What is this like the fifth superhero movie of the year? Ok, it’s only the third, I think, but they all seem blur together nowadays. Most superhero movies operate on two formulas. One is to introduce a new villain, blow things up, save the female character in distress, and in the third act, CGI and massive destruction rules. The other is to make your hero go through some kind of existential crisis which allows him to find himself and accept what he is (Spider-Man 2, Man of Steel, Batman Begins). I say he because they’ve all been men but that is a discussion that belongs in another article all together. The Wolverine is special, in that it uses both formulas. The result is a good movie that turns sour in the last act, which feels like a completely different film than what it starts out being.
The Wolverine does a lot right, more right than Wolverine’s origin tale in 2009. Origins used Wolverine as an action star where he was treated like a tank that never stops coming at the bad guys no matter what was thrown at him. How were we ever supposed to give a shit about a man that can’t be hurt? Why would we want too? Wolverine is like an 80s action star but at least they could be wounded. Director James Mangold realized that and for a good chunk of the movie we deal with a Wolverine that has lost his healing factor. This is a good thing, no a great thing, because for once we see a human side to the Wolverine. I never, for a second, feared that Wolverine would die, simply put, because it’s his name the film is titled after and he is the most popular X-Men but it does paint the character in a different light, one that was much needed after 4 films.
Until the last act (more on that later) Wolverine never felt like a superhero film. Coming across more as a combination of a 70s Eastwood flick and a 60s Japanese yakuza flick, The Wolverine with Mangold’s direction doesn’t feel like other superhero films off the year. Mangold has an amazing repertoire of films, from “Walk the Line” to “Girl, Interrupted” to the amazing western remake of “3:10 to Yuma,” he is able to infuse a sense of realism to the film that has not been in any Marvel film, until now. The action he directs is great and varied, from the excellent funeral and train sequences and the fight between Shingen and Yuiko are all standouts. Wolverine maybe a superhero but Mangold’s approach is to treat him as any other typical hero.
Surprisingly, for me at least, The Wolverine takes place after X-Men: The Last Stand and not X-Men Origins: Wolverine. I’m glad they chose not to follow up with the awful Origins film. Last Stand was terrible too but this film makes the events of Last Stand seem better executed than they actually were. The Wolverine only dives into the past events of Last Stand through Jean Grey, who comes to Logan in his dreams. The film chooses to remain character centric, it only uses Logan’s relationship with Jean to send Logan down an existential crisis from which he would obviously rediscover himself and accept that he is the Wolverine.
The plot for the Wolverine is quite simple, Logan blames himself for the death of Jean Grey. Refusing to face his demons he secludes himself in western Canada, giving up on being the Wolverine. He is tracked down by Yukio, who works for an old friend of Logan’s from his time in Japan during WWII. His friend, Yashida, is dying and requests Logan to visit him one last time. Once in Japan Logan gets caught up in a power struggle within Yashida’s family; while going through his own mid-life crisis.
Hugh Jackman plays Wolverine better than he has played the character in any of the films before. His performance, his utter sexiness, his shirtlessness, his muscles, grizzled biceps…where was I? Oh yes, Hugh Jackman is terrific, he is Logan to the point where it is hard to imagine anyone else in the role. If the X-Men franchise has done one thing right it has been its casting and Jackman as Wolverine is proof of that. He brings more emotion to the character than ever before, allowing us to believe that this unstoppable killing machine is slowly weakening.
The two female supporting leads, Tao Okamoto as Mariko and Rila Fukushima as Yukio, are great, considering this is their first film. Okamoto is absolutely endearing as Mariko, making us believe in her love story with Logan and giving it an organic feel. Fukushima holds up her own against Jackman in the fight scenes and also the quieter ones. She looks and feels like a manga character come to life, with her saucer eyes and red hair. The only negative aspect of the cast is Svetlana Khodchenkova’s Viper. It’s not the actors fault, the character is written as a comicky vixen. The character is completely two dimensional never going beyond being the mysterious, mustache twirling villain. She even dresses up as a comic book villain, the green outfit she wears in the last act is completely WTF, considering she never wears it otherwise. It feels like they were in need of a villain and they randomly chose her. The conception and execution of Viper was just awful.
The theme of The Wolverine is featured brilliantly in the film. It definitely comes full circle, but it’s in the crappy, predictable and formulaic last act. I won’t mention the details of how it comes around but it’s a great move that drastically changes the character. It comes about by an awesome display of symbolism, showing what makes Wolverine special is himself, nothing else, just him.
Now about that final act I keep hating on, well, it feels completely different and out of place from the rest of the film. It is like the producers completely took over and were like yes, big boss fight, that’s what we need. That coupled with all the needless Viper stuff and the awful one-liners makes for an ending that feels tonally out of place. Ignoring the real world feel for one more comic based. The whole act feels completely unnecessary and if it wasn’t for the theme coming full circle I could forward all of it until the airport scene. I know exactly where The Wolverine should have ended, I wish the producers did too.
The Wolverine is a character story. One, of a man trying to find himself. It may fall down the formulaic path of most traditional superhero fairs but it is still an exciting film that asks and answers all the right questions for the first two acts. It feels like an atypical hero story, one that displays comic book movies as something more than just universe building. It is a standalone adventure that is sure to get all who see it excited for X-Men: Days of Future Past. Oh and the post-ending credits scene is super awesome so stay for it.
Score: 7.5 out of 10