Directed by James Mangold
Written by Mark Bomback, Scott Frank & Christopher McQuarrie (Uncredited)
Starring Hugh Jackman, Tao Okamoto, Rila Fukushima, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Hiroyuki Sanada, Hal Yamanouchi, and Famke Jannsen
PG-13, 126 minutes
The Wolverine is a fitting title, billed as a return to form for the character after recent lapses in judgment concerning his treatment on the big screen. 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand positioned the character in a clunky “emerging leader” story arc while 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine filled in the gaps of his past but failed to show anything more compelling than the brief flashback shots featured throughout X2. The character is now back in the saddle in a cleverly conceived tale set in Japan, loosely based on one of the most well-regarded story arcs from the comics. Having seen the movie, I can honestly say that this is not just another movie with wolverine in it. No, this is THE Wolverine movie; the one we’ve been waiting to see. With those expectations set, The Wolverine delivers the goods and provides a surprisingly well-written narrative with only minor failings to be found in the need to shake things up for a big action climax.
The film opens some time after the events of X-Men: The Last Stand, as Logan (Hugh Jackman), the titular Wolverine, mourns the loss of Jean Grey (Famke Jannsen). Haunted by nightmares of her, he is driven to solitude in the wilderness as the film begins. There, he smokes cigars, listens to a battered radio, and drinks himself to sleep until he wakes up screaming every night. A Japanese woman named Yukio (Rila Fukushima) tracks him down on behalf of her employer, a dying Japanese industrialist named Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi) who wants to offer his thanks to Logan for having saved his life in the past. Logan reluctantly agrees and travels to Japan, where the man offers Logan a chance to be mortal and lead a normal life by taking away his healing powers. Before Wolverine has the chance to decide, the man dies and Wolverine is whisked away on an adventure to protect the man’s granddaughter (Tao Okamoto) from the rest of her devious family as well as a conniving woman with ulterior motives and a rather ghoulish mutation of her own, known as The Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova).
This movie does a lot of things right in comparison to its chronologically immediate predecessor The Last Stand and the poorly made Origins prequel. At the top of the list is that the movie does not feel the need to pad its own run time with unnecessary characters for no other reason than having them in the movie (Gambit’s inclusion in Origins being a prime example). The movie is squarely focused on Wolverine’s struggle to move on with his life after the death of a loved one. This was the right course to take and the movie is all the better for it. The story fees like a natural progression for the main character instead of an excuse to have him square off against several characters from the comics. The Japanese setting also complements the movie’s tone and its protagonist’s mindset very well, cementing Wolverine as the “Ronin” he is referred to as, a master-less samurai wandering through life in search of purpose. It makes the decision to use the setting and characters from the comic arc in a way that makes sense given the context of the film franchise.
Hugh Jackman is back and as perfect as he ever has been in the role. I don’t believe there has ever been a case of an actor being so good as a comic-book character that I can’t even imagine anyone else doing it (outside of Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man, perhaps), but Hugh Jackman IS Wolverine. His enthusiasm for the role and these movies clearly demonstrated in his performance here. The supporting players are good for the most part as well, with Tao Okamoto playing the love interest Mariko, who seems very much captivated by Logan and given enough screen time together to develop a natural chemistry with the protagonist. Rila Fukushima is very good too as the sidekick (or “bodyguard”) and steals the movie in certain scenes.
Most of what didn’t work in the movie stems from a conventional “comic book” finale being shoehorned in more so because it is expected than required. To accomplish this, there is a tonal change once the movie goes past its hour and a half mark where it strains to provide certain supporting characters and antagonists the motivation to team up with each other to achieve a feasible location and stakes for a fitting climax. This proved to be a mixed bag, to say the least, and calls certain character’s whole existence into question beyond the fact to contrive events to fall into place. To be fair, not all of the movie’s final moments are bad – how it completes Wolverine’s arc feels right – but everything that made it possible doesn’t quite fit with the mood set up by what preceded it, slightly dampening an otherwise enjoyable experience.
The Wolverine is well worth your time and serves as an excellent comeback for the character despite some lapses in logic and contrivances included to necessitate its third act. I would say this movie falls behind past X-Men films like the first two Bryan Singer installments and 2011’s First Class but is handily superior to The Last Stand and Origins. It provides fans with a Wolverine movie to enjoy as its own self-contained storyline while also setting the character up for future adventures. Be sure to stick around until halfway through the end credits, too, as there is an excellent additional scene.
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