‘The Wolverine’ does Logan proud: Hugh Jackman atones for ‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine’

Wolverine Hugh Jackman

Logan may not rest easy at night, but Hugh Jackman can. It’s official: He has now atoned for 2009’s ‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine.’

In 2009, the brilliant minds at Fox decided to put Deadpool, “the merc with a mouth,” into a Wolverine movie … only they sewed his mouth shut and did away with one of the coolest uniforms in comics. The movie was a letdown, so one can’t blame an American audience for being coy on the opening weekend of ‘The Wolverine.’ Regardless, it still did pretty darn well; fans have been given a quality product.

Hollywood’s summer tentpole strategy continued to suffer in North America with the muted debut of The Wolverine, but the X-Men spin-off more than made up for it overseas.

The 20th Century Fox pic opened to $55 million domestically and roughly $86.1 million internationally for a worldwide total of $141.1 million — easily covering the film’s $120 million production budget. Internationally, it posted the strongest opening ever for an X-Men title.

Wolverine certainly isn’t a dud in North America and still claimed the No. 1 position, but came in at least $10 million behind expectations and well behind the $85.1 million opening of X-Men Origins: Wolverine in early May 2009. It opened on par with last summer’s X-Men: First Class, an origins pic versus a sequel.

Word of mouth will help ‘The Wolverine’ out, which is a good thing because it’s obvious that Mr. Jackman loves the character. He’s not getting any younger — a bitter pill to swallow when playing a guy who doesn’t age — but at least the success of this film will guarantee him a few more times running around on screen as the mutant.

Perhaps the smartest move director James Mangold did was to scale everything down into something that wasn’t a typical “superhero” movie. It’s a Samurai flick. It’s a Japanese mob story. It’s a character study. And yes, it just so happens to have super-powered mutants doing what you expect super-powered mutants to do. There’s a crisscrossing of genres that really works, which is impressive because it could have gone horribly wrong.

In short, Wolverine has retreated into the forest after the events depicted in ‘X-Men: The Last Stand.’ Having killed the woman he loved, Jean Grey, he attempts to deny who (and what) he is — a soldier. The result? He’s a man without a purpose. He wants to die — or so he thinks.

Logan is eventually tracked down by a mutant named Yukio (Rila Fukushima). She tells him that a man he saved during World War II, Yashida (Haruhiko Yamanouchi), is dying and would like to see him one last time. Logan relents, and the two are off to Japan. From there the plot unfolds with Wolverine having to play protector for Yashida’s granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto), all while trying to keep himself alive; his healing powers have mysteriously been suppressed and the bullet holes and blood loss take a toll on his body in ways he’s never experienced.

With all of this going on,’The Wolverine’ is at its best when it’s getting inside Logan’s head. I always pictured a Wolverine film to be reminiscent of ‘Rambo: First Blood’ instead of fare meant for “pop-corn” sensibilities, (e.g., ‘Iron Man 3’). Wolverine is a tortured soul, and it was nice to see him in a film that slowed things down to explore the mind of a soldier who is struggling to find peace. In between satisfying action scenes (the bullet-train fight in particular), fans finally get to see Logan’s psychology explored in ways that do him justice.

‘The Wolverine’ is not without its flaws, but it’s hard to deny that Hugh Jackman worked overtime (physically and mentally) to make up for ‘X-Men Origins.’ Fans might not have a healing factor like Wolverine, but this latest effort will rebuild a lot of trust with skeptical moviegoers.