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Second time's the charm The Wolverine'

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Character's second solo outing far outshines the first

Wolverine has been one of the most popular characters in the Marvel Universe for decades now, his brooding nature and willful violence coalescing into an antihero that fans have embraced. 

So it only makes sense that he would be the one character from the 'X-Men' franchise that warranted his own film. And now, with the release of 'The Wolverine,' he actually gets his second solo outing. After the misfire that was the 2009 'X-Men Origins: Wolverine,' it's nice to see the character get a shot at critical and commercial redemption.

A shot that, by all appearances, seems to have been embraced by all involved.

In this offering, Logan (Hugh Jackman, 'Les Miserables') is once more living alone in the wilderness while both embracing and being tortured by his solitude (like you do). He is tormented by dreams of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen, 'Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters'), whom he killed in order to prevent some horrifying apocalypse or another in the erased-from-our-memory third 'X-Men' film.

However, he is tracked down by a young woman named Yukio (Rila Fukushima in her feature film debut) who serves the enigmatic Yashida (Haruhiko Yamanouchi), the head of a massive technology conglomerate who just happens to owe his life to Logan's actions during the World War II attack on Nagasaki. According to Yukio, the now-dying Yashida wants the chance to offer Logan a final thank you for saving him.

Of course, when Logan gets to Japan, it turns out that the situation is a little more complicated than that. Yashida's empire is in flux his son Shingen (Hiroyuki Sanada, TV's 'Revenge') expected to be his father's heir, but Yoshida has instead willed the company to his granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto in her film debut). Her new status makes her an instant target for the infamous Japanese yakuza, leading Logan to try and do his best to defend her this despite an incident that has somehow led to the loss of his mutant healing powers.

As Logan strives to protect Mariko with the help of Yukio and the mysterious Harada (Will Yun Lee, 'Make Your Move'), the depths of intrigue and betrayal grow ever deeper, leading to a final showdown against enemies both anticipated and unexpected.

Expectations for 'The Wolverine' had to be tempered by the utter disappointment of 'X-Men Origins: Wolverine.' Happily, this new film greatly outperforms that previous dud. Director James Mangold has done well in capturing the brooding spirit of the character, although that spirit dissipates somewhat during the film's broadly overwrought ending. Even so, it gives a strong character some room to engage the audience.

Jackman probably doesn't have a whole lot of time left to play the never-aging Wolverine, but he's certainly giving it his all while he still can. The actor worked himself into shockingly good shape for this role, allowing us to buy him as the character despite his 45 years. And he has played the part so many times at this point he has appeared as Logan in six films to date that he wears it like a well-tailored suit. There's no denying Jackman's talent; the powers that be at Marvel are lucky to have landed such an actor to fill one of the comic universe's pivotal parts.

The supporting cast is largely solid it's almost surprising, considering how generally nonessential they are. Still, they're all good the rookies Fukushima and Okamoto are particularly engaging. They could have been mediocre to bad and it wouldn't have mattered; the fact that they're good is just icing on the adamantium cake.

Because in the end, this movie is about two things: Wolverine coming to terms with the concept of mortality and Wolverine kicking ass from one end of Japan to the other. While it's maybe a bit more introspection than we'd typically expect from the character, it's well-realized. And whether Wolverine is slashing through yakuza thugs, doing battle atop a bullet train or under siege by a gang of ninjas, the action sequences are all pretty great.

'The Wolverine' is atypical of the usual comic book fare not least because it spends much of its time trying to stay true to the source material. Sure, there are departures, but not nearly as many as we've seen in a lot of recent offerings. Buoyed by the always-good Jackman, this is one of the better comic offerings we've seen as of late. Perhaps not quite great, but very good nonetheless.

4 out of 5

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