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"The Wolverine": Extreme Pulp

By Rich Heldenfels Published: July 26, 2013


It was about eleven o'clock  in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills. I was wearing my powder-blue suit, with dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with dark blue clocks on them. I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn’t care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be. I was calling on four million dollars. -- Raymond Chandler, "The Big Sleep"

I had Raymond Chandler in my head while watching "The Wolverine" not long ago. And Mickey Spillane. Maybe Spillane more than Chandler or Dashiell Hammett. But they were all there in this pulpy epic, often ridiculous (especially at the end) but still a terrific rebound from the wasted "X-Men Origins: Wolverine."

While many fans of the X-Men character played by Hugh Jackman will be more focused on the things you can do with metal claws and the inevitable post-credits Marvel movie teaser, I kept thinking how the movie -- adeptly -- puts Logan/Wolverine firmly in a world with an inflation-adjusted billionaire, an endangered damsel, a deadly dame and trouble aplenty -- a world in which Logan could easily be wearing a hand-painted tie and hat as he tough-talks his way down the Chandleresque mean streets.

In this case, those streets are mostly in Japan. The movie sets its story in motion in 1945 when, while in a POW camp near Nagasaki, Logan saves a Japanese soldier from death in the bomb blast. Years later, it is Logan who needs saving. He is a brooding wreck after having saved the world by killing Jean Grey (Famke Janssen); that happened at the end of "X-Men: The Last Stand" if you're keeping a movie tally.

Then, an emissary from his Japanese friend arrives, offering payback for that long ago favor -- if Logan will simply go to Japan to receive it. The offer, though, puts Logan in the middle of a duel over control of a Japanese business empire, and brings out his undiminished urge to help people in need. But, as surely as a private eye will get slipped a mickey, Logan finds himself in jeopardy as well. And no one, it appears, is quite what he or she seems.

There's just enough plot to keep things moving from one action scene to the next, some more impressive than others (though none particularly worth paying the 3D premium). Jackman scowls and rumbles effectively.l Tao Okamoto, as a woman Logan needs to protect, is rather bland but in a blandly written  role. Rila Fukushima, a skilled fighter in league with Logan, brings both charisma and a sense of mystery to her performance; I would have rather seen much more of her than Okamoto. But isn't it often the case in pulp that the tough women are more interesting than the damsels in distress?

That said, the big finish to the movie pretty much abandons all that has gone before in favor of one of those big clash-of-titans fights that end far too many superhero movies. This one is quite laughable, a not-too-good variation on some familiar action movie themes. Still, for the most part, I enjoyed "The Wolverine," especially in comparison to the "Origins" movie. And it has me wanting to reread Chandler.


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