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The Wolverine
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3 Stars - Good
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Mpaa Rating
PG-13 (For sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, some sexuality and language)
Genre
Directed By
James Mangold
Run Time
2 hours 6 minutes
Cast
Hugh Jackman, Tao Okamoto, Rila Fukushima, Hiroyuki Sanada
Theatre Release
July 26, 2013 by Twentieth Century Fox

In many ways, the Wolverine presented by 20th Century Fox's recent X-Men movies has been the Rambo of the modern age. He's a perfect mix of old-school soldier tropes (tall, strong, veins bulging and visible from space, monosyllabic grunts, protects young defenseless women, etc.) and early 2000 superhero style (cool leather jackets, catch-phrases, and metal claws that extend out from between his knuckles). Never mind that Fox's Wolverine is almost a foot taller than his comic book counterpart, and ten thousand percent handsomer and more charming---though that last caveat is due entirely to the acting of fan-favorite Hugh Jackman, whose upcoming seventh turn as Wolverine in X-Men: Days of Future Past will set a new record for the number of times one actor has played a superhero in the movies.

Wolverine (neé James Howlett, but going by Logan) marched through his previous films in a blur of pecs-flexing and violence; in the first X-Men movie, he became team leader almost immediately (and fell in love with the original leader's wife, to boot). In X2, he saved the entire X-Men team from destruction, but even that pales in comparison to his world-saving feats in the critically-panned X-Men: The Last Stand (the third film in that franchise). In X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Logan epitomizes himself by saying: "If I come with you, I'm coming for blood. No law, no code of conduct. You point me in the right direction, you get the hell out of my way."

However, the more any single film has been about Wolverine-as-Rambo-surrogate, the more it has been critically panned—and, perhaps ironically, the more it has been commercially successful. Excluding the out-and-out terrible Origins, as a general rule, the more of Wolverine an X-Men movie has, the more money it will make, and the less likely it is that critically conscious viewers will like it.

Image: Ben Rothstein / Twentieth Century Fox

In this newest installment, The Wolverine, after an old friend brings Logan to Japan for a favor, Logan quickly becomes embroiled in the family's drama—specifically tasked with protecting his friend's grand-daughter Mariko (the heretofore unknown Tao Okamoto). The movie does nothing interesting with the change of scenery besides use it as an excuse to feature modern-day ninjas, which I guess is interesting for the audience's resident ten-year-olds. But there's no depth provided by the film's new setting, nothing beyond Mariko's insistence that Logan can't understand a tradition "because he's not Japanese," which seems pretty reductive.

But The Wolverine earns its reboot-like title by reversing direction for the character as we know him—and while normally, dramatic character shifts five films into a franchise aren't a great thing, director James Mangold's decision to open the film with Logan pledging a vow of non-violence is a brave decision in the face of a fan base that has rewarded higher body counts with higher grosses. Obviously, the vow doesn't stick—goals or no, this is a Hollywood movie about a man who has knives that jump out of his hands—but it shows a desire on the creator's part for the movie to be less Rambo, more Die Hard, which I hope will make sense in a minute.

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