‘The Wolverine’ succeeds by refusing to succumb to dumb

Movie: The Wolverine; Director: James Mangold; Studio: 20th Century Fox; Rating: PG-13; My finding: 3 out of 5 stars.

“The Wolverine” pulled me in so thoroughly through the first two-thirds of it that it seemed as though there was nothing that could derail its awesomeness.

And then the third act came, went, and left me yawning and disappointed.

Wolverine (played once again by Hugh Jackman), also known as Logan, is a brooding character who has sought solace living in a cave in Canada’s Yukon territory following the proceedings of the last installment. He doesn’t want to be a hero and he seeks death and perhaps purpose. Of course, this wouldn’t be much of a summer blockbuster if he was to win his desires for a simpler life and perhaps an afterlife with the woman he loved.

Audience members who can’t stand the trend of darker plotlines and character flaws in

their once fun and light superhero fare should definitely skip this film at all costs. But for Wolverine fans attracted to the character’s anti-hero qualities of personal destruction, regret, rage and outright impatience won’t be disappointed.

Played largely in flashback, the story of Wolverine unfolds from the point in time where the U.S. dropped an atom bomb on Nagasaki, where he apparently was imprisoned at the time. A young Japanese officer is fervently freeing prisoners of the war camp to at least give them a chance at survival before the impending disaster comes. The officer tries to free Logan from a bunker holding cell but Logan tells him he’d have better luck down there.

The young officer, Yashida, sees his fellow command staff take off their shirts, kneel and begin to kill themselves (a ritual known as Seppuku) following the ancient Samurai honor code of Bushido but he doesn’t want to die. At the last moment, he is hurled by Logan into the pit just as a mushroom cloud forms a few miles away.

For anybody who has read “Hiroshima,” by John Hersey, or has otherwise studied the effects of the atom bomb, the likelihood of surviving even under shelter is next to nothing. But there’s an insistent mutant with inhuman powers to protect him.

It’s these “fight or flight” moments that define Logan. He doesn’t necessarily seem to care about or have much sensitivity to the plight of humans but sometimes he’s forced to act. Sometimes duty or a sense of purpose gets in the way of personally destroying your life through constant nightmares, drinking, chain smoking, and the projected rage that those who don’t want to see tomorrow can harbor.

Just when he’s about to seek out some justice for something in his small neck of the Yukon woods, though, Nagasaki comes blasting back to him out of nowhere in the form of Yukio (Rila Fukushima, in her first feature-film role), an assistant to very soldier, Yashida, who Logan saved all those years ago. It seems that the old man is on his deathbed and wants nothing more than to thank the man who protected him, thus allowing him to become the most powerful industry titan in Asia with his technology company.

So, more than 65 years later, back to Japan Wolverine goes.

And what a beautiful Japan it is, with harbor towns and the endless neon of Tokyo. It’s all a far cry from the cave back in Canada in which he hoped to someday find a way to die.

Everything about this Japan will invigorate Japan-fetishists (which is a growing niche fueled by Internet geekdom). It’s a place where the high-tech of modernity co-exists with the ancient traditions that made Imperial Japan such a powerhouse long ago.

But Logan, nor his kind, seem much appreciated there. He has, the old man tells him, become Ronin, the term for Samurai fated to continue without master or purpose. The old man tells Logan he can grant him the chance of mortality, to end this long suffering. In return, Logan’s abilities would transfer to Yashida so he can continue the purpose of preserving his legacy – rather than surrender it to ignoble kin.

The action sequences are just that. This is a much more traditional martial-arts movie infused with superhuman elements than it is a superhero film. Until the final act, which then drops all pretenses of depth in order to revert back to standard, disappointing superhero fare. The thrills are all the more exciting as Logan loses his greatest strength of super-healing and finds that a shotgun blast to the chest hurts as much as it would a mortal man.

For most of the movie, Logan must protect Yashida’s granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto) from Yakuza (the Japanese mafia) units seemingly everywhere – without the aid of immortality. This is perfect, because as hard as studios may have tried to make the likes of Superman deeper and more human, they can’t sidestep the fact that immorality is a cheap ploy that negates any effort on the part of the hero. Seeing it through in a weakened state adds drama.

And drama oozes out of this beautiful film.

(Flint McColgan is a staff writer for The Minot Daily News. His movie reviews appear in Thursday’s Arts &?Entertainment section.)