanted by its world, please go pick up the collected version of the series. It's dynamite.
4. Hugh Jackman Is, as Always, Amazing
In his sixth outing as the iconic hero, you'd think that Jackman would be showing some signs of fatigue. But he's totally wonderful here. At the beginning of the movie he's a recluse, living in the woods and befriending grizzly bears (yes, seriously). He's then whisked away on this Japanese adventure, where everyone is telling him that he's a ronin -- a samurai without a master. Then the madness unfolds. And the entire time, looking at Jackman, you can see the character in his eyes -- his steely resolve, his attention to honor, his commitment to the cause. When Jackman takes his shirt off and starts raging, his veins coiled around his arms like lengths of cable, he is just as stunning -- it's close to as pure a physical performance as you can come to expect, but one with all of his actorly depth. Just amazing. Keep it up, Hugh.
5. Japan Turns Out to Be a Wonderful Setting
When the idea for Wolverine to go to Japan is brought up, it seems ludicrous -- both to the character and to the audience. Why Japan? Why now? But once Wolverine actually gets over there, it becomes clear. This is a country in which the ancient past and the distant future are intersecting violently. Director James Mangold, who previously helmed "Walk the Line" and the terrific "3:10 to Yuma" remake, makes sure that every shot of an ageless ceremonial house is vivisected by something clashing and modern -- a giant radio tower, or a steely glass high rise. It's beautiful and it totally works, because this is what Wolverine is -- he's literally timeless, a man who doesn't age and doesn't get hurt, who has been outfitted with a high-tech metallic skeleton, governed by the same ancient codes of honor, loyalty and respect. Wolverine isn't just in Japan, he is Japan.
6. Say Hello to the Summer's Second-Best Train Chase!
Earlier this summer, we were treated to the train chase that caps off "The Lone Ranger," one of the more beautifully staged, intricately conceived action set pieces in modern memory. And while nothing could easily top that (and nothing has, exactly), "The Wolverine" comes close, again with a sequence on a train -- only this time it's high atop a Japanese bullet train as it races at 300 miles an hour. To say any more would bring grave dishonor upon my family. But suffice it to say it is totally thrilling and wonderfully choreographed, like the Chunnel sequence from the end of the first "Mission: Impossible" but zooming through an urban landscape instead. Buckle up!
7. The Third Act Is Atrocious
"The Wolverine" does so many things right (so many) but it undoes almost all of them in the movie's lousy third act. This is when all of the tenants it stood for earlier -- a commitment to character and small character moments, an economy of scale, a passing attempt at pseudo-realism -- gets thrown out the door. Replaced, instead, with a giant silver robot, a lizard woman, and tiny metallic spiders. It's pretty stupid. And it could have been avoided. It absolutely kills the movie, almost to the point of death. Luckily, just like Wolverine himself, the movie manages to re-grow, and it ends up still being pretty lovable.
8. There's a Sense of Humor
Yes! Wolverine is funny! There are a couple of laugh-out-loud jokes, many of them delivered by Jackman. It makes you appreciate that these were based on comic books after all, and that other superheroes ("Man of Steel," we're looking at you) are positively dour in comparison. Sure, The Wolverine is still allowed to mope (his visions of Jean Grey are the most obvious sign of his existential crisis), but he also cracks jokes just as often. Levity, yay!
9. It's a Little Sexy
There's a moment in "The Wolverine" where he has to hide out with a young woman who is being hunted by the yakuza. He picks a sleazy motel for them to crash in, one that is actually a "love hotel" -- a hotel used explicitly for sexual liaisons. It's kind of a shocking moment because it's so funny and also because they implied that people are having sex, which is usually a no-no for superhero movies, since they're mostly aimed at 13-year-old boys who either shouldn't be exposed to that kind of stuff or still think the opposite sex has cooties. This would have been enough but later in the movie, Wolverine actually has sex! The superhero genre is one of the more sexless genres out there, so it was a welcome surprise to see one of our beloved heroes getting their freak on. Twerk it, Wolvie.
10. Stay Through the Credits
There's a little extra scene about midway through the credits that sets up "X-Men: Days of Future Past" quite nicely, even if you can't understand what the hell is going on. At the very least it will make you excited for next summer's X-romp, even if you can't pinpoint why.