The Wolverine (why the article?) has echoes of the James Bond adventure You Only Live Twice — the book not the movie. Apart from both being set in Japan, both feature emotionally wounded superheroes. Bond cannot come to terms with the death of his wife Tracy, while Wolverine is haunted by the death of the only woman he loved, Jean Grey. That Hugh Jackman as Wolverine does a super eyebrow lift like Connery reinforces the image.
That said, The Wolverine is that rare superhero film that is mindful of the cannon (it is based on the Japanese story arc of the Limited Edition series) but works as a rousing standalone action picture with a lot of heart. Jackman like Robert Downey Jr. (Ironman) has made Wolverine his own. With the right mix of vulnerability, steel and lovely buff body, he creates a superhero we can look up to and identify with.
The movie opens with Wolverine living as a recluse troubled by dreams of being a prisoner of war during the Second World War and Jean. He is brought to Japan where a soldier he saved wishes to thank him. There is however no such thing as a free lunch and Wolverine finds himself in the midst of corrupt politicians, some seriously flawed parent-child relationships and one wicked serpentine mutant.
The action set pieces from the dropping of the atom bomb in the beginning, to the fight on the bullet train and the slightly silly climax are suitably gob-smacking. The action is nicely balanced with the quieter moments and meditations of mortality.
Quite like Bond, Wolverine has a whole bunch of lovely ladies around him. There is Famke Janssen reprising her role as Jean Grey and Svetlana Khodchenkova as the sinuous Viper, sporting all manner of bondage couture. Tao Okamoto plays the flower-like Mariko who Wolverine protects, while Rila Fukushima is the red-haired Yukio who tracks Wolverine and is his self-styled bodyguard.
The Wolverine with its nice blend of action and angst proves it is possible to make a superhero movie that can thrill and move you in equal parts. And do stay for the end credits.
Director: James Mangold
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Tao Okamoto, Rila Fukushima, Hiroyuki Sanada, Will Yun Lee, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Famke Janssen
Storyline: A world-weary Wolverine goes to Japan for some unfinished business
Bottomline: A taut, touching thriller