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X-Men plus Kung Fu equals "The Wolverine" (Blu-ray review)

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The Wolverine

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The Wolverine (2013)

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Rila Fukushima, Tao Okamoto, Hal Yamanouchi

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When the mutton-chopped mutant, Logan (Jackman), is summoned to Japan to bid farewell to an old acquaintance, he is offered an opportunity he has been dreaming of for years. Years ago, Logan saved Mr. Yashida (Yamanouchi) from an atomic bomb in Nagasaki. Now, on the verge of death, Yashida wishes to repay the man known as Wolverine. Yashida offers Logan the opportunity to forfeit his super powers, which, as evidenced by other X-Men movies, are both a blessing and a curse. As Logan mulls over this potentially-pivotal decision, he encounters a dangerous ring of organized crime whose aim is to murder Yashida's granddaughter, Mariko (Okamoto), and seize control of the Yashida Corporation. With the help of a mysterious friend named Yukio (Fukushima), Logan must protect Mariko, continue his search for purpose, and uncover the dark secrets hidden inside one of the most powerful businesses in all of Japan.

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The Breakdown:

The Story: As the second installment of the "Wolverine" origins series, "The Wolverine" focuses on Logan's mysterious past and moves toward a turbulent future - "Days of Future Past," to be a little more precise. The timeline of the film begins some years after the first chapter of the "Wolverine" spin-off, and helps bridge the gap a bit between the original trilogy and the "X-Men: First Class" era, leading right up to a pretty intense cliffhanger hinting at the upcoming 2014 blockbuster. The story delves deeper into Logan's internal anguish about the death of Jean Grey and his indecision about giving up his mutant lifestyle, which really helps give insight into Wolverine's conflicted mind. Lost in all of this is a sinister nurse called "the Viper" and the clandestine development of an enormous, adamantium bio-suit (the Silver Samurai). As far as the X-Men franchise is concerned, "The Wolverine" is very Oriental in nature, but there's an intriguing story embedded down there if you search for it.

The Acting: Another very strong showing by Hugh Jackman, who reprises his role as the ultra-popular Wolverine character. He is convincing as a North American in an unfamiliar culture, often asking for clarification from his sidekicks or demanding that a villain address him in English. (Side note: My gosh, is he physically JACKED or what?!?) As one social media user commented, truly, Jackman was born for this role. She may not be easy on the eyes, but Fukushima will grow on you as the movie evolves in her role as Yukio, Logan's self-proclaimed bodyguard. Okamoto seems pretty dull in her important role as Mariko and has very little chemistry with Jackman, so Logan comes off as more of a protector than a potential love interest. The trio of younger Japanese men in the film seem like they could be practically interchangeable in their roles, possibly because they are most easily distinguished by their hairstyles. None of the three are particularly memorable in terms of acting.

The Genre: "The Wolverine" is, at times, almost more of a kung fu movie than it is a superhero movie and that, specifically, may solely be the one biggest turn-off of the entire film. The infusion of Japanese culture into the X-Men film series is unique, which may be somewhat of a hard pill to swallow for viewers who aren't into martial arts. A majority of the action is melee-based, whether it's Logan's claws; samurai swords; or traditional, Japanese, hand-to-hand combat. As far as violence is concerned, "The Wolverine" makes "The Avengers" look like kindergarten. There's lots and lots of stabbing and a good deal of blood.

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Although the "Origins" series got off to a bit of a shaky start, "The Wolverine" is a step in the right direction. It appears that they are trying less to be a spin-off this time and that, instead, they were more concerned with integrating this movie into the rest of the franchise, and that's nice. Though the Japan-centered plot takes a little getting used to, if you're a fan of the X-Men movies or the Wolverine character in general, this is a movie that you should check out. Keep in mind, however, that there's the typical profanity that we've come to expect from Logan, and it lacks the light-hearted humor that many new Marvel fans might anticipate in comparison to recent characters like Iron Man and Thor, so it's probably not a movie you'll want the youngsters to watch without supervision. Overall, it's better than its predecessor, but not quite on par with "First Class," but it's definitely an improvement in the Wolverine saga and should get viewers excited for "Days of Future Past," which hits theaters next summer.

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Similar movies: "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" (2009), "X-Men: The Last Stand" (2006), "X-Men: First Class" (2011)

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Blu-ray bonus features:

- Audio in English, French, Spanish, English Descriptive Audio

- Subtitles in English, Spanish, Portuguese

- Free Second Screen app for tablets and smart devices: In the Salt Lake DVD Examiner's experience, the Second Screen app seemed to run about a scene and a half slow, which was both frustrating and distracting. Cool content, but a bit burdensome to use during the film. Plus, the app took a while to download, which was less-than-ideal.

- "The Path of a Ronin": An incredibly robust five-pronged featurette that discusses the samurai story arc, Logan's state of mind, and Japanese culture, the development of the Silver Samurai suit, and weaponry, among other topics. Features Hugh Jackman, Famke Janssen, and several members of the production team. (One segment includes an F-word used in passing during a backstage conversation.)

- Theatrical trailer

- Alternate ending (including an Easter egg that old-school X-Men fans will love)

- "X-Men: Days of Future Past set tour": Hosted by Bryan Singer, who will direct the upcoming film. The short feature gives a sneak peek into some of the set design and has a few cameos by cast members, as well.

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Directed by: James Mangold

Studio: Twentieth Century Fox, Marvel Entertainment

Running time: 126 minutes

MPAA rating: PG-13 for "sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, some sexuality and language," including lots of intense combat with occasional graphic (PG-13-rated) deaths, gore, violence against women, brief partial male nudity (shown from the back/side as Logan is forced to take a Japanese-style bath in one scene), and one use of the F-word.

Costars Hiroyuki Sanada, Will Yun Lee, Svetlana Khodchenkova

Blu-ray release date: December 3, 2013

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Looking to find "The Wolverine" on DVD or Blu-ray in the Salt Lake area? Check out these suggested links:

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