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Review: 'The Wolverine' sharp action thriller

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Hugh Jackman's claws are sharper than ever in "The Wolverine," a thrilling film that marks the sixth time the multi-talented actor has played the "X-Men" movie character. But unlike the first five times Jackman played the role -- he was an ensemble player in three films, starred in one and made a cameo in the other -- "The Wolverine" smartly dives deep into the immortal mutant's psyche with brilliant results.

Foregoing a sequel to the 2009 prequel "X-Men Origins: Wolverine," the new film is technically a sequel to the third "X-Men" film, 2006's "X-Men: The Last Stand." However, the only other "Last Stand" character that figures prominently into the plot of "The Wolverine" is Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), the telekinetic mutant Logan/Wolverine sacrificed at the end of that film to save the day.

"The Wolverine" opens in World War II, where Logan saves a Japanese soldier by throwing him down a prison hole underground and covering him as the as the atomic bomb hits in Nagasaki. It's one of the memories that continues to haunt Logan, which is compounded by visions of Jean Grey, perhaps the greatest love he's lost in his hundreds of years of life.

Interview: 'The Wolverine' director James Mangold

Living in an aimless existence somewhere in the Yukon, Logan is tracked down by Yukio (Rila Fukushima), an adopted daughter of sorts of Kenuichio Harada (Will Yun Lee), who happens to be the soldier Logan saved years earlier.

Harada -- a billionaire industrialist now close to death -- promises Logan that he has way to make him mortal. But before anything can be done, Harada dies, exposing Logan to an elaborate scheme that targets the magnate's granddaughter, Mariko (an impressive Tao Okamoto in her feature film debut), for assassination. Compounding Logan's problems is the fact his powers have been weakened by the film's only other mutant, Viper (Russian actress Svetlana Khodchenkova), who has a hidden agenda.

See my review of "The Wolverine" on "KARE 11 News at 11" with Pat Evans below.

"The Wolverine" dives deep into the Japanese storyline from the Wolverine comics that fans have wanted to see on the big screen for years, and it doesn't disappoint. Naturally, that involves the Silver Samurai, and while it takes time for the character to materialize, it is well worth the wait as the pieces of the plot come together.

The film largely centers on Logan's torment as an immortal, and the way director James Mangold frames his pain with ethereal visions of Jean Grey is brilliant. Even though Janssen -- who's as stunning as ever -- appears in four short scenes and is heard briefly in a fifth, her presence if felt throughout the entire film.

The interesting thing about "The Wolverine" is that, unlike other superhero films, it's far less concerned about crash-boom-bang action and more intent on meaningful character development. Thanks to the patience of Mangold, "The Wolverine" allows us to get to know Logan like we've never seen him before, and the narrative is much more similar to the real-world torment Batman (Christian Bale) experiences in Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight" trilogy than it is to the much lighter tone of Marvel's films, "X-Men" or otherwise.

That's not to say "The Wolverine" is a downer. In fact, thanks largely to Jackman's natural charm and charisma, the film is often funny without forced humor. Plus, the 44-year-old Jackman looks better, physically, as Wolverine as he ever has -- an amazing feat considering the Aussie actor first sprouted the claws of the famed Marvel mutant 13 years ago. Clearly he's not ready to let go of his role anytime soon.

The film also largely benefits from its fresh Japanese setting and martial arts action, which hits its peak in a thrilling fight scene involving Logan and some would-be assassins atop a bullet train -- making for one of the best action scenes of the year.

While "The Wolverine" proves to be satisfying throughout, the film is made complete with a scene during the end credits, so don't leave your seats too early. In fact, Mangold directed the scene in cooperation with Bryan Singer as a brilliant gateway to the director's upcoming prequel-sequel "X-Men: Days of Future Past."

That film is scheduled for release for next May, and thanks to the blazing success of "The Wolverine," the future cannot come soon enough.

"The Wolverine," Rated PG-13, 3 1/2 stars out of four.

See the trailer for "The Wolverine" below.

What other critics are saying ...

Chris Hewitt of the Pioneer Press gives the film 3 stars. Noting how Jackman is often shirtless and has "the body fat index of a greyhound," Hewitt writers, "There's not an ounce of fat on 'Wolverine,' either -- it's lean, mean and a really good time."

Colin Covert in his 2 star review in the Star Tribune calls the film "a misconceived misfire, over-solemn for its first two acts and overstuffed with BLAM! POW! TEDIUM! at the climax."

Bring Me The News film critic Tim Lammers is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association and annually votes on the Critics Choice Movie Awards. Locally, he also reviews films on “KARE 11 News at 11.” As a feature writer, Tim has interviewed well over 1,000 major actors and filmmakers throughout his career and his work is syndicated nationwide.

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