Mild Mutant

Jackman tones it down in The Wolverine, and that works perfectly

I’m not a comic-book devotee. I only know the X-Men from the movies. So I could be wrong about this, but I wonder if The Wolverine will be a comic-book movie that appeals more to X-Men readers than to blockbuster audiences who aren’t already deeply invested in the mythology and just want a pile-on of mutant action.

Because that’s not what we have here. This is a smaller kind of movie than summer tentpoles have tended to be of late. It’s big in terms of action — I love the freshness and vitality of the set pieces — but at its heart, this is all about Logan, as a mutant and a man.

It’s almost a bit of soap opera — science fiction soap opera, but still — that Logan is drawn into here, a multigenerational family drama revolving around dying Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi), a Japanese industrialist. Logan knew him when Yashida was a soldier during World War II and Logan was a prisoner of war in Nagasaki on the day the Americans dropped the second atomic bomb. Now, Yashida’s dying wish is to see Logan again, for reasons I won’t spoil, and he sends his granddaughter Yukio (Rila Fukushima) to fetch him. (Well, she’s not actually his granddaughter. It’s complicated. Like I said: soap opera.)

But Logan (Hugh Jackman) is reluctant to be drawn in. He’s reluctant to have much human contact at all. He’s living like a hermit in the snowy mountains of (I presume) his native Canada. Not even in an actual cave — he’s just sort of clinging to a snowy ledge. But he gives in, in that gloriously cranky way Hugh Jackman has of making Logan simultaneously a mountain of muscle tied up in misanthropy and kinda soft and mushy at the same time. Yukio sees it. But she’s a mutant, too, and sees more than we normals do — and she’s a woman, and doesn’t need mutant powers to see right through Logan.

Then we’re in Japan, and no movie has ever made me want to go to Tokyo more than this one. Director James Mangold stages a foot chase through the city streets that’s thrilling, like if The Bourne Identity was about mutants. And then comes the battle atop the bullet train. I could almost see the motion lines that this bit would have had on the page. It’s got that same kind of whooshy energy, and not just because the train is moving at bullet speeds. Later there’s a secret society of medieval ninjas with poisoned arrows. It’s all extremely cool.

And all very soap opera, too. Logan is a roiling bundle of angst, emotional torment and aching vulnerability, which makes him even more attractive when he takes his shirt off all those times. He’s haunted by the ghost of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), who keeps begging him to just figure out how to die already and join her in the afterlife. This is a genuine possibility, because Yashida had discovered a way that Logan could transfer his healing ability, giving an old man new life, and finally enabling Logan to become a real boy. No way, Logan says... but then, after the bullet train and the foot chase and the ninjas, he’s got wounds that aren’t healing. What the hell? Wolverine has found his kryptonite... but where? And how?

I don’t want to make this sound gloomy. It’s good summer popcorn fun. Hugh Jackman continues to clearly enjoy the hell out of playing this character — even after, what, six outings now? A low-key turn for Logan is precisely what was called for. Well, he might not see it as low-key, but as bombastic action movies go, this is downright relaxing.