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July 26, 2013

FILM: 'The Wolverine': Logan's curse is our blessing

A refreshing summer cocktail of action-movie staples, "The Wolverine" combines the bracingly adult flavor of everyone's favorite mutant antihero — tortured, boozy X-Man Logan, a.k.a. Wolverine — with the fizzy effervescence of several mixers from the cabinet of Japanese genre cinema: noirish yakuza crime drama, samurai derring-do and ninja acrobatics. It goes down super-smooth but packs a punch, erasing not only the memory of Marvel's last foray into the Wolverine mythos, the 2009 stinker "X-Men Origins: Wolverine," but also washing away the more recent unpleasant aftertaste of this summer's other Tokyo-set action thriller, "Pacific Rim."

It's proof that you just can't kill the Wolverine.

But Lord, how this movie tries.

After a brief prologue, the film opens on the titular hero (Hugh Jackman), who is now a virtually homeless alcoholic living in a squalid encampment in the woods, where he's plagued by nightmares starring his late lady love, Jean Grey (Famke Janssen). Fans of the "X-Men" series of movies will recall that Logan was reluctantly forced to kill Jean at the end of the final chapter of the "X-Men" trilogy, 2006's "The Last Stand."

In short order, however, our hero is on his way to Tokyo, escorted by Yukio (Rila Fukushima), a magenta-haired Harajuku girl whose powers of persuasion are enhanced by her skill with a samurai sword. A mutant with the ability to foretell people's deaths, she's a great character, hinting at a soul as dark as Logan's. My one complaint is that the film doesn't do more with her; she and Logan are kindred spirits.

Yukio has been sent to retrieve Logan on behalf of her elderly patron, Yashida (Haruhiko Yamanouchi), who is dying. As we learn in the prologue, Logan was once a World War II prisoner outside Nagasaki, where he saved Yashida's life after the atomic bomb was dropped. (Yes, Logan is capable of surviving a nuclear blast. If you have a problem with the physics of that, you might as well stop reading now.)

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