The Wolverine (2013)

(On Cable TV, August 2014) The good news are that this take on comic-book superhero Wolverine is quite a bit better than the dismal 2009 Origins film.  Taking place almost entirely in Japan, this Wolverine digs a bit deeper into the character’s traumas, attempts a more respectable kind of story and manages once or twice to deliver action sequences that make full use of Wolverine’s special powers.  The bad news are that for all of the characterization, exotic setting and occasional thrills, The Wolverine is a bit… dull.  Hugh Jackman is the character but the script doesn’t give him much range to show: he’s still the same stoic figure, slashing and dicing as soon as he’s repowered.  The Japanese setting is unusual enough to be interesting, but it suffers from a bad case of occidental gaze: by the time the film is through, we’ve been served the same exotic-yet-familiar cocktail of samurais, yakuza, ninjas and pachinko.  (That last in an arcade parlour where people are curiously unconcerned about the destructive mayhem surrounding them.)  At times, the film promises more than it can deliver: while the bullet-train sequence is original enough and the cardiac self-surgery reaches into character-specific thrills (after a too-long interlude in which the character is depowered), much of the rest is generic in the way only superhero movies can be, including a third act that rushes back to tired old superhero movie clichés.  The plot twists are seen coming well in advance and while Svetlana Khodchenkova’s Viper initially promises to be something more striking than usual, the script eventually relegates her character to the usual villain.  By the time The Wolverine is over, it has retreated to a comfortable middle-ground, neither silly enough to be dismissed like its predecessor, nor exceptional enough to be considered as anything more than a competent summer spectacle. 

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