Once back in Japan, The Wolverine firmly plants its feet in the old world and the new world. Mangold and writers Mark Bomback and Scott Frank effectively merge the fantastical, the futuristic, and the old-fashioned. Upon arriving at Yashida's (now played by Haruhiko Yamanouchi) compound, Yukio shepherds Logan into Yashida's high-tech medical room while wearing a traditional kimono. Japan is perfect for this kind of juxtaposition, and the setting does much of the work of framing this superhero story as something almost reminiscent of Kurosawa. There's a bit of Toshiro Mfune's Yojimbo/Sanjuro character in Logan, and the mystery Logan's tasked with unfolding in The Wolverine isn't so dissimilar from Mfune's medieval exploits. Yashida is at the top of an empire with an uncertain succession plan, with potential successors in his son Shingen (the always formidable Hiroyuki Sanada) and his granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okaoto). He would like to make succession a moot point by transferring Logan's healing ability to himself, thus freeing Logan from his very long life filled with pain and regret. Before Logan can make a decision, Yashida dies, and the long knives come out in the form of Yakuza assassins and the nefarious deeds of Yashida's doctor Dr. Green (Svetlana Khodchenkova). Logan places his bet on Mariko and moves to protect her, though his healing powers are suddenly not what they used to be.
Mangold populates his films with even doses of character and action and a little humor sprinkled in. The Japanese characters effectively share the screen with Jackman, who has long since figured out Logan. This is his film, but he doesn't monopolize it. Yukio is an excellent sidekick. Mangold includes uncommented shots of her filthy and cluttered car, a nice moment of wordless characterization. Sanada cannot help but pull focus from Jackman, who, despite his gifts, is always going to lose in a stoic-off against the seasoned Japanese actor. On the action front, setpieces are doled out at a judicious rate, allowing for plenty of time to recover before the next one. These include some never-before-seen moments, like an anti-gravity battle atop a bullet train and a grisly face-off in Yashida's medical room. Mangold leavens jaw-droppers like these with occasional visual gags that place Fox's X-Men films squarely between the joviality of the Marvel Universe and the dour DC Universe.
The Wolverine is far from a perfect superhero film, despite its many assets. As a villain, Dr. Green is wholly unmotivated beyond generic evil, and once the film shifts its focus from dynastic concerns to her machinations, things fall apart. She is deeply unmemorable and unaided by Khodchenkova, who might be great in her native Russian but is poor in English. Mangold would need one more superhero film with Jackman to perfect his formula, but The Wolverine is unquestionably several steps up from Origins. B